So I’m out and about in the world, having spent an inordinate amount of time to get my new bangs just right, my dangling earrings swaying in the breeze, a hint of lipgloss and an ambiguously femme shirt on… maybe not presenting all-out female but certainly strongly hinting in that direction. And I’ve got that little extra sway in my step and arch to my eyebrow because it’s a nice day and I’m a happy girl.
Then I step into the drugstore to grab a Coke or something. I walk up to the counter, looking at all the colorful geegaws, waiting my turn, then I set my bounty down and reach for my wallet. The clerk locks eyes with me, and in a voice as cold as a winter night in Fairbanks says, “Can I help you, sir?”
I wilt. Behind the polite words of that simple phrase is judgement, and contempt, and constrained rage. I mutter and duck my head, pay for my purchases, and scurry out into a day whose magic has been rudely dispersed.
Misgendering is the act of referring to somebody (especially but not exclusively a transgender somebody) with pronouns or titles of a gender with which they don’t identify. A classic example would be a drill sergeant calling male recruits “ladies” in order to belittle, humiliate and push them. It’s become a favorite pastime of Internet trolls trying to score cheap points against transgender posters. And it happens in real life, with consequences ranging from the embarrassing to the lethal.
Am I being misgendered when I encounter the surly “sir”? It’s a fair question. Since my gender identity is fluid, you could argue that it’s impossible to misgender me — or conversely, that it’s impossible to consistently gender me correctly, given the limitation of the English language.
But… it’s not really the words. It’s that tightness in the voice, the tension in the posture. It’s that look in his eye that says only the threat of dire consequences keeps him from leaping the counter and showing me what he really thinks of my girlish good looks.
I can take a lot of “sirs” and “bros” and “gentlemen” and whatever from people with no malice in their hearts. That’s one of the stops on the YukonSam Gender Railroad, and it’s what some people I dearly love have been calling me as long as they’ve known me. Even if I jumped the tracks at Petticoat Junction and settled there for the rest of my life, I could cope with people who love me but who will always think of me as the man I never fully was.
But the surly “sir” from a hostile stranger? That’s another story. That’s a microaggression, one of those subtle little put-downs that seem like no big deal, but which accumulate over the course of a lifetime into a massive stinking mountain of negativity.
Want to know why people snap over some slight that seems like nothing to you? Look for the mountain of other pebbles upon which that one was dropped. Maybe that irrational reaction isn’t so irrational after all.