How do you hold onto hope that things will get better?
Updated: Mar 13
Q: I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can at least theoretically be out professionally and have been able to tell my immediate family I am nonbinary without major consequences. However even after I tell people my pronouns or discuss my gender identity, I am almost always misgendered and treated like my AGAB. I want to go on HRT and get top surgery but I can't for a couple years at least, and I'm worried it will be a rude awakening for those who have not registered my gender identity. There are many days where the whole situation feels hopeless, where it's a struggle to keep trying to show up as my authentic self. My question is: how do you find the strength to keep going? How do you hold onto hope that things will get better?
S: Oh friend, that sounds like a very difficult situation (and unfortunately one that a lot of people can probably relate to); it definitely makes sense that you're struggling. There are a number of things you can do, depending on your personal energy/comfort levels in different situations, what support you have or can find, and other specifics.
First, can you find people and spaces where your gender will be respected without your having to educate anyone? I'm starting with this one because having aspects of your life where you don't need to take on a lot of labor in order to be treated well is really important. Constantly having your true identity denied is exhausting and demoralizing, and you need ways to counter that. This is also a really concrete way to help with the feeling of hopelessness: you'll know that it is possible to be accepted because you do have spaces where that is true.
Finding new community can be a lot easier said than done, so here are a few specific suggestions:
LGBTQ+ organizations/activities in your area. It's Pride month in the U.S., so keep an eye out for events and follow up with whoever organizes them. I recommend talking to people if there are promising signals, perhaps especially if you're in a location without much obvious support (for example, I'm in a town that is...not great, but I complimented the rainbow bracelet a store owner was wearing and she told me about a local Pride event coming up).
Employee affinity groups around queer identities. Does your workplace/profession have these, or would they be willing to start some (or let you take the lead on that if you're up for it)? That could be another way to find community outside of the people you see day-to-day, and you'll probably find other people feeling isolated or who aren't sure about being out at work. I've started a number of trans and gender diverse groups both profession-wide and workplace-specific, so feel free to write back in for more details on how to go about this.
The Internet. There's plenty of bad information, malicious intent, and ignorance around gender in online spaces like Tumblr and Discord, but there's also a huge amount of support and nuanced discussion (and it's where a lot of people end up finding community and exploring their identities). If any readers have specific suggestions, feel free to comment below.
Another thing I'd do is to surround yourself with affirming content. Read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, watch movies and shows and YouTube videos with good information and perspectives about gender. Even if you're not engaging reciprocally with this type of content, it really helps to know that you aren't alone and that there's a glorious and complex history and present and future that you're part of. I recommend the Gender Reveal podcast for non-cis people talking to each other about gender in delightful and interesting ways, and the Transgender Studies Quarterly journal for new academic articles. I'm currently working my way through The Transgender Studies Reader, which is great for developing knowledge of trans history and putting current perspectives in context.
I'm going to stop here in hopes that K will address some strategies for improving the support and awareness of the people in your life. One thing I'll add is this: since you've come out already, it's their own damn fault if any other steps you take are a "rude awakening." Realistically, you'll probably have to do some handholding and further education with the people you really care about, but please know that it's not your responsibility to manage the feelings of other people about your own body and gender. K: I agree with everything S said above. I think there are a few ways to go about dealing with the lack of support and awareness coming from people in your life. They range from handling things directly, passively doing education where they might benefit from it, having other people handle things for you, and limiting your exposure to them. For handling things directly, this might start with having a conversation with these people (individually or together). I think the starting place could be telling them that you've noticed they aren't using your pronouns at all or consistently and you really need them to do it. It might be worth asking why they are using the wrong pronouns, if you have the energy for that. If they say the issue is around discomfort and unfamiliarity with which form of pronoun to use in a sentence, there are sites that you can practice with (check our resources page for links). If the issue is that they're just used to calling you by certain names or pronouns, then I would make it clear that they need to put in the work. I've told my mom to just practice talking about me to her boyfriend so they can both get my pronouns right, or that she can practice talking about me out loud when she's cleaning so she learns and develops new habits. A next step would be making it clear that its about more than memorizing pronouns, they have to actually change the way they think about your gender or they're going to keep misgendering you in different ways. For this, I think introducing them to the idea and then sharing resources might also help. These direct conversations will likely have to happen numerous times. At some point, it might help to make it clear to them what is at stake: their relationship with you. It is also possible to have these direct conversations take place, but without you there. Do you have someone in your life who would be willing to pull these people aside and talk about the impact of their behavior and ways to do better?
Another option is passively educating them. I did a bit of this with my family and some friends through just sharing resources and thoughts on facebook about gender, so they were able to see the content and learn, but maybe felt less defensive because they weren't being singled out or sat down to directly talk about it.
And lastly, sometimes you can have all the direct talks and do all the passive and active education you can, and people still refuse to learn. Sometimes you have to limit your time spent with these people, and you can either be upfront about why you're doing that, or you can just distance yourself. I've had people that I've cut out of my life come back years later and apologize and show me that they've done the work to be better while they were away. I've also had people never come back, or come back and they didn't do any work and they just hoped I missed them enough. It's sad to have to do this, but people don't get automatic access to us forever if they treat us badly. There are certainly other options too, depending on where you live and what your circumstance is and what people close to you are willing to do to do better. I've had friends whose parents joined groups at LGBT centers for parents of trans people so they could share their feelings and learn to do better with other people who were also doing the work. I've also had friends take it upon themselves to also surround themselves with trans and gender diverse books and media so they could understand better. There are definitely options, but unfortunately these people aren't taking initiative, so you have to figure out what you have capacity for and which options might work, or if they've already missed their chance to do right by you.