Pronoun Change Anxieties

A few days ago, I started telling people that I am using male pronouns.  Being a very logical person, I made the decision swiftly and abruptly.  Basically, I admitted to myself that, yes, I was incontrovertibly trans, I reasoned that switching to male pronouns now would be a good strategic decision, and the very next day, I started asking folks to call me “he”.  I was not prepared for the awkward mechanics of a pronoun change and for the contradictory feelings it is giving me.

First of all, I feel kind of embarrassed and insecure.  I’ve been telling friends individually, and each time, I worry that they are surprised and that they didn’t see it coming.  If I suspect that a friend is surprised, I feel like that invalidates my maleness; it doesn’t “read” because even my good friends can’t “see” it.  With every disclosure, I worry that the friend is secretly thinking that I can’t really be trans and that don’t really seem male to them.

There’s also the awkwardness of not knowing how much to disclose.  “So what are your plans for the summer?”  “Well, I’ve started using male pronouns…” so far I’ve been letting people draw their own conclusions about what that means about my identity and my future plans, but sometimes I wonder if I should follow up with, “Yep, I’m a guy,” or “Yep, I’m trans,” or just “Yep, I’m a gay guy”?

A part of me feels like I’m disclosing something very private:  my feelings of gender dysphoria and my desire to be male.  Saying that I use male pronouns feels kind of like saying, in a casual social “How’s it going?” conversation, “Well, I’m kind of nuts.  You see, you’ve thought I was a girl all this time, but actually, I want to be a guy.  I spend painful hours worrying about not being and looking sufficiently male.  And even though it goes against your every instinct, I want you to play into my insanity by calling me ‘he'”.  I suppose it’s my own internalized transphobia, or my fear of the transphobia of others, or simply a certain sense of inauthenticity, but I sometimes find it deeply embarrassing to disclose my pronoun change, because of all of the unsaid things it implies.  Some folks are really trans-positive and want to share with me in a mood of excitement and celebration upon my disclosure.  And there certainly is something exciting, empowering, and courageous about making a move to claim my sense of myself in social space, to ensure that people respect it, and to refuse to be accept treatment based on incorrect assumptions about me.  I suppose that this empowering dimension is what I need to focus in on, but there’s also something really delicate and vulnerable about taking a certain private identity, intuited by a few but known and respected only by my lovers, bringing it suddenly out into the broad daylight and asking others to see and respect it.

There’s also the deep awkwardness of living, right now, in a kind of pronoun soup.  I’ve been trying to tell people individually or in small groups, and I’ve made the decision to only tell people who I consider friends.  This means that, in any social setting, there will be some people that know and others who don’t, some who I intend to tell at the right moment and others who I don’t care to tell.  So I constantly have to worry about what to do if someone refers to me in the wrong way, especially in a large group setting where correcting them might seem somewhat awkward and make my pronoun change the object of collective scrutiny.

Then, there’s the disappointment of the moments when friends who I’ve told refer to me as “she”, not because they forgot, but just because it slipped out of their mouths so naturally that they didn’t even realize they said it.  It doesn’t seem worth it to correct them every time they slip up.  They know, they just don’t always think when they speak.  The worst is that I take this to mean that I can’t really be trans enough, that I don’t seem like a “he” to them, and that I’m asking them to do something really unnatural and counterintuitive.

There’s the strangeness of the fact that I haven’t fully begun to think of myself as “he” yet.  When I imagine what others think about me in the third person, for instance, “she” is still what I automatically think.  It’s like a mind exercise, to think of myself as “he”.  In social settings, I don’t really know how to feel when people call me “she” or “he”.  While I do feel like a guy and want that recognized, I’m still not used to thinking of myself as a “he”.  So it isn’t as if I’m asking folks to call me what I already call myself in my head.  It’s more like we’re awkwardly transitioning together, with plenty of slip-ups on all sides.  My goal is to see if hearing myself called “he” feels validating, and if it makes me feel that I really am a “he”.

Finally, there’s the fact that I now feel like I have to hold myself to more rigid standards of masculinity.  Since I tell more people every day, every day, before I leave the house, I scrutinize myself in the mirror and ask myself if I look like a “he”.  After all, it has to be believable when people are first introduced to the idea.  It is now the beginning of a sweltering summertime, a very difficult time to pass, so I have to police my wardrobe and not wear the clothes that a slutty faggot would wear in the summertime, sometimes changing two or three times before I feel presentable.  For the moment, I feel more critical and unhappy with my appearance than before, since I’m trying so hard to help people see me as male.

Though all this awkwardness, I try to remind myself of some key points to help hold me steady.

First, I really am trans, and I have every right to ask people to respect that.  I have every right to ask people to use male pronouns for me.

Secondly, by asking people to call me “he”, I am asking them to change the way they think about me, and this is an uncomfortable process, so I should not expect it to be smooth sailing.  But the harder it is for people, the more wrong their idea of me was before, and the more necessary it is for them to do the work to change it.  The payoff is that, in the process of learning to call me “he” their idea of me will change; they will learn not to engage in verbal or nonverbal forms of feminine gendering; they will learn not to think of me as a women or a lesbian, and they will be more disposed to see me as a fag.

Thirdly, this is a kind of dry run whose aim is to prepare me to move into a new community of city queers.  It is difficult here because I am dealing with friends who have, in some cases, years of accumulated misconceptions of me (some of them which were at one point accurate, based on an earlier idea of myself) and the ingrained habit of calling me “she”.  At the same time, since they are my friends, I can’t help feeling like they ought to know me well enough to have already sensed that I was trans and should slip happily into using male pronouns.  So them messing up feels more invalidating than if a stranger got my pronoun wrong, even though it would probably be much easier for a stranger with no experience with my girl past and no accumulated uncorrected misconceptions to call me “he”.  Part of this dry run is about socially transitioning with my community, seeing how that feels, and being able to be absolutely sure of my identity as a “he” within the new community.  In other words, this is my chance, within a supportive environment, to work through all of the anxieties I described and to develop a practiced comfort with correcting people, introducing my pronoun, deciding when and how much to disclose, and so on.

When I get to the new city, introducing myself with male pronouns will have a certain instrumental value.  It will tell people what my gender is, how to treat me, and with whom I want to be affiliated.  It will also make my sexuality legible to guys I might want to date, especially those who might think twice before dating a “she”, or those who might be inclined to treat a “she” like a woman.

Any encouragement or suggestions are welcome.

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11 Responses to Pronoun Change Anxieties

  1. Kian says:

    You have now entered the most difficult part of transitioning, so I’d say you’re doing really well. Long-time friends and family will usually take the longest to switch pronouns and names, but nudging and prodding them along doesn’t hurt. I happen to have a potent stare that I used to have to use when someone slipped up or “forgot” – I don’t recommend being that rigid, but some people are really dense as to how important this is. You may have to have repeated conversations with certain people who either aren’t catching on or can’t move past it due to transphobia or cissexism. And sometimes the people you thought would get it because they know you really well end up being the people who don’t get it at all – this is was the hardest part for me to digest.

    As for laying out expectations of for pronouns, more information is better. Just saying you go by “he” now might not get your full point across, unless the person is trans-savvy.

    I’m really excited for you!

  2. Jack says:

    I agree with Kian. Your friends and family will take the longest to make the transition. They will inevitably and occasionally “mess up”. It’s not necessarily that they don’t see you as “he” though. We all have ingrained mental shortcuts and information that our brain stores and it takes practice to reverse these. That said, you should expect the most from them and make it clear that in public and in front of other friends they should refer to you as “he”. My friends even do this in front of waiters and bartenders now without having to think about it anymore.

    I hear you on masculine presentation and summer. I need to find a binder that is breathable and comfortable to go under lightweight t-shirts and sleeveless shirts.

  3. Faggot Boi says:

    Well Jack, you’re talking to the right guy! I happen to have recently become obsessed with products marketed to Taiwanese tomboys and FTMs. It is surprising to me that there are no Anglophone companies that market solely to the butch/FTM crew. Underworks does have a site that markets to FTMs, but it just includes a selection of the products they market to guys with man boobs. And Underworks products are notoriously tight and uncomfortable. So how thrilled was I to find a site that consolidates three of the most popular Taiwanese binder brands at discount prices? (That’s right, THREE. They don’t even include T-Kingdom stuff, which is the most popular Taiwanese binder brand in the U.S. FYI my T-Kingdom 690 http://www.t-kingdom.com/shopping/english/page690_english.shtml is super effective but not very comfortable or breathable).

    All the binders on this site are rated on a comparison chart for flattening power, comfort, durability, and breathability: http://www.lesloveboat.com/shop/compare.php Based on the chart, I ordered this Juya binder: http://www.lesloveboat.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=124 I got it for summer use, and it is truly miraculously light, comfortable, and breathable. But in fact, it binds great (I’m extremely small-chested), and I may never wear my T-Kingdom binder again. The only negative is that the straps are a bit thick and show under A-shirts, so I just ordered this Double binder today: http://www.lesloveboat.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=22_36&products_id=190 Perhaps I’ll post a binder review of all the binders I’ve tried once it arrives.

  4. Faggot Boi says:

    And thanks, Jack and Kian, for confirming that it’s normal for long time friends to have a hard time changing my pronoun, and not necessarily because they don’t “believe” my gender.

  5. Bond says:

    I suppose it’s my own internalized transphobia, or my fear of the transphobia of others, or simply a certain sense of inauthenticity, but I sometimes find it deeply embarrassing to disclose my pronoun change, because of all of the unsaid things it implies.

    This is exactly how I felt about my name change. The authenticity — the certainty — can only come with time. I was embarrassed as hell at first. It was one of the single best choices I have ever made.

    Then, there’s the disappointment of the moments when friends who I’ve told refer to me as “she”, not because they forgot, but just because it slipped out of their mouths so naturally that they didn’t even realize they said it. It doesn’t seem worth it to correct them every time they slip up. They know, they just don’t always think when they speak. The worst is that I take this to mean that I can’t really be trans enough, that I don’t seem like a “he” to them, and that I’m asking them to do something really unnatural and counterintuitive.

    It’s totally okay if you’re not up for it yet (I didn’t routinely correct people about my name for weeks), but, sooner or later: correct them. Every time. It’s the only way people will learn. All that these early mistakes mean is that humans take some time to adjust to change. All that later, habitual mistakes mean is that the person mispronouning you is a disrespectful jerk. At no stage in the process do they mean anything about you.

    Good luck & mazel tov on this big step.

  6. Faggot Boi says:

    Thank you, Bond. It helps to know that you felt embarrassment about your name change. I guess new names and pronouns are an aspiration more than a reflection of existing fact. They are something to grow into.

    And you’re right, I need to get comfortable with correcting people regularly. I’m a teacher, so maybe I should just go into teacher mode and correct people’s mistakes.

  7. Jack says:

    Thanks for the binder advice! This is very helpfu. I’m curious to know what size Juya binder you ordered. I visited that T Kingdom site once but I was afraid that even the larger sizes wouldn’t be big enough for me. Though I’m of a medium build and am fairly flat I have a large chest and I was afraid that a product designed for Taiwanese would be too small for me.

  8. Faggot Boi says:

    I’m a small in all the Taiwanese binders. I ordered a T-Kingdom medium, based on their size chart (measuring tightly across the chest gave me 32 inches, which put me in their medium range), but the medium ended up being too big. It was a velcro binder, so I can adjust to make it tighter, but that leaves some loose flap hanging. Based on the Juya size chart, http://www.lesloveboat.com/shop/sizechart.php, I got a small, which was just right. So I’d say measure yourself tightly across the chest and trust the Juya size chart. If you’re hovering between sizes (at 32 inches, I could have gotten a small or medium according to the Juya chart), go with the smaller size, since you definitely don’t want a loose binder, and for me, the medium would have been too big.

  9. Jack says:

    Just to summarize and clarify my previous comment—- Even though you state otherwise at one point in this post, I think you shrink the queer category too much. I found problematic this sentence in the comments section of your previous post: “Now that I think about it, the FTMs I know who were butch before they transitioned are now straight… that is, I don’t know how they identify, but they date feminine women, give off “straight” gender signs, and are read unproblematically as straight men. ” I think that because you’re invested in being recognized as ‘gay’ rather than ‘queer’ you tend to read these FTMs as ‘straight’ even though they may not identify as such. I’m invested in being recognized as ‘queer’ rather than ‘straight’ so I want the queer category to be wider. I think that your use of the term “heterogender” as a marker of sexuality dichotomously narrows sexuality to sameness or difference. Is this really want we want to do?

  10. Kian says:

    Jack – why not widen both categories, rather than just the queer one? I’m a gay trans man and for the longest time I refused to call myself gay because it ignored my history as a female-assigned person and because of internalized homophobia. But if I were not trans, I would never have questioned the idea of calling myself gay. Were you assigned male at birth and attracted to women, would you still want to label yourself as queer?

  11. Faggot Boi says:

    FYI, I wasn’t impressed with the Double 3rd generation velcro short binder I ordered: http://www.lesloveboat.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=22_36&products_id=190. I found the material too stretchy – it shows a bit too much contour for my tastes, unless I bind quite tightly, at which point it looks nice and flat but feels somewhat restrictive. The major problem, though, is that the edges, particularly at the bottom, are just too thick. Under a thin or tight t-shirt, one can actually see the shape of the binder. Also, the bottom part is too long and feels very restrictive around the rib cage where you don’t need any binding (maybe this is better for bigger-chested folk who need to push things down lower than I do). I use this as my back-up binder and am ordering a second Juya pullover binder today.

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