I Am NOT a Girlfriend – The Dangers of Misapplying Labels

Sex and gender. Two words that are so often misused in conversation. Misusing these labels can have terrible consequences. These consequences can become even more terrible when other labels used in conjunction with gender — wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, she/he — are used incorrectly when making introductions. Even more so if, for some reason, you are making the introduction on behalf of a trans individual.

This just happened to me when I was mentioned in the Christmas family newsletter. It has placed me in a very uncomfortable position.

It is complicated for the trans individual. What works for one transgender person may not be what works for another. On some things there is consensus. In other areas, not so much. For those who are in the life of a transgender person, it is even more complicated. A lot of people do not understand it. But a good rule of thumb… if anything is unclear, ask!

It is really that simple. ASK! Especially if you are taking it upon yourself to speak for another person, or to introduce them. If you don’t ask, you run the risk of presenting them in a way that is opposite to who they are. As a result, you risk the person whom you misrepresented to either hide their real identity, or have to have too many very uncomfortable conversations with complete strangers in an attempt to correct a mistake that could have been avoided by a simple question.

I’m a little uncomfortable even having to write this post. I don’t want to paint extended family members in a bad light. I am being told that it probably wasn’t intentional. But, in my mind, I think the person who made the introductions, on my behalf without consultation, should have known better because they know I am a trans man. Also, I am not the only transgender individual in their life. Transgender issues are not new to them, even if they may not completely understand them.

But, I do think people need to be aware that there are consequences when you don’t allow someone to have control over how they are presented, especially when introducing them to strangers.

Read the remainder of the post from the following point of view: You know a transgender individual. You’ve talked about it with them.

When I meet someone new in my life, someone who will be a permanent fixture, I let them know right away that I am a trans man. Usually, there are a bunch of questions that follow. One of them is, “When I talk to you, do you prefer I use “she/her or him/he.” I answer, “Either one. If it is easy for you to switch to masculine, please do so. If your brain has problems with that adjustment, I don’t mind she/her in private conversation, though I don’t want to be presented that way. If you do present me that way, please say that I’m a trans man, but because I have a vagina, I won’t get my knickers in a knot if she/her is also applied.”

Complicated, right? But I will also clarify, that if possible, I’d prefer neither he/him or she/her be used. Instead, use “Jules.” I’d rather people be unclear about my gender than being forever stuck as feminine.

But when it comes to my label in terms of relationships, NEVER are girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, to be used. Absolutely never. I am not a girlfriend. I am not a fiancée. I am not a wife. I am a partner.

I’ve learned “partner” is used differently in Canada than in the US. In Canada, we use it to describe any long-term committed relationship, regardless of sex. When I’ve used the term with some Americans, they think I’m talking about same-sex relationships. And I’d much rather people mistake my future spouse as another female, or have people in my future spouses family mistake me for male — male and female are sex, not gender — than for them to see me as a girlfriend, fiancée, or wife. Those are gender terms.

When those terms are used, people associate them with not only specific roles, but specific behaviours. Once those associations are made, then you have to spent a lot of time fixing those preconceptions, or just hiding in the closet because of all the emotional and mental energy that gets spend when having to change how someone perceives a situation.

If you don’t take the time to ask, you risk alienating the person. You risk sending a message that you never listened to the individual when discussing the fact they are transgender. You risk sending a message that you are not accepting of who they are as a person. You risk having the individual feel uncomfortable in your presence. You risk robbing them of their identity, and the power to present them self in a way that is true to who they are.

I get that it can be difficult for people in my life. Especially if you don’t live in a culture that has a lot of long-haired men.

Sometimes, I feel like I have a disadvantage. Long hair is new to me. It was an experiment that will be ending soon. But even when I had short hair, even when I use to dress in really baggy clothes and did the best I could to hide any trace of femininity, there was no mistaking I was female. I look neither overtly feminine, nor masculine. I have very androgynous features.

I don’t have breasts to cut off. So, it’s not like I can cut my hair short AND have my breasts removed, which would make it easier for some people to “get.” As some of my closest friends like to say, “I have the body of a 12-year-old boy/girl.”

I don’t walk like a female  I don’t have feminine mannerisms. I actually had to learn how to be feminine and walk like one a few years ago for a play. Hardest. Thing. EVER! I drove my director INSANE, because it took her a very long time to teach me how to not walk like a man, and walk in high heels. I didn’t wear my first pair if heels until I was just shy of 29. Hardest. Thing. EVER! I don’t know how women walk that way (both how they walk in heels and not), and major props to drag queens who pull it off better than a lot of women, because that shit is HARD!

I can’t change my voice. I’ve tried. I can’t take hormone therapy because of other health conditions.

The only thing I can really do to help people to understand that I am a gay man in a female’s body is by using my words. When those words are ignored, or forgotten, then my identity is completely within myself. When I’m not given the opportunity to express my gender identity to others, you — and by “you” I mean the proverbial you — are taking my identity away from me.

Before robbing someone of the ability to present them self, please ask.

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