Transition isn’t easy. None of us do this because it’s a laugh, or on a whim, or because it’s “fashionable”. There are tears, there are hard choices. It costs time, costs money; it’s a huge emotional investment. It can cost people their jobs, homes, friends, families, and more.
On the whole, I would say I’ve been quite lucky: my friends, family and workplace have been accepting and supportive. When I first came out, I expected rejection – but instead, I found that everyone accepted me. As my transition progressed, with my change of presentation, then HRT, then when I changed my name and pronouns, I still did so with the support of those around me. At first, I knew that I did not want surgery; then I suspected that I might want it; then finally, I knew that I not only wanted it, but needed it. And so, that is the path that I now tread; all the preparation, the planning, all leading up to my surgery, in mid-December.
Recently, I decided to make an extra effort to go and visit friends – those same friends who accepted and supported me. A chance to catch up, a chance to see them, before I have my surgery and am out of action for a while. So I travelled to visit trans friends, had evenings out with friends at work, and visited friends that I’ve known since university. All this getting-out-and-about is also a good way of keeping me busy, of helping pass the time more quickly.
So it was that this weekend my wife and I visited some friends that we’ve known for many years – since well before I started transitioning. We met up, had a few drinks, had a laugh – and I got deadnamed. Ah. Well, that’s disappointing. I took my friend (“D”) to one side and had a word, making it clear how much it hurt, how much it would mean to me if he could get it right from now on. I changed my name more than three years ago now – surely that’s long enough?. He looked genuinely remorseful – I think he really did, and does, want to do the right thing.
I said to him: “You’re literally the last person who gets it wrong”.
But I was wrong. I had challenged the wrong person.
No, the real problem was D’s close friend, S (who was also there with us). While D wants to do the right thing, S essentially refuses to do so. S even has a cousin who transitioned many years ago, well before I did, so you would have thought that he would be well clued up on trans matters. But no, quite the opposite: he refers to his (trans male) cousin by his deadname, and old pronouns (“she”). Unless you catch him when he’s really in full form, when he referred to his cousin as “it” – and when challenged on this, dismissed the problem as something that didn’t matter: “whatever”.
And yet, apart from this one thing, both D and S are friendly, accepting, supportive. At the end of the evening, we hugged, and they wished me well for my surgery. So the evening ended, my wife and I returned to our room, and we called it a night. Until I awoke a few hours later, with all of the above preying on my mind.
Next time I see them, I don’t expect that S (and therefore also D) will have stopped deadnaming me. Next time I see them, they’ll hurt me again. So why would I go back? Why would I knowingly place myself in the way of harm? What possible payback is there, which would make such hurt worthwhile? And even if it was somehow “worth it” – why the hell should I put up with this?
What was meant to be a nice trip away to catch up with some old friends over a drink, has instead left me wondering whether I should ever see them again. So far, I haven’t lost any friends or family as a result of transition – but maybe that’s about to change.
I wish my deadname didn’t have this power over me, and maybe one day it won’t – but for now it still does. But even if the word, the name didn’t cause pain, then I would nevertheless still be hurt due to the deliberate, wilful, cruel, stubborn refusal to accept me for who I am.
When a friend both knowingly causes such damage, and so casually dismisses the harm that they cause, then you have to question whether they’re really a friend.
Original photo by Jazz Guy