I have a journalist friend who recently interviewed a transgender man for a Q&A article. It was in the context of his work, but also about him being transgender, as this person has been an advocate for gender-variant people.
The answers were in his own words, so in that way he steered the conversation. But the introduction to the Q&A was in the journalist’s words, and it included a mention of where “she” went to school (an all-female college), where she worked, when she came out as a lesbian and when she married. And then, ta da, “she” became “he”! We all know that dramatic headline. He was she. She was he. I certainly capitalize on that shock value with the title of this blog: She Was the Man of My Dreams.
My writer friend caught a little flak about the head-spinning he/she issue. Trans people and the subject of the story felt “he” should have been used for everything, because even when he appeared to be she, he was a he inside. (Are you keeping up?)
As I told my friend, I see three perspectives. As a journalist, I agree that it would be particularly odd to say “he,” when the person lived as a she. Would I write that Bob Smith attended the all-female Smith College, for instance? As a transgender person one should be called whatever pronoun one chooses. As someone connected to a transgender person, it becomes confusing and crazy making when speaking of the past tense. To call the man I fell in love with “she” seems nuts to me. Lina identified and appeared as a male and used a male name. On the other hand, using Lina’s male name also feels bizarre. Of course I want to respect her, but I’d like also to respect my memories and my reality.
The way I feel is: everyone is right. I don’t believe there’s an absolute. I do believe we should be respectful of the transgender person, but also of the person’s community. If we all choose to proceed with empathy and compassion, as I believe my friend did, that goes a long way in overcoming the head-scratching process of choosing pronouns.
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Hello. We corresponded about a year or so ago. You describe the pronoun and name dilemma perfectly. Unfortunately, Allison (my former spouse who was called Scott when we married) (see how difficult that was to name and identify her properly?)…unfortunately, she died suddenly in March. My children, 17 and 19, could have put a different name on the headstone. They could have chosen the name that was familiar to them most of their lives. That’s not what they did. She now rests as she wanted to be known to the world.
But, with death the pronoun and names fly across the genders because now we refer to her as we each remember her. We all ask for forgiveness when we start talking because most of us realize we will slip back and forth between pronouns and names, never meaning disrespect. We can’t let go of our memories and how she was known at that time. Memories are all we have now.
I’m so sorry for your loss. How awful. What a truly touching story and a remarkable way to honor Allison — thank you for sharing it. I saw a short film at a festival a couple years ago about the funeral of a transgender woman and how her family refused to acknowledge the transition and dressed her in man’s clothing and ignored her femaleness. Heartbreaking. Nice to hear the opposite happening in reality!
I’m two years late, but thank you. How is your work going? I had a lot happen, including being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What irony. I have restarted a blog and it will focus on grief and writing. Hope all is well with you and my how things have changed out there in the world. Kelly
My best to you, Kelly. So sorry to hear about your challenges. Change indeed!