Self-assertion isn’t easy for anyone. No matter who you are, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out when to speak and when it’s better to let things go or how to get your needs met without trampling on anyone else’s. For trans* people, self-assertion difficulties sometimes stem from fears related to how they’re being perceived. There’s a lot to consider when you’re trans*. You may not be sure whether the person sees you as your true gender, unsure whether they are accepting of trans identities, and unsure of whether your safety is at risk if you say something. However, self-assertion is vital for us as trans* people because the more we hide, the more our fears become magnified, until we lock ourselves into prisons of our own making. Here are some tips for asserting your trans identity without compromising your safety.
Come From a Place of Calmness
Although there are bullies and transphobic people in the world, most people are not among them. The majority of people are simply unaware of trans* identities or, more specifically, unaware of what you need. These people want you to feel comfortable but may inadvertently misgender you or act in other ways that make you uncomfortable.
It’s important to come from a space of calmness so that you don’t start an unnecessary war with potential allies. If someone misgenders you or says something else that bothers you because of your trans* identity, take a mental step back. Breathe deeply and ask yourself where that person might have been coming from. Maybe they simply are unaware of your identity for some reason or they’ve been brought up with rigid ideas about gender and aren’t aware of their own limiting beliefs. Even if they are one of those people who truly meant to harm you, getting angry and fighting back won’t help–so take some time to recenter yourself before deciding how to respond.
Figure Out What You Want
When something bothers you or strikes you as transphobic, it’s important to figure out how you wish the person would have responded instead. It’s not enough to tell someone what NOT to do. If the person isn’t familiar with trans* issues, they might not have any idea why you were offended or what to say or do instead. They also may be reluctant to ask you for clarification because they don’t want to offend you further. So take the time to figure out what you want them to say or do.
Decide Whether to Respond
Not everything is worth a verbal response. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding whether or not to respond to someone’s upsetting statement. The most important things you need to consider are:
- Is the person open to learning? Some people give off a vibe of close-mindedness. Worse yet, some make it clear that trans* or other different identities are not welcome in their space. At best, trying to assert yourself with one of these people will be a waste of energy that will probably lead to an upsetting argument. At worst, it could be physically unsafe for you to say something. In these cases, walking away is the best response.
- How important is this person to you? If you’re trying to maintain a relationship with somebody, it’s important to let them know about things they’re doing that upset you or trigger feelings of invalidation. Otherwise, resentment will build and you’ll eventually damage the relationship. If the person is a stranger, however, like someone waiting on you in a store or something, it’s a judgment call. You might decide that you don’t care enough to say something or you might decide that since this person will never see you again, you want to risk using your voice.
- How egregious was the offense? Self-assertion is a balancing act. You don’t want to pick on every little thing someone says because then they start to feel like they can’t do anything right. At the same time, you don’t want to keep quiet about things that really bother you because then you’ll end up lashing out inappropriately later.
Keep Your Response Short
In most cases, you don’t need more than a few words of explanation. “Please call me <insert appropriate gender term>” is usually sufficient if you’ve been misgendered, for example–you don’t necessarily need to go into a long explanation about why. Don’t turn self-assertion into a lecture that will turn your listener off.
It may sound like a lot of work to ask yourself all of these questions. At first, you may be slow to respond and may miss some opportunities. Be patient with yourself as you go through this process. You may make some mistakes along the way, but eventually you’ll get to the point where you can quickly evaluate a situation and determine what the best course of action for you might be.
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