By Julian Hodge
*This column contains reference to self-harm.
Ever since I came out as transgender nonbinary in high school, I hear things from people like, “you are so chill for a trans person” or “you’re the only trans person I like to hang out with.”
These people also happen to be those who have a hard time getting my pronouns right.
I’ve never been very outspoken with getting people other than my super liberal friends and close family to respect my pronouns or identity. Sometimes I correct someone if they use feminine pronouns (this is less common since I had top surgery as a college first-year), and I will endlessly explain and answer questions about what being nonbinary is and why it’s legitimate and deserves respect and support from the rest of society.
And I don’t ever try to avoid these situations. I feel like since I can take the questioning for longer than other queer people I know, it’s important for me to. When I’m hanging out with people who almost never use correct pronouns with me, I rarely correct them. They say they don’t feel attacked when they’re around me. When they use the word “gay” as an insult, I usually have a sarcastic comment ready that includes the word “breeder” somewhere in there. They say they don’t feel like they have to censor themselves around me.
I’m drawn into fights in Facebook comments sections way too much. The circle of friends I’ve been running with for the past six months includes conservatives who make distasteful jokes about trans and other queer people frequently. My time on Tinder exclusively consists of me convincing people that being transgender is legitimate.
Part of the reason I deal with this is because I’ve always had an easier time participating in diplomacy than in protest. Protest can be a fantastic tool, not only to change minds, but to strengthen the feeling of community and support for marginalized groups. It can shock people into paying attention to issues that deserve a platform. But for those who are more stubborn in their views, diplomacy is useful in working them out of it.
I have an unusual patience for discussing my experience of being queer with people who aren’t, and I can take disrespect as long as I know it isn’t intentional. I didn’t deal with hate from people around me when I came out my sophomore year of high school. My friends immediately got on board, and my family respected me as best they could while they got used to my being trans, and I managed to fully physically transition within three years of figuring out my identity.
However, I did deal with a lot of self-hatred. The first few months of me knowing my queer identity were mental hell. None of it made sense to me. I judged myself on such an immense level that I was hurting myself, and my depression was worse than it has ever been.
Because of this, I know that if I wasn’t trans myself, I wouldn’t be such a supporter of the trans experience. I would be silent about the whole thing because of my fear of conflict, but resent it all the while. I think this is why I’m able to be so patient with unempathetic people. Because I was forced to find a way to be okay with and respect myself despite my rationale.
I also feel the need to say, however, that queer people have NO obligation to spend their time around people who don’t know or care enough to respect their pronouns and identity. No one should have to sacrifice their mental health to educate others. But, for the people who can stand it, I believe the sacrifice is ultimately worth it.
As wrong as it is, there are some who won’t support queer people when they seem like an abstract concept they only see on the internet or walking around campus every once in a while, but they could support trans people if they knew at least one of them on a personal level. We can’t just ignore the many people without high enough levels of empathy to reach the right conclusion on their own. The process of changing people’s beliefs can feel slow and excruciating, but it will happen eventually.