The wide eyes of panic, the slight tinge of betrayal in her shoulders; that’s what I remember.
I was sitting on a couch, leaning back into too-thin cushions: little back support. We were playing a tabletop game, our heads engrossed in one of my closest friend’s voice. I get up to get water when we take a break, the other’s voices jumbled words muffled by the kitchen’s tile.
I hear one friend say, “I liked that description of the witch, it was almost real.” I close the fridge door, walking slowly back towards them.
“Yeah, he did it perfectly.”
I realize my mistake immediately.
“Sorry, she.” I correct myself, but it’s too late. Guilt hangs in my chest, burning each time I remember her reaction.
My brain is clouded by my mistake the whole night, throughout the drive home and when I’m sitting on the side of my bed. I send an apologetic text, not sure how to fully reflect the shame I feel.
But this is the type of shame that shapes you. I never forgot again, never slipped again. I think it’s different when someone you love is transgender or non-binary: you adjust yourself to something unfamiliar to you, but has been so familiar to the other person, possibly haunting them for years.
There are many experiences from the LGBTQ+ community that some people can’t relate to or understand.
For myself, the idea of someone mistaking or fully rejecting a key piece of my identity is ridiculous, and having to hide it is even more foreign. But a survey commissioned by Stonewall in 2017 revealed 50 per cent of transgender and non-binary people have hidden or disguised that they are LGBTQ+ in the workplace for fear of discrimination.
So what, then, does that mean about those of us who are cisgendered, or those who identify with the gender given to us at birth?
D.A. Dirks, women and gender studies professor at Mount Royal University, believes it’s in our hands — not trans and non-binary folks — to understand and educate ourselves.
“Allies themselves should be educated and help others who are cisgendered to be educated about the problems that transgender and nonbinary people face and what they’re trying to accomplish, which is just being identified the way they identify,” says Dirks.
Hurt is an under exaggeration. A 2014 study in the journal Self and Identity asked transgender people about their experiences with being misgendered and found 32.8 per cent of participants reported feeling stigmatized, and frequently experienced lower self-esteem around their appearance, despite feeling that their identity was important.
Letters of identity can be misconstrued as something fixed to either female or male: something that transgender, but especially non-binary folks know to be true.
I wonder, sometimes, what would life be like if I wasn’t the gender I had been assigned to at birth, or if I had felt stuck in a limbo in-between, unsure for years what I identified with.
My partner, Em, is non-binary — doesn’t conform to society’s gender binary — which is something I’ve known since before we started dating. The first time I learned this was in line at Tim Hortons at school, when someone had called them “Sir,” which confused me a great deal.
I had been dipped in a common, practically LGBTQ+ community-wide experience I had yet to understand.
I knew they could tell my confusion, but they ignored it until we had gotten our coffees, walking down a dimly-lit side hallway.
“This isn’t uncommon”, they say, followed by a genuine laugh. The other person’s ignorance was a joke, something they experienced often that didn’t bother them.
As soon as I knew this, I didn’t quite understand. The best to explain it in terms of my life would be when someone assumes I’m straight — laughable, but fairly mistakable.
Not quite the same though.
We put such a huge emphasis on gender in our society it’s hard to detach yourself from it; I admire those who do, but I never grasp how they do it.
Rejecting letters of an identity pushed on you takes a lot of courage.
When remembering this recently, I asked my partner about it. They narrowed their eyes, telling me they don’t remember it. I insisted it happened, and they nodded.
“I don’t doubt that. I just don’t remember every time.”
That made me sit back. I guess something that happens that often isn’t a huge event — but thinking about the times someone has pointed out something about my sexuality, I realize there’s a common theme to all of this.
People are often more worried about what gender you identify with, what sect of society you conform to, rather than your sexuality.
I remember the time I misgendered my own best-friend, and realize that my brain had a harder time wrapping around her gender because it’s set up as such an inescapable pillar.
But, make no mistake, that isn’t an excuse for disrespect. If you force letters of identity on someone, don’t get mad when they shape them to fit.
Editor: Kiah Lucero | firstname.lastname@example.org