Translation: An Encounter With Gender Identity
Posted October 7, 2010
What is said casually may not be casually received; my encounter with the complex world of pronouns.
While interviewing a transgendered male to female (M2F), I unknowingly offended him. While I spoke to him, I noticed that he was uncomfortably fidgeting in his seat; as if each question I asked contained a vile odor.
After a moment of looking at me curiously, he sat there and said: “Classic example of ignorance.”
Astonished by his assessment I anxiously searched for this classic example; maybe someone had walked in with a shirt that read “homophobe”. But the classic example he spoke of was not as obvious. He wiped his blond hair from his face, looked me in the eye, and in his masculine voice said “you are the classic example”.
Me! I didn’t notice. But better yet, did you notice?
I stated earlier that he was a transgendered male to female. Meaning HER sexuality is female, thus her pronoun should be as such. Throughout this entire article and the interview, I had called her, a him. I did this throughout the interview even though majority of the interview was a discussion of people’s inability to call her by the pronoun that she desired.
But I Knew This….
Once she pointed out my mistake I immediately apologized. I was appalled that I was unaware of this mistake, especially as someone who prides themselves on education. I thought I understood everything…
I knew about gender identity…“Gender identity refers to how one thinks of one’s own gender: whether one thinks of oneself as a man (masculine) or as a woman (feminine.) The way society expects a feminine or masculine person to act (dress, speak, relate to others) is called a gender role or social gender role and forms our construct or definition of what gender is.”
I understood the significance in respecting a person’s gender identity and their preferred pronouns. Yet, when placed in a prolonged situation, I failed to do so.
It’s That %$&*@ Conditioning…
From the beginning of our lives it seems we are conditioned into gender roles; welcomed into the world with the hands of societal standards. Even while eyes are only acquainted with the darkness of the womb, gifts are being chosen and questions are being asked based on the sex and gender.
We so often accompany sex and gender together that we fail to see the difference. This was my mistake, my conditioning mistake. At the beginning of the interview I carefully chose my words making sure that I used the correct pronoun. As the conversation went on I began to become more comfortable and associated her masculine voice with the pronoun I thought fit, forgetting the pronoun she preferred.
Comforted by my sincere apology, we left the interview shaking our heads, saying “It’s that %$&*@ conditioning…”
Or it could be a cop out and I was simply insensitive to the situation (in terms of objectivity). Whichever you decide, I am still going to shake my head at that … %$&*@ conditioning.
For a detailed overview about the difference between sex and gender read J.Bradley Blankenship’s post: Distinguishing Sex From Gender: Step 3.