Love Takes Effort, And So Do My Pronouns

Happy Pronouns Day!

Somewhere in the world, your best friend is talking about you. Not in a mean way behind your back. Maybe they’re telling a story where you went to a party and had to carry them home. Or maybe they are remembering how much you love pancakes. It’s endearing to know that you are thought of, to have a piece of you pass through someone else’s lips is intimate. In the wrong hands, your name — and your pronouns — can also be devastating.

Hi, I’m Nikolas (or Charlie, if you’re a longtime GO reader of Dayna’s articles). I’ve been transitioning since 2015 when I officially came out as a man to my closest pals in college. They held me like the angels they are, and we worked through any pronoun slipups together. I am always grateful, but particularly today, International Pronouns Day. This day was created to recognize that respecting pronouns should be commonplace. When you misgender someone — that is, when you call them by a pronoun that they do not identify with — you disrespect their identity. I agree that it is a basic courtesy and sign of respect to use someone’s pronouns as they identify.

Not everyone in my life was immediately on board with making the switch. I told my friend Mindy on the phone while I was in the beer aisle of Walmart. Not exactly ceremonious. At first, she wanted to keep using my old name. That’s how she had always known me and she felt a little defensive that I was trying to take her best friend away. I get it; it’s a lot to take in. Through patience and a lot of chats, she’s come a very long way since then and I cherish her all the more for the work she put in to stay in my life. It has grown my trust in her to know that she takes my needs seriously, just like I take hers.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly most of my family adapted to my new identity. I have some very conservative family members who I thought for sure would either avoid me entirely or just refuse to acknowledge my transition. My family is not big on communication, so the word spread through a gossip grapevine passing from one cousin to another to aunts and uncles. My grandma typed me a letter (perhaps with a typewriter? I’m not entirely sure) and sent it to me at college. That was sweet and very peculiar, because the opening line was, “Nik, I know you are a transgender male.” Very formal. It was awkward at first, switching from hugs to handshakes with my uncles, but to my face at least, they have all been polite and supportive. My grandma slips up infrequently and corrects herself with poise, humor, and love (as she does everything). My aunt is my unexpected champion, reprimanding herself harshly when she slips up.

When I first came out, I was living with my dad and stepmom. Hearing them use my old name and pronouns was part of the reason my stay with them was very short. Once I moved out, I explained why it was so painful for me, and they were able to make the necessary adjustments. My dad makes inappropriate jokes about my new life that help me feel like not too much has changed.

 

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Everyone seems to be adjusting, except for my mother. My mom is fiercely defensive over her right to misgender me. After a particularly grueling day spent together in the city when she simply could not get my pronouns right, I remember she wanted me to play a “game” in which I had to call her dad instead of mom. Every time I did it wrong she “earned” a time misgendering me.

Later that night, sitting in the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, as all vulnerable conversations should happen, I explained how deeply that hurt, because it seemed like she wanted me to fail so that she could continue to fail. This is a large gap from the words that stuck with me from my aunt when I, used to my mother’s antics, responded that it was okay when she misgendered me. She said, “No, it’s not okay. You’re my nephew, and I love you, and I’m going to do it right.”

Unlike the rest of the people in my life, when my mom makes a slip-up, she doesn’t quickly correct course. Rather, she will go on about how hard it is for her and why I need to give her time to adjust. This seemed fair to me for the first year — heck, even two years, as I was using female pronouns for 22 years before I made the switch. But now, with a solid chin strap, post-surgery, after 3 years of using my new name and pronouns exclusively, it feels personal. It feels intentional. It feels very hurtful.

I had a lot of therapy to help me temper my bad moods and anger so that I can communicate even when I’m frustrated. It has helped me a lot when I am so deeply hurt by the actions of others. I can’t control other people but I can control my responses. (I repeat this in my head 100 times when I visit my mom on Long Island.) But no amount of explaining seems to get through to someone who is hell-bent on not doing something. It takes effort, which is why I praise and appreciate all of the people in my life who gave stand out performances in supporting me. I like to think of myself as someone who puts in effort for the people I love. I’m happy to help someone move houses, drive long distances, take off work, to be there when someone needs me.

 

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Happy Pride Part 2 #cradlecrop #pride #trans #nyc

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Pronouns, to me, are a way to show effort and love. Nobody is claiming that it’s an immediate process. But just like when a stranger corrects you when you misgender a pet, you can change your mind and realize that someone does not identify how you first imagined. It’s genuinely crushing when I realize some people are not willing to make the same effort they would for a stranger’s animal. To hear the wrong name or pronouns makes me cringe. It’s not just embarrassing, it hurts. I’m an effort that some do not wish to make. This is probably a bit dramatic, but I’m being vulnerable here. Know that I really do believe my mom would choose to not hurt me if it was effortless. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Unfortunately, when I imagine her speaking of me, I don’t think she’s talking about her son. I imagine her dancing around mentioning me or perhaps blindly misgendering me when there is no one around to correct her. I would rather be forgotten then wrongfully described.

We are all worthy of love, support, and respect. Happy Pronouns Day!


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