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.