There is nothing that makes my confidence falter faster than when someone I love and trust misgenders me. Sometimes it's accidental and the people I love work to correct themselves and do better the next time, but that isn't always the case.
Sometimes it's family, sometimes it's friends, sometimes it's coworkers, and sometimes it isn't an accident. Sometimes it's intentional and when that's the case, it's always brutal. It always hurts longer than you want it to.
Laverne Cox, a "proud African-American, transgender artist", has stated many times that misgendering trans people, especially intentionally, is a direct act of violence -- and, she's right.
Misgendering, calling someone by the wrong pronouns or honorifics, leads to feelings of isolation, discomfort, anxiety, and rejection. This can often cause psychological harm to trans people and put a stunt in their road of transitioning if that is what they have chosen for themselves.
Personally, I identify as nonbinary and use they, them, and their pronouns. I'm not out to everyone, especially some family after a horrible incident with one of my siblings.
Then I have my other siblings, as uncomfortable as it makes all of us, refer to me by my assigned pronouns at birth and my dead name when among family who do not know of my identity. They are not intentionally misgendering me to be malicious - they are doing it because I feel it is necessary for my own safety.
On the other hand, I have family who knows about my pronouns and name and blatantly refuses to use them. I have put up a fight with these family members, a fight I am quickly becoming exhausted from, and I don't think it registers to them how awful it makes me feel. I don't just hear myself being misgendered and deadnamed, I hear exactly what you think of trans people and, more personally, what you think of me being trans.
So, here are five things I hear between the lines when you intentionally misgender me.
1. "My comfort means more to me than your safety."
I have a sense of safety when people refer to me by my correct name and pronouns. There is no bigger sense of relief than when you're holding your breath, waiting for someone to misgender you, and they don't. It's a small boost of confidence and happiness. Repeatedly misgendering me isn't making me comfortable, it's making you comfortable. It's incredibly selfish and disheartening, especially when I've discussed how it makes me feel. You make it very clear that my safety means nothing to you when it stands in the way of your comfort.
I always get the argument of, "So, I should be uncomfortable to make you happy?" and the answer is: If it makes you uncomfortable to refer to me by my correct name and pronouns, then you have no business being in my life. Period.
2. "Your identity is invalid and I will not defend you against others who agree with me."
In a time where media is so deeply ingrained in our society, a lot of trans people receive backlash from the internet. I am no stranger to this kind of online assault, but it makes me feel better when I have a whole army of people ready to defend me and who I am in a split second.
When you constantly dehumanize me by referring to me as the wrong stuff, you're telling me that if someone harasses me, you will not be on my side. Whether there is any truth in that does not matter, because you are actively proving to me that you do not see me as what I identify with and that, at any given moment, you could be one of my harassers.
3. "I don't mind hurting you repeatedly."
This one hits the hardest, almost. Strangers misgendering me is nothing compared to when family or people who I thought were friends misgender me. That kind of pain runs deep because it's never just once. It's over, and over, and over again with no sign of it stopping.
It's left me crumpled in a bathroom stall and crying. It's left me teetering on the edge of a rooftop. It's left me ten seconds from running away from everyone that I love and starting over. There are people who hurt you and don't realize it, but misgendering people intentionally is something that common sense tells you hurts, and yet here you are. Showing the world and I that it doesn't bother you.
4. "No matter how hard you try, you'll never get me to change my language."
I have tried thousands of times to get people to use my correct pronouns. Sometimes I succeed, and other times I don't. It shows me the kind of people I want to have in my life. But, it's not that easy when it's family. We have a society that runs it to the bone that family is everything, and the thought of losing my family sends and ache I know I will not survive if it were to happen.
I can't force people to change their language and I'm really not trying to. I want people to change their language because they want to - because they care about me and my feelings, but when they intentionally misgender me, I don't see an end to the constant harm and it is a gloomy vision to have.
5. "I do not support you, and I am neither your ally nor someone you can depend on."
I'd say I have a pretty good support team with me. I have people who love me and encourage me in everything I do, but I also have people who make faces when I talk about my gender. I know that, in the present where it matters, they are no ally of mine and they will not stand with me in times where I face injustice among society. I know they will leave me standing there alone with no backup when the world goes to hell, and I know I cannot depend on them when I need them.
Most of these people are family I am not quite confident enough to cut out yet. I know that I am always in the corner of people who mean the most to me, and it's heartbreaking to know that that feeling is not mutual for some of them.
Now, I do not believe that these five things are what is trying to be implied, but your intent means nothing to me when the impact is harmful to everything I am and everything I stand for. Do better, be better. If you want to stick around in my life, you have to accept the fact that I am trans nonbinary or you cannot stay any longer. I am done with trying to prove myself to people, especially to those who never tried to support or accept me in the first place.
I am not asking a lot out of you. If demanding that you stop treating me with violence and aggression, and actually care about my wellbeing and safety, is just too much for you to handle, then walk away. I promise you, I would rather you watch from the sidelines and mock me in silence than to stand in my court and pretend you're being supportive. I don't deserve it, I will never deserve it, and I'm done pretending like I do.