One of my classes involves a lot of discussion. I have an obviously masculine name, which has been used to name me many times over the course of the semester. We have also all done oral presentations. No one has given me any sort of problem with my name or appearance all semester, and people generally identify me as male over 90% of the time, anyway. I can almost take it for granted that people will perceive me as male. So when a couple of people referred to me using feminine pronouns during the class discussion today, I wasn’t sure I’d heard them right.
Well, that wasn’t the only reason why I wasn’t sure they’d actually just said that. I have an unfortunate tendency not to trust my own memories and perceptions. If someone remembers something differently than I do, I’ll assume I’m the one remembering it wrong. If someone else hears something differently, I’ll doubt my perceptions rather than theirs. Even when I am just showing up for an appointment, I’ll go out of my way to make sure I have the appointment card with me, as physical proof, to myself and others, that I came to the right place at the right time, because apparently I have so little trust in my own memory and perception that I’m never comfortable insisting “No, I’m sure I came at the right time.” So when someone uses the wrong pronouns for me in a situation where I’m expecting people to get my pronouns right as a matter of course (e.g. a class with a lot of discussion where I’ve been known by an unambiguously masculine name for half a semester), my first thought will be that I must have heard them wrong.
This incident really threw me for a loop. I wanted to ask someone else if they heard that, too, to verify my own perceptions. I decided to ask the teacher if she heard it, after everyone else left. If multiple people in the class were using the wrong pronouns for me, she would be the first person to talk to in order to deal with it, anyway.
It turns out she didn’t hear it. She wasn’t sure it hadn’t happened, though, she just didn’t notice it if it did. I said a bunch of things to minimize the whole situation, like that it’s not a big deal, and maybe I heard them wrong anyway, and I’m sure they weren’t doing it on purpose. But she told me that if I thought I’d heard it, that it had probably happened, and she took me seriously. So we talked about what she could do to deal with it if it happened again. I asked her to just make a point to use the correct pronouns for me if someone used the wrong ones (not to correct them, just to use the right ones and hope people learned by example). I wanted as little attention drawn to me as possible.
But now I’m thinking I should’ve asked her to correct people if they use the wrong pronouns (using the no big deal method–just correct them and move on). It would draw slightly more attention to the issue, I guess, but it would be more likely to work. I guess I am afraid that if she corrects someone using the wrong pronouns, that they will try to insist that I am a girl. In front of the whole class. That’s much more likely to happen if someone was purposely using the wrong pronouns, I think. And there is one person in the class that I could imagine doing that on purpose. But if that did happen… the teacher would have my back. She would be the one dealing with the problem. I could just sit there… being horribly embarrassed… *sigh* But, even if that did happen, maybe at least some people in the class would learn the importance of using the correct pronouns for people. Maybe it would be worth it. It’s not like I’ll have to deal with any of these people after the class ends, anyway. It’s not a class in my area of study. So that would end up okay, right?
I really hate dealing with shit like this, though. It’s even worse when I end up wondering if I’m making a big deal over nothing. It’s more likely that it actually happened if I heard twice than if I only heard it once, though. Imagining it once is plausible, but twice? When he/she and his/her are sooo much more distinct than, say, man/ma’am? But I still keep doubting myself.
And why can’t my voice just drop an octave or two already? That’s the number one thing that leads people to think I’m female, anyway. Or is it the way I dress? Is it my hair? Is my binder even more worn out than I thought it was? I’ve already been avoiding wearing a pendant I really like because it seems like people identify me as female more often when I’m wearing it. And I have this ritual of staring at myself in the mirror any time I’m wearing a new shirt or hoodie, or wearing something old in a new way, to make absolutely sure that I don’t look like I have too weird of a bulge on my chest. And then even if it probably looks fine I usually end up changing my clothes multiple times before I go out, anyway. I’m sad that summer is coming, because I won’t be able to get away with wearing a hoodie over a light sweater over a t-shirt over a binder any more. It’s just getting too warm for that. And I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable wearing fewer layers to obscure my chest fat, especially when I’m wearing a backpack, which has a way of pulling loose clothing tighter against my chest.
I really hate dealing with all of this doubt and uncertainty and insecurity all the time. I especially hate when things like this happen and remind me that at least some of it is warranted.