Being misgendered

-Are you finished with these, sir?
-I’m female.
-I apologise.

I am still irked by that. She could not see my face, I think. My waterproof jacket is fairly unisex but fastens the feminine way. That wig, again, is clearly a woman’s wig, the woman’s side of the line, even if it’s fairly close to the line. It’s a well-marked line.

Now, I am thinking some day I will have the energy for the follow-through:

-I apologise.
-Well, don’t “Sir” people unless their gender is clear! There’s no point in having “All-Gender Toilets” if you misgender people!

It didn’t really- well not really really– bother me until later, when I was in the Turner Prize exhibition, which this year is all video. They are close to documentaries, in parts. Naeem Mohaiemen’s work is a history of the Non-Aligned movement, worth seeing from beginning to end, though it is on three screens and has the feel of looking at an art work. To me; some commenters said that’s not art that’s documentaries.

Charlotte Prodger’s work is 33 minutes long, and consists of video taken on her phone, with bits of her diary read as voiceover. She had had a job near Banchory, and I wondered if anyone else in the room had been there, or at least through it, like me. She is lesbian, at least sometimes she presents Butch, and part of the voiceover says how at the ferry terminal she was washing her hands in the toilets and a party of women came in, and one went out again to look at the door, then said “I thought I was in the wrong one for a moment”. And how wearing it was when people asked her who her girlfriend is. “Is she your daughter?” Eventually she said “She’s my friend” and thought, now I’m closeted as well.

There is paradox here. She (I checked her pronouns) is misgendered repeatedly, and the thought that a woman could be her partner is seen as remarkable, yet she is up for a huge accolade, notoriety in the right-wing press, and £40,000 if she wins the prize. Highbrows like me, and the odd idiot who goes out and writes the comment “That’s not Art!” on the comments wall, (Actually that’s so stupid, surely it must be irony?)-

onywye, I am watching this Installation feeling intense powerlessness exacerbated by her frank admission of failing to respond to being misgendered, and the middle-class white straight men, well, it might just go over their heads. What’s this wumman on about?

On the comments wall, I took two pieces of paper marked in large letters

Power

and scrawled, “Charlotte was misgendered in the CalMac lavs. I was misgendered in the Tate Gallery Members’ Room” on one and “I have the

Power

to say I exist” on the other. Then I took lots of wee pins and stuck them all over these pieces of paper, skewering the word “Power” and each of the “I”s.

So there.

Waiting for the film/installation to start, I sat by a low table leafing through the books there. One is on queer art, another is a selection of the poems and essays of Audre Lorde specifically for the British market called

Your silence will not protect you

So now I have a book of Audre Lorde, to help me be an ally to ethnic minority people and, perhaps, help me survive.

What if I had shouted out in the showing that I had been misgendered? There were workers in the Duveen Gallery working with children, with suggestions as to participate in art, and when I said I too like to be playful the man gave me a pair of drumsticks. I noticed how the sound they made was different hitting with the tip or the middle of the stick, and investigated the sounds. I could break people’s absorption in the art work, and that distraction would be like Brecht’s alienation technique, they would see it in a new way. But the rooms showing the videos are carpeted, and I just hit the sticks together occasionally, very quietly. And if I had shouted, people would be too well-bred (or something) to show they noticed.

I had a fabulous day. I also spent hours with the Burne Jones exhibition. Pieces here come from the ordinary displays a few rooms away, and from as far as Stuttgart or Melbourne. Is not Madeleine Vivier-Deslandes utterly beautiful? There were so many beautiful things. There’s Perseus stealing the Graeae eye, on oak, and his armour is silver, and their dresses gold. The grey sisters are young, here. One has her pretty face and empty sockets turned to us. There’s a huge tapestry, of Gawain contemplating the Holy Grail and his two companions blocked by three angels from approaching. The trees are dark, and the wild flowers Botticellian. So, the Pre-Raphaelite descent into myth and fancy, before Freud, how ridiculous- except Madeleine is, perhaps, “chimeric, disordered and suffering”. All those buttons on her cuffs undone, and that bodice, so easily ripped. I went in ready for my irony to be exercised, and was entranced- and just a little disturbed. Just now and then.

8 thoughts on “Being misgendered

  1. I hate and get depressed when I’m misgendered too. It typically happens in a store or such environment, and it’s often women who make the mistake. When they do I stop, and calmly say(without any edge but perhaps a bit of sensitivity to my tone): “Please don’t call me sir.” Invariably they look up, examine me more closely, and embarrassedly apologize. I’ve even received hugs from a couple of them.

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    • “Please don’t call me Sir” is a good line.

      After I had been in the Employment Tribunal representing a trans woman in a claim of discriminatory dismissal, I was misgendered in a restaurant, and I burst into tears. That got sympathy. People just don’t think, or many of them would not do it.

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  2. It’s been quite some time (over a year) since I’ve been called “sir,” but I can still feel the sting from the last time I heard it. It actually came as a surprise to me, and I immediately looked behind me to see if the offender was addressing someone who might have been in close proximity. I said nothing in reply, but I’m sure my facial expression reflected what I was feeling, as if I were channeling Robert De Nero – “Are you talkin’ to Me?” Although I was wearing my work outfit of jeans and a T-shirt, my made-up face and feminine-styled wig, along with pretty good evidence of mammary protrusion, should have been enough to cancel out a “sir.” I quickly realized that she thought she was addressing a customer, and when I held up the bundle I was delivering she, rather sheepishly, said “Oh.” She wasn’t feeling any embarrassment for misgendering me, however; just misidentifying me as a customer. A delivery person, in her mind, I suppose would not warrant a title of respect like “sir.” This is my main gripe about it, too – using a term meant to show respect as a way to project one’s disrespect.

    There is a clerk at the place where I usually buy my gas (petrol) who always greets me with “How ya doin’, man?” That doesn’t bother me at all, especially since I’ve noticed that he greets every customer that way. In his case, it’s a habit, and he means nothing by it. There is another clerk there, however, who flirts with me more than just a little bit too much – going so far as to ask personal questions and wanting to exchange phone numbers (creepy, yuk). I’ve always known that being a woman is not easy, and being a trans woman can be awfully trying at times – Yes Sir, it can! 🙂

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    • There are fxckwits about. You can’t escape the fxckwits. We can’t let them hurt us. It is not as simple as saying “Names can never hurt me”- of course they can- but accepting that there will always be fxckwits, and what they think is worthless, is the goal.

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  3. I was misgendered yesterday and it stung. I work in a grocery as a cashier. Customer came in and said “How are you, sir?” to which I replied “It’s Ma’am, thank you very much.” After I had rang him out, he looked me right in the eyes and said “Have a nice day… Sir.”

    I don’t know where it came from. It just popped out. I replied “Have a nice day, Ass….” I managed to not call him an asshole only with extreme effort… I don’t think he heard me. He didn’t want to hear anything I had to say and was too busy hurrying away.

    Cheers,
    Joan

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    • Hello again, Joan. Charlotte in the loos. At best, a woman has glanced at her, thought “man” from her clothes without really looking, has gone out to check the sign on the door, and then has vocalised her embarrassment as people often do. At worst, a woman has read her as butch lesbian, disapproved, and gone through a pantomime deliberately to embarrass her. At best, it is a sign that she is on the margins of acceptable presentation. But that man was mean. People can be a right pain sometimes.

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  4. I try to use my own personal and public platforms to help educate my fellow cis folks on respecting people’s gender identities. In everyday life, awhile back I started adding “she/her” to my e-mail signatures/bylines/social media bios. Not because I’ve ever had a problem with being misgendered, but because I want to normalize the habit of offering our pronouns to other people without having to be asked, to give other people a safe space to share their pronouns, if desired. Small thing, but could make a big difference if enough of us did it.

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    • I am swithering between replying “Thank you” (without irony) and “Quite right too. Why would anyone do anything less?” The problem with giving your pronouns, as a cis person, is that it can pressure someone who is not yet ready to come out. To the demand “What are your pronouns?” before transitioning I might have loathed saying “he”, and feared saying “she”. There is safety in the closet, and danger out of it, as Joan shows.

      And the good thing about it is that it shows we are welcome, in some places, that we have allies as well as enemies.

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