When Someone You Love Is Misgendered

Whoever branded gender neutral bathrooms as “family bathrooms” really saved the day. People who hate trans folks pretend to love families, so maybe they won’t come after our bathrooms. I say it with a laugh. But it hurts. It hurts to feel as if someone’s definition of family only extends to the ones that look like theirs. To people that look the way they expect.

All of these emotions are only complicated by the emotional labor I do in June. I’ve educated thousands of strangers. Strangers I always wish would stand up and fight back for me by voting against laws that make it scary for me to exist.

As we begin this year’s Pride month, it’s hard to feel like I’m not pouring into an endless vacuum of energy. To feel like I’m not screaming into a void by day when I watch laws on becoming who we are roll out at night. Even to a place I thought would become my home. But I can’t if laws like this persist because they scream at people like me: There’s something wrong with who you are. I can’t call that home even if I love how I stand out to queer kids. 

What Happens Without Safe Spaces

There’s the literal shouting, too. It happens when we don’t create safe spaces for people. Just a few weeks ago outside a bathroom in Anchorage, Alaska, I could hear myself be misgendered by the people at the sink after I left.

“I can’t believe a man just came into our bathroom,” she said as loudly as she could. “How stupid is he, didn’t even notice.” I felt a wave of embarrassment and red fill my face. They were talking about me.

These moments cost my mental health in a million ways. I never want to stand out. I just want to exist. Hell, I just want to go pee without someone standing by the door questioning me silently or, as it was in this case, out loud. I don’t want my girlfriend to feel the wave of panic and wonder how to keep me safe in spaces when she isn’t there to stand by the door. Bodyguard wasn’t part of her job description. It wasn’t part of mine, either.

When Others Are Misgendered

I have offered a lot of advice in the past to my friends on what we can say to sway these scary strangers, but the reality is that even the people I love have a lot of trouble standing up. I get it. I have trouble with it, too.

In the past I had this blanket advice and a script for speaking out when others are misgendered, but it’s harder than it seems not to freeze. I pause to wonder what the right thing is when someone is misgendered in front of you. Violence is a possibility. My friends wonder, too. They’re wondering if they could embarrass me more. If they are making it worse.

Instead of a script, I want to tell you the advice I offer to the people I love. It’s this: Don’t say anything in the moment if you’re unsure. After it’s all done, I want you to ask me how to handle it when it happens again in the future. Then listen. Do something next time when you know what I need.

Advice For Living Out Loud Anyway

I also want to offer advice to the people like me. People who feel scared. Advice I hope I can remember too.

When you feel scared, it’s ok to just be scared. To leave the space and say nothing. Because the more I simply try to exist, I have learned that my sanity only survives because sometimes I choose silence.  My soul is more safe when I decide to step away.Remember, you have to be alive to have an impact.

If you feel brave, be bold, but know that you’re worthy no matter how you show up in these scary moments. It’s ok to save your energy – for people who are willing to learn, to fight policy against kids like us, and to stand up for what’s right. Based on the trends in legislation I’m seeing, we’re going to need it. 

LGBT and Diversity

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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