J’s hunt for a new, feminine name has gone a lot like this:
J: (Scrolling down some name website on his computer screen) “What do you think about the name ‘Medea’?”
Me: “As in, Medea from Greek mythology? Wasn’t she the one who got jilted by that guy Jason in the ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ story?”
J: (Continuing to scroll down computer screen list) “Hm….”
Me: (Pulling a dog-eared Greek mythology book off the bookshelf and flipping around for a minute) “Yeah. She helped Jason escape with the golden fleece by killing her own brother. When Jason got home he thought he would be able to reclaim the throne from his uncle, but his uncle refused. So Medea tricked the uncle’s daughters into killing their father by boiling him in a pot. Eventually Jason ditched her for the daughter of some other king.”
A WHILE LATER…
Me: (From my computer) “Are you looking at name choices? What kind?”
J: (From his computer) “Yes. Names for rocks and hills.”
Me: (Squinting down the list) “What’s that one? ‘Beryl’? I like that. I read a book once about a woman bush pilot in Africa named Beryl Markham, and she did a lot of interesting things during her life.”
J: “‘Beryl’ doesn’t work. When I introduce myself to people it’ll sound like I’m calling myself ‘Barrel.'”
Me: (Pause) “Oh. Yeah, I guess so. I hadn’t thought of that.”
A couple days ago, J and I finally came up with a name we both liked. Yesterday I tried to use the new name instead of J, but kept forgetting. Then, after talking things over a bit, we decided to wait on solidifying the name choice until J’s mom visits next, so J can tell her that he’s transgender, and that he wants to change his name. It would be nice if she could be involved in, or at least approve of, J’s new name choice. After all, she named him the first time around.
Marie, a friend from the transgender group, came over in the afternoon to play some games before the group meeting. The afternoon’s pronoun usage (and not just mine) was all over the place, and it was funny in that increasingly ridiculous way that means everybody wants to say the correct thing, but everybody is either unsure of the correct etiquette, or is adjusting to the newness of said etiquette.
J forgot to use the right pronouns for Marie once or twice, and corrected himself. Marie, knowing that J is transgender but also faced with J’s male name, referred to J in the feminine half of the time, and in the masculine the rest of the time. I know that J doesn’t care about having feminine pronouns used until he is using a feminine name, but having spent several hours recently attempting to call him by a potential feminine name, I was suddenly self-conscious about my language. I found myself using as few pronouns as possible, which meant that I repeated J’s name a lot more than I usually would. I didn’t have any problems forgetting to use feminine pronouns for Marie, but innocent phrases I typically use on everyone, male and female, suddenly seemed out of place. As in, “Do you guys want something to drink?” I thought about saying “you ladies,” but I never say that, and wondered if it would come out sounding forced. Another, non-transgender friend dropped in for a little while. She hadn’t known about J’s transgenderism until that moment, but she took the new information and the sight of J and Marie’s cross-dressing very smoothly and even apologized in advance for mixing up pronouns.
What can I say — The afternoon was fun, and the awkwardness will pass eventually.
I do understand the importance of pronouns, but to the transgender Pronoun Police in the world (and I know you are out there) — I hope you also take the time to understand the rest of us. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Learn some back-story before assuming anything about another transgender person’s relationship with family and friends. Be patient and give us, those friends and family members, time to adjust before berating us for our communication skills. I think, and hope, that you will not be disappointed with us in the long run.