Friday, 2 January 2009

More on that dreaded grammatical element...

A good while ago, I was in a bar with various people, including the first trans woman I had knowingly met. I knew she was trans because someone had told me - no-one would guess from just looking at her. She was tall (but not that tall) thin and pretty.

So there was I, in the same bar, talking with some guys about the different cocktails.

"I like that one, and he likes that one," said one guy, pointing in the woman's direction.

"Who?" said I, completely confused.

"Oops, sorry, she."

There were no bodily cues whatsoever about the woman that might cause a slip of the tongue. Nor was this bloke intending to say something hateful. It's just that he'd known her since before her transition two years before, and was too lazy to pay attention to pronouns.

Now, I've seen the same thing happen to other trans people, and read various accounts online in which the person complains "I transitioned TEN YEARS AGO, I have all the physical characteristics generally assigned to my gender, and people are STILL getting it wrong. When I point it out, they go "Oh, but it's really hard to get it right"!"

So... those hypothetical* non-op transsexuals I mentioned before , who go through the unpleasantness of hormone treatments and surgery just so other people will get it right, not because they have to... well actually, they're screwed, aren't they?

And all those people who say that non-op/no-hormones transsexuals, and transgender people, and genderqueer people, should just make some EFFORT to "pass" and it's UNFAIR!! to expect everybody else to respect them even though they haven't had some surgical procedures...

Well, we knew they were complete morons, but now we have some concrete evidence to prove it, in that what they're suggesting doesn't work.

And another rehash of the "but it's so hard!" thing... It'd odd how I've rarely spoken to a trans person who hasn't had that phrase thrown at them when it comes to pronouns.
Surely it just can't be hard to substitute one small word for another, when both of which are equally pronounceable with the human mouth (or hands)? Here are some uses of the word "hard" that I don't find completely puzzling (the word does have a wide range):

It's hard to complete this piece of academic work that is appropriate to, or higher than, my level of study.
It's hard for me to fix a car engine, because I only have the faintest idea how they work.
It's very hard for someone with depression to complete everyday tasks.
It's extremely hard for someone whose family have all been blown up by a bomb to complete everyday tasks.

Is this an autism thing, where I take a word or phrase too literally? Or am I right, and is the usage truly peculiar?

(A confession - they're not so hypothetical, actually. I might be one of them, I might not. Anyway, I bet the poor bastards exist)


Battybattybats said...

It can be hard to undo many behaviours that have become habitual or ingrained though.

That takes time and practice and it often involves occassional relapses.

When someone I knew changed his first name when he took on his stepfathers surname (he became G--- Roberts instead of becoming Robert Roberts) it took a long time for us to stop calling him Rob. We managed most of the time but sometimes it'd just slip out. Some years later when the second marriage had fizzled he went back to being Robert and changed his surname back. Again it took as a very long time to get used to calling him Rob again and even now years and years later sometimes someone will call him G---.

I suspect it's a memory/neurology thing. When interacting with him and recalling a memory from the time we called him G--- we maybe more likely to use that name unintentionally instead of Rob.

So rather than laziness it could be that for many they are complaining about the difficulty in permanantly shifting memory association reflexive behaviour.

In which case while clearly painful for many TS people it may be an unavoidable occasional occurance despite the best intentions and hard work of those involved.

Of course a swift apology to the TS should be in order and its important the cis-folk understand the emotional hurt such a mess-up can result in for the TS.

But considering my own experiences with peoples name changing I could see that pronoun-associations with people could be just as tricky a habit to break.

Kim said...

ok im ashamed and im sorry
i do it, not all the time but sometimes, i always apologise though

and i NEVER do it on purpose its just like Battybattybats said
its a memory/neural thing im used to something else my memory tells me something else so no matter how hard i try i sometimes slip

dont worry if someone is doing it on purpose to upset you i will sort them out :D


zeo said...

Anyone demanding you "look right" in order for them to call you the "right" pronoun is more concerned about respecting gender norms and the people who want to uphold them than the people who don't fit those norms and are regularly emotionally and physically targetted because of them. The people who most demand compliance with those norms in order to "earn" the respect of the proper pronoun usually are more interested in using the wrong pronoun anyway just to point out how they're "in the know" about what a given transperson "really" is.

zeo said...

But also I'll point out that pronoun slips don't happen only in the context of transfolk--I know plenty of parents who have messed up their cisgender children's pronouns, for example--and for many people whose first language doesn't have gendered pronouns it can be complicated as well. Personally I don't tend to even bring it up unless someone is persistantly erring.

Oliver A. FP said...

Gosh, from this I've learned just how differently my brain functions in this respect! Thanks everybody!

I don't find it difficult at all to change the name/pronoun of someone I knew before. A fact in my head has been entirely replaced with a new fact. That's why I get upset about accidental pronoun slips - if someone did it purposefully, I'd yell at them and that would be it.

I take things absolutely literally, and yes, haven't quite wrapped my head around this "theory of mind" thing. If someone says they're a girl, I'll never think of them as a boy again. If someone calls me "she" I'll assume they think I'm a girl.

Theory of mind, Olli! You can do it!

BBB - I would have stuck with Robert Roberts, personally!

Kim - I'd feel guilty after setting you on someone, when they were nothing but a smear on the ground... *hugs*

Z - I'd never get upset if someone whose first language wasn't English mixed up my pronouns. As someone who can understand almost anything in French, but nevertheless can't string sentences together...

Battybattybats said...

"BBB - I would have stuck with Robert Roberts, personally!"

Indeed. Me too. Still i respected his choice to change his name to the utmost of my ability.

nixwilliams said...

ooooohhh! *seethes* MY PET HATE! warning: ranting ahead!

i think it can be difficult to change a habit, but when people break out the "it's so harrrrrd" thing, i think it's usually accompanied by resistance, laziness, lack of respect or a (wilful?) lack of awareness of just how hurtful they are being. i get so angry when people say, "give me time" or "it's hard to break a habit" because no matter what their intentions, it comes across as an attempt at making an excuse. basically, i would rather people own their fuck-ups, and work harder on getting it right in the future. i wish people would stop, well, blaming trans people for making their life more difficult!

i realise this isn't entirely what you meant, but the guy who mispronouned the woman in your story seems to not realise how dangerous it can be to out someone like that.