I’ve come to realize, over the last couple of years, that I know quite a few people who either have, or are in the process of, transitioning to another gender. My first experience with this came in the mid-1980s; the place I worked at the time brought in a manager from another city to take over operations after the current manager was fired. That person was someone I had met years ago, but hadn’t seen for quite some time. When she was introduced, I was startled to hear the name change, and indeed, her dramatic change in appearance. Having not seen her for years at that point – and not having been all that well acquainted with her in the first place, calling her by her new name was an easy transition for me to make.
Since then, quite a number of people I’ve known — co-workers, friends, and acquaintances — have come out as going through gender reassignment. I have to say it gets easier to adjust to over time and with frequency, but I still recall one unfortunate episode from several years ago. I was driving some friends around during WisCon weekend, one of whom had recently completed (or nearly completed) going through this change. I was trying really hard to not use her “dead name” — the name from her former life — but as the evening went on, I slipped up: her voice, her speech patterns, so familiar to me from years of her living in the same town and being part of the same group of science fiction fans as I was, meant that falling back into old habits was easy. I called her by her old name. The silence that followed was deafening, and I immediately felt horrible. She then went on to introduce herself to me in an attempt to laugh it off, but I felt sick to my stomach; she had worked for years to get to this point, and through a simple slip of the tongue in an unguarded moment, I’d made her feel uncomfortable at the absolute best.
I still feel terrible about it to this day, even though I understand how and why it happened, and know that it wasn’t intentional. There are so many people in this world who are overtly — even violently — hostile to transgender folks that dead naming as a means to belittle is all too common. But for me, as a friend who wanted to show support and encouragement, I felt I had failed her in the most profound way possible.
Nearly everyone has something about themselves they wish they could change. To take the incredible leap of faith and change something so fundamental as one’s gender can only be difficult, and most of the people I know going through this deal with the hostility, loneliness, and lack of acceptance that our culture shoves at them daily with grace and courage. I will continue to be an ally to all my trans-gender friends, acquaintances, and colleagues in the future, and while I will admit that I don’t always understand, I will always give my support and encouragement to the greatest degree that I can.
For Diana, Emma, Claire, Eddie, Jennelle, Rose, Sophie, Renee, Molly, and more, and for all those still coming to terms with what they need.