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Auntie SparkNotes: My Parents Keep Messing Up My Pronouns

Auntie SparkNotes: My Parents Keep Messing Up My Pronouns

Kat Rosenfield

Hi, Auntie,

I'm a 15 year old trans guy in high school. I came out to my parents earlier last year (which was unbelievably terrifying) and they seemed okay with it at the time. Except, well, now things are a bit different.

First off, when I first came out to them they refused to let me go by a different name, since my birth name is technically unisex. Even after I explained to them that since it's only ever been used femininely for me and therefore causes all sorts of bad feelings, they wouldn't budge. I figured, whatever, I can deal with it until I get my name officially changed.

Their pronoun usage has been... questionable. They still won't use my actual pronouns for more than a sentence even after I correct them. Sometimes my mom will call me something feminine, then something masculine, and then go "WHATEVER!" And once when I got extremely tired of them still calling me a girl and actually texted them about it, my dad later said that I was acting snobby even though it was literally "Hello! This is a reminder that I'm not a girl, I'm a boy." Other than that they're okay as general parents, but this is wearing on me.

And that's entirely reasonable, Sparkler. Having to constantly remind your folks about such a fundamental, basic thing as your pronoun preferences is pretty much the dictionary definition of tiresome.

The bad news is, it's also pretty much the dictionary definition of necessary, and something you're going to have to muster as much patience for as you possibly can.

Because for the same reasons that pronouns are so important and fundamental for you as a trans person, they are also, unfortunately, one of the most difficult things for the people close to you to get right—and the longer they've known you, the tougher it is, which means your parents are going to need more time than anyone to rewire the deep-down, subconscious part of their brains that have spent fifteen years thinking of you as their daughter. Even if they are entirely on board with and supportive of your transition, changing your pronouns from she/her to he/him is still going to be hard for them, for reasons that have nothing to do with their feelings about your identity and everything to do with the way human beings process and internalize language.

And I know that sucks, and I know it's frustrating, but you won't improve anything about that process by jumping down their throats every time they make a mistake, or by sending snippy text messages that both ignore their efforts and trivialize their feelings about something that's probably a pretty complex and emotional issue for them, too. I mean, I sympathize with you utterly, sweet pea, but even I can understand why your dad would be miffed at getting that fake-friendly, covert-aggressive "reminder" text about your gender identity. It injects an unnecessary degree of snark into an already-complicated situation.

So, with that in mind, here's the deal: Rather than getting worked up on an individual basis every time your folks misstep and refer to you in "feminine" terms, I'd like you to try taking a more holistic view, and consider how they're handling this issue in its entirety. Did they respond supportively when you came out? Have they given you room to explore and express who you are without shame? Are you free to present in a way that's comfortable and in line with your male identity?

In other words, is this an issue of your parents being unsupportive? Or is the problem more that they're not perfect?

Don't get me wrong; if your parents are not just "questionable" on the pronoun front but also actively unsupportive, then that's a different story (and unfortunately, one in which your best option is to stop looking to them for validation that they're obviously unwilling to give.) But otherwise, it really is in both your and their best interests to accept that this stuff takes time, that screw-ups are inevitable, and that while you don't have to coddle your family through this process, it would also be nice if you didn't punish them for it, especially if you are otherwise safe, supported, happy, and free to live as you please. Acknowledging the parts they've gotten right will make it easier to talk to them when there's something you want them to do better.

And on that front, if your parents are addressing you directly using female pronouns, that's where you say, "I know this is a hard change to make, but I would really appreciate it if you guys tried to call me 'he' and 'him.' It's important to me." (The more straightforward and less snarky you are about it, the better.) And if they do make that change, even if it's just for a sentence, then that's a good thing; it means they're trying, and eventually, it'll mean they succeed more than they fail. And as long as you have good reason to be optimistic about things getting better, that's also a good reason not to dwell too deeply on the ways in which they're not quite there yet.

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Topics: Life
Tags: auntie sparknotes, advice, gender identity, gender pronouns

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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