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I'm Unsure of What to Do

Russ Fenrisson

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I've been thinking about this for a while and I have yet to come to a satisfying conclusion. I don't like to bring up personal matters so as not to be too bothersome to others, but in order to feel better and to get it off my chest, I've decided it's probably best to mention it lest it continue to fester.


In private, I've been open about my identity for about eight years. Some people in my life are fine with it and are quite accepting, while others, without much saying, seem to not be for it. It's been bothering me for a while because I want to be more open and live the life I want to the best I can, but no matter how much I try to ask for respect in regards to my preferred name and pronouns, it always seems to fall flat. Time and time again, when I could, I brought up the fact I don't enjoy being called by my birth name or pronouns that don't suit me, but everytime- maybe some days after- it goes back to how it wa before: the continuation of the wrong name and pronouns. I want these individuals to understand how much it hurts me when I don't feel heard but I haven't been able to find the right words to get them to understand.


Is there a better strategy I could be trying? Should I wait until the time is right and I know for a fact they understand how I feel?


I thank anyone who can provide me with some advice.

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These individuals you speak of, are they people who claim to love you? In other ways, do you feel loved by them? If there's no love (or conditional love), and they haven't taken your requests seriously by now, then they may not ever, and those relationships may wind up not being priorities in your life - you need to associate as much as possible with people who lift you up. Do you actually believe that you could make things any clearer to those individuals? Oftentimes, it takes more than words to change a mind, and frankly this may be beyond your control. 


I'll tell you about an experience with a friend of mine. He and I were instantly close upon meeting - zero getting to know you period, just immediately comfortable, bonded and very affectionate. He and I agree we must have been VERY close in a previous life. He's a gay cis man. Despite 3 intense heart-to-heart conversations with him about my experience of gender, he continues to misgender me and act alarmed when I present at all masc. It's very hurtful and I don't understand it - because I'm too close to him. That is, if I were viewing the facts objectively, I would probably feel much different about it. In fact, when I tell my husband about how I feel hurt by this friend, he quickly, and frankly accurately, summarizes the situation by telling me this friend is kind of a mess (alternately an active alcoholic or dry drunk), is emotionally immature, and is a bit old fashioned in his attitudes and beliefs. To reiterate, when emotions are involved, it's not so easy to accept the "logical" explanation. And I do know what this friend is like. To wit, I've had other conversations with him wherein I've endeavored to explain to him what racism is. Seriously. For example, we had a breakthrough one time when he told me he grew up in a mostly homogenously WASPy environment - there was one Black kid at his school, and no Jews. He told me he'd learned from stereotypes that Jews are undesirable (I'm paraphrasing), but when he moved to an area where there's a large Jewish population, he realized the stereotypes were false and now has many Jewish friends. I suggested that if that was the case for Jewish stereotypes, then couldn't it possibly also be true for Black stereotypes. He did see the clarity in that parallel, at least in that moment. I'm relaying this to provide context for his mindset. 


The 3rd heart-to-heart I had with this friend was the most intense. I told him that I had been feeling myself building a wall between us and that I didn't want that to happen. I told him that I don't expect him to understand, and that one doesn't need to thoroughly understand in order to accept and respect. I explicitly told him that when he says certain things to or about me, that it hurts me, and knowing that, even if he doesn't really understand and even if it's counterintuitive to him, he can choose whether or not to hurt me in those moments. I told him that I don't expect him to change his entire world view or entire gender paradigm just for me, but all I ask for is some consideration. He was very open with me during that conversation and expressed his deep love for me and that he never wants to hurt me, thanked me for telling him, never wants me to feel alienated from him, and encouraged me to tell him any time I felt hurt by him because it's important to him and he wants to know. I told him that if he says something by accident, not to worry, just please acknowledge it, apologize, and we'll move on. Next time I saw him I was standing with a couple of women and he greeted us collectively, "good morning, ladies." Exactly one of the things I explicitly asked him not to do. Some people you just can't get through to. 


Therefore, I think sometimes energy is better spent regulating your personal boundaries with others & working on self-acceptance rather than figuring out how else you might possibly get them to understand. 

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Having a heart-to-heart discussion with those who misgender you has always worked for me, although I haven't had to do it much.  Those also need to be done one-on-one.  But once you do, and they continue to misgender you, and it appears they are doing so intentionally, then you have to make a decision about keeping them in your life.


I had a colleague at work who misgendered me for months after I came out.  Every time he did, he realized his mistake and apologized, sometimes profusely.  I never had the feeling that he was trying to hurt me; his brain just wasn't "wired" to accept and remember me as female.  It embarrassed him to keep doing it, but he couldn't help himself.  I told him not to worry about it, and we remained friends.


But if I had such a friend or colleague that seemed to get his rocks off by misgendering me, he would not be a friend for long.  I wish you luck, hon.


Carolyn Marie

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@VidanjaliThe individuals I'm referring to say they do and care about me and my well-being, but sometimes it doesn't feel like they do at all. Whether it's just me or I don't try hard enough, it feels like I'm not heard or listened to, or that what interests me doesn't matter. I know I'm not a very loud person, but I don't feel considered in certain matters unless they are absolutely important. Perhaps I'm being too extreme, but I haven't exactly felt loved or comfortably loved since I was 11. It's probably an exaggeration and has much to do with issues I experienced at that age, but I just don't feel comfortable with these people anymore. I wish I could go some place where I'm understood and heard but everytime I think of such a place, no adequate one comes to mind.


When I get like this, I have these thoughts of running away and going someplace new where nobody knows me; where I can start anew, meet new people, and hope to find someone I click with. It's just romantization but sometimes I feel no hope in my situation.


I'm sorry you had to go through that with your friend. Your husband, like yourself, sounds quite intuitive. It's always good to have someone like that in your life.


I've thought it over and over again, and sometimes it feels like it isn't worth it but I can't say what is morally right in this situation. One of these individuals isn't always bad: it's just that in regards to my true gender, they appear to be very oppositional about it. They told me it was okay if I were gay but being trans was not quite an option. It hurt when they said so but there's really nothing I can do to change how they feel. And the worst part is I don't think they feel sorry they hurt me with such words and many other things they said over the years.


I've decided I'm not going to put up with this any longer. Definitely, yeah, I need to work on some things. Especially with my cognition and regulating my emotions when my down periods come in. It's just, I don't think people who are supposed to be related should be treating others like this.

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@Carolyn MarieYeah, I need to be better about that. I once wrote a letter explicitly stating how I feel male (this was before I added non-binary to my identity) and I wish to be treated as such and... nothing seems to have changed much. I'm defnitely not being treated the same as was I before (which I'm glad because those were some tough years), but this misgendering seems to be lingering on. I addressed it sometime last month when I got tired of the treatment and I definitely didn't do it right. The person in question laughed as I was explaining it was hurtful to be misgendered and referred by the wrong name. For a few days they seemed to honor my wishses before promptly going back to the same routine.


I wish I could do a one-on-one conversation with them, but it seems like there's never a good time. I want them to take me seriously and stop seeing me as a joke.


Thank you as well. The individual in question is old-fashioned and not very tolerable towards certain things, but I'll try my best. If it doesn't work out, well, at least they'll know how I felt wasn't said in jest.

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A 1-on-1 conversation is sometimes hard to achieve, but is probably the only way to actually get through to these people.  Another way would be a very long, certified letter sent by mail.  Certified mail is used for legal documents, and it confirms they received it, also lets them know you're serious. 


Ultimately, you end up triaging who is worthwhile in your life.  The rest.... hiss loudly and scamper away. 

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@Russ Fenrisson I can relate to your experience of not feeling loved since childhood. It can sound dramatic when you say it, but if that's the way you feel, it's important to acknowledge. I believe I didn't experience genuine love until age 22 when I brought home a puppy I found on the street. Another thing my husband has in common with me is he also asserts that his experience of love from his early life was exclusively with dogs. Thank goodness for pets!


It's a bitter pill to swallow when those related to you are not a source of love and acceptance. We're raised to believe that archetypically our relatives are supposed to be our closest allies. Mine were not, and it's taken years of effort to let go of those expectations and heartbreak. I can offer a bit of insight to chew on.


Sometimes, for example, when desperately trying to get other relatives to understand the level of chaos, abuse & neglect that was happening at home, they would just reply with "well, your mother is just doing the best she can." This would infuriate me because this so-called "best" set the bar very low. Many years later, I began to realize the true implication of such a claim, "doing one's best".


An individual can only function at their own given level of consciousness/emotional development/personal development at any given time. My mother was very immature, a product of a raging father with PTSD from WW2 and an alcoholic mother, extremely fearful, religiously scrupulous, and certainly had PTSD herself. None of that excuses her poor behavior as a mother. But, she was incapable of higher functioning - was literally doing her best - and for that I'm able to find forgiveness. Day is, "best" is relative, whereas we usually equate that word with the highest achievement. 


Now, that's an extreme example. But, the point is, in order to be a fully loving person, one must break through shame, guilt, fear, pride & egoism. I've found that for the majority of people, that's not so easy to do. It takes great courage to examine oneself and one's motives truthfully. None of this is to say that it somehow takes extra effort to love you. It's just that most people do not like their comfort zones tampered with - and "most people" means that our relatives are not exempt. When "loving" someone is "easy" - as in hi, how are you, how's this that and the other thing, okay "I love you", bye - then it's not so noticeable. Introduce any request for greater intimacy or understanding, and many people - relatives included - find it confrontational and they react by clamping up, ridiculing, ignoring, or lashing out. It's up to each individual whether they are willing to work through the present limits of their mindset to open up to new ways of understanding so as to be more empathetic and compassionate. No one can make another person do that work. 


The best thing you can do is to work on not internalizing their reactions to you. Your validity is not dependent on what they think. Indeed, they may not be able to see you for who you are due to their own limitations. I recall you've expressed in the past that you're very introverted. I would challenge you to try to reach out so that you can experience interactions with people who are validating - who will be a mirror of what's best about you. That is good medicine. 

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@awkward-yet-sweet Yeah, I could try writing another letter, just to get my thoughts down. And since I know what the specific issue is, I can better asses it and say what the problem is. I can't tell you how many times I've just wanted to do just that: turn my back and never look back. I think about traveling too much.


@Vidanjali I could try that. Sometimes, I go to a café and the most I do is sit around and draw until I decide to leave. There's a couple of interesting people there but what with the noise and feeling like I should maintain zero contact with strangers, I usually keep to myself. Don't want to bother people who are working diligently on private endeavors or trying to catch a break in the middle of the day. I could try talking with someone and see what happens.


I hate being dramatic but perhaps that's a flaw of mine- over-flating things and perceiving things as worse than they are. I often see things as terrible before actually considering the positive. Definitely need to work on that. With people I don't attach very well to, possibly due to bad experiences I've had in the past, but with animals, I get along well with. Upon meeting an animal for the first time- whether dogs or cats- it's like I become instant friends with them. Adult cats can be harder unless they are of a certain temperament, but kittens are easier because all they want is attention and someone to play with. I guess that's what makes animals endearing to me. They're generally not mean and don't go out of their way to belittle others- they just want companionship.


Well... in the past, one of my relatives had a bad experience with a trans person before, and that's probably one of the reasons they're having a hard time accepting/ understanding my identity. Said person did not go about with things in the best way, and I think this ultimately impacted my relative in a negative way. My relative has only been negatively verbal with me in the past and I'm glad it's only been just that and nothing else.


Most of the time I can take this misgendering but at times when I feel my mood get low, it feels like my shell is gradually being torn away, like a statue, until my vulnerability breaks through the skin. I'll need to find ways to cope when these periods occur or else I may say or react in a way that might hurt my situation.


If nothing at all, I need companions. People I can hang with to at least forget what's going on for a little while.


Thanks again.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Just wanted to address a slight change in the situation.


Things are about the same but I was able to come up with a nickname that is pleasing to both me and those around me. The new nickname has been used on and off, but at least I can see an effort to try to make me feel accomodated.


I also wrote down my thoughts in a letter and after getting my feelings out, I felt a lot better. I probably won't need to use it now but if there is a time I feel not understood again, I always have it to use to get my thoughts out in a clearer manner.


I want to thank everyone again for responding and providing me with advice. I really appreciate it.

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Glad that there's been some progress. Hopefully things will continue to improve over time.

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