This is the third in a series on misgendering, ways we can avoid it, and ways to help when others are doing it.
What do I do when I see someone being misgendered, or think I’m seeing someone being misgendered? There is no straightforward answer. Every situation is different, and every person is different. Other questions that arise when considering this is the context are: What context is this happening in? Do we know the person? Do we know the person well? Do we know the person doing the misgendering? Is it possible to determine the intent of the misgendering? Do we know what the person who is being misgendered prefers for a response in this situation? More questions than answers so far, yes. Will I be able to describe what to do in every situation? No. I can, however, provide some guidance.
Perhaps the most important question mentioned above is, what does the person want others to do? I think I know how I would want others to respond in a situation, but it is not a given as each situation is different. When we do not know how the person would like us to respond we can find ourselves feeling awkward when they are misgendered. I experienced this myself in the past couple weeks when at a fairly public event. A person was misgendered, I knew they were being misgendered, but I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment. I had not had the conversation about how to respond when witnessing them being misgendered.
How I handle it when I’m misgendered varies greatly depending on the situation, so it isn’t any different when I think how friends and family might respond. If you know a person well, ask them how they might want you to respond. It’s possible that they haven’t even thought about it. By asking you are giving the person ownership in their own identity and how it is conveyed to the world. Having the conversation helps make our responses when we witness a person being misgendered less awkward.
When we don’t know a person, but suspect that the person may have been misgendered the feeling can be quite awkward. My mind automatically races to all the possibilities. A proper response often requires a guess or assumption about the person we perceive as being misgendered. Such assumptions, as I have mentioned in previous posts, are fraught with peril. My own strategy in these situations is to try to be observant and follow the interaction, focusing on cues from the person I suspect is being misgendered.
In any situation if the person being misgendered corrects the person doing the misgendering and it continues, step in! At this point the intentions are clear, the person is being disrespectful and intentionally misgendering. This is a form of abuse and violence. Stepping in can take many forms and I suggest you do what fits your personality. Hitting the person, however, is not advisable and may result in some time in government enforced subsidised housing. The best approaches include affirmation of the person who is being misgendered.
What if we see someone we know misgendering someone? As above, if we know the person who is being misgendered and how they want others to handle misgendering we follow what they want. When the person we know is misgendering someone it can feel uncomfortable to correct them. Even if it is not appropriate to make the correction in the moment it is important to address it in private afterward. Hopefully it was an honest mistake and they learn from it moving forward. Sometimes they may feel offended that you are correcting them. In the worst case scenario you may discover they have a significant anti-transgender point of view.
Correcting friends and bringing them into discussion on these topics is important. It’s how other people learn and expand their horizons. Correcting friends who are misgendering other people tells our transgender and gender diverse friends that we are there for them. Being transgender can be quite lonely and so many transgender people lose so much when they come out and live their identity. Having friends stand up for us makes a big difference when we are tired and exhausted from having to continually stand up for ourselves, usually without external support.
As with anything mistakes will happen in how we handle these situations. It is incumbent on all of us to be aware of our own mistakes and learn from them. It is incumbent on us all to listen to others and strive to learn.