"Hey, I’m a young FtM transgender guy and I just got called "it" for the first time. The person who said it meant it as a joke after my friends were explaining the pronoun thing, and they immediately addressed it and we all moved on. But now I can’t get it out of my head and I’m feeling down. I don’t hold it against him, because he didn’t know and he was just trying to be funny (he’s new around here too), but I just can’t seem to leave it alone. I’ve never felt this way before. How do I move on?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Oh, my friend. My heart aches for you. This is such a familiar feeling for me.
So many times in my life, a fun evening has been soured by someone saying something stupid about my gender identity. That person will forget what they said almost immediately, but hours later I’ll still be sitting up in bed, reeling from disappointment.
From your letter, I get the sense you can relate.
We’re not crazy, by the way. There is a reason it hurt so terribly to be called “it.” These comments are more than faux pas, or a failed joke. This is one of a list of slurs that have been the last words heard by those of our trans siblings who have been killed. Slurs like these are acts of violence unto themselves.
We are too valuable to be used for a cheap laugh.
Therefore, you need to come up with a plan: A first aid kit for those emergency moments.
First, you need to exit the situation safely. Why exit?
Think back to the night you described in your letter. The name-caller wasn’t trying to be mean. Your friends stood up for you in the moment (yay, friends!), and everyone moved on. Yet you still feel raw and hurt now.
I’ve found that by staying in that situation, I keep feeling dehumanized—even if it was said in a joking way, even if my friends stand up for me, even if I say it’s okay. By hanging around, it makes it seem as though disrespecting me isn’t that big of a deal. And I regret it later.
I also regret times I’ve engaged with the name-caller in the moment. I try to explain why the comment was hurtful, but instead of listening, the perpetrator gets defensive. This stinks, but it makes sense….I am calling him out in front of our mutual friends, and expressing why what they said was transphobic and hurtful to them, and an audience. And while it feels gratifying to call someone transphobic after they’ve hurt me, it ultimately shuts down the conversation and makes me seem brash. Jay Smooth, of Race Forward and Ill Doctrine, has a really helpful video on how to call people out on racist comments. The same strategy can be very helpful in talking to someone about transphobic comments.
Right when the incident happens is not the best time to engage in a Transgender Identities 101 lecture with this person. Instead, you need to prioritize taking care of yourself.
When this happens to me, I say, “That’s not funny. I don’t appreciate hearing that, so I am going to head out.” Usually I can leave the location, but if you have to stay—like if your ride isn’t coming for another hour, or if you are at your family’s house and your sibling is the culprit—you might want to head to another room, or go take a walk around the block.
In the aftermath, address the three parties involved: your friends, the culprit, and yourself.
Let your friends know that you appreciated their support. This is, of course, what everyone should do, but the sad fact is many people don’t. And it never hurts to tell someone you appreciate them. But you also need to let them know that these comments are unacceptable, and that you will continue to leave the group hangout if you are disrespected, because there needs to be a consequence for making transphobic comments.
Next, there’s the perpetrator. If this person is going to keep hanging around, it’s worth it to take some time and address what happened. So contact the person—this can range from a text to an email. You don’t want to give them an out to start trying to defend themselves—or as Jay Smooth says in the video linked above, you don’t want to twist a conversation about what they did into a conversation about what they are.
If you decide to talk to this person, be clear: this is not a discussion. This is not two people on equal footing expressing their feelings. This is an intervention, because this person majorly messed up. So be clear: tell them never to call you, or anyone else, “it.” Tell them to back off of any “jokes” about trans folks. Tell them that the trans community is languishing in poverty, depression, and violence because many cis people think our identities are jokes.
Don’t get too deep, though. Though you are a beacon of light, there is a dark side at play here. Trans people, especially those of us who are open and communicative about our identities, are heirs to a legacy of faux-guruism. Often, we are treated like we exist to make cis people really think about gender for the first time. We are our own people. We don’t exist to teach anyone else. Don’t be part of toxic ecosystem. You are not getting paid to be this person’s Gender 101 professor. So in closing, suggest that this person read a book like Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, or check out online resources to get more information.
Then there’s you. Be proud for standing up for yourself. You don’t know what will happen, but you can feel hope. Hope that this person will come around. Hope that your friends will continue to support you in your journey. Hope that the small actions we take with great love can better our world for everyone in it.
Everyone Is Gay has started a new project to help parents who have LGBTQ kids: Check out The Parents Project!