How To Do A Good Bad Job "Trying" With Your Loved One's Transition
Previously in this series: Avoiding transition by family committee and transitioning like you’re opening a candy bar with a really loud wrapper in a crowded movie theater.
“The problem arises when a group of people are committed to politely obstructing transition while simultaneously believing themselves to be gracious and open-minded by being willing to even entertain a conversation about a possible name change a little further down the road. Their refrain is “What’s another six months?”
And the transitioner, who very often believes they are enormously lucky to be on the receiving end of such polite and affirming disagreement, thinks, “I’m getting this transition at a fraction of the cost – what a steal,” suffused with the same pleasure as a bargain shopper who finds an unexpected double-markdown. They believe that their transition is fundamentally suspect, unearned, that it is taking something essential away from other people, that disappointment and dismay are legitimate, natural, understandable reactions to their transition and ought to be met with coaxing, refunds, bargains, barters, exchanges, and peace-offerings in order to make up for it.”
In my former capacity as an advice columnist, as well as my ongoing capacity as a trans person, I’ve heard often enough from bemused people in such remarkably similar circumstances that I’ve been able to cobble together a reasonably accurate set of predictions for the future.
This guide is for anyone with a loved one who has recently started to transition, or better yet expressed a desire to transition but hasn’t “done anything yet.” Your mission is to stop them from transitioning altogether, or failing that to slow things down considerably, without ever coming out and saying so. The game is over once you admit as much, so admit nothing. It works equally well for a child, a sibling, a parent, or a partner, but should not be tried on colleagues, casual acquaintances, or in any context where displays of emotion or conspicuous vulnerability are likely to backfire.
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The goal is to provide a paper trail of weaponized incompetence combined with malicious compliance, so you can technically say that you “tried” while actively making things worse, and therefore will never be called upon to try again, like when husbands in commercials from the 1990s had to do the laundry when their wives went out of town.
Make an announcement whenever you’re going to try a new pronoun. Ideally, you will be weeping as you do this, or at least you’ll have big, wet Charlie Chaplin eyes. Attention must be drawn to your conspicuous and pained effort, like when a millionaire climbs Everest.
Remember to draw in a huge, pained inhalation right before you say “she” — as if you have just been stabbed by something that is both incredibly thin and incredibly cold. “As — ah! — SHE went to the store —”
Trail off immediately afterwards if you can, to demonstrate that the effort has drained your slender resources. “The store…” What were you saying? Who can remember? Your voice has been stolen. This is so hard!!!
Follow this with a long and shaky exhale. Ideally, you will also put up a hand, as if to say, Please don’t help me; I’m in so much pain, but also very brave.
Pronounce any new name as if it were Rumpelstiltskin. The effect you’re going for should be “kidnapped wife being forced to read a ransom demand at gunpoint by gangsters from the Taken franchise.”
When (not if) you next revert back, correct yourself mid-sentence like you have just been struck across the face. It’s important to do this yourself, because then you get to set the tone for corrections, and in so doing make anyone who might have corrected you look like a demented madman. “Is a simple mistake really cause for such violence?”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Christ, I’m sorry! Jesus, I’m sorry!” Apologize like you’re kicking someone to death.
Brightly, yet tremulously, suggest a “compromise nickname.” Everyone loves a compromise nickname! Who doesn’t want to be called “Botho” or “Compom” or “Ples” after a hasty vote?
No pronouns at all. Stop using them for anyone. Bewilder your friends and amaze your relatives! “Is this what trans people are after? My God, it’s a referential mess! No one knows who anyone is talking about!”
As a bonus, if you’re ready, try introducing a “Pronoun distortion field,” where you start getting everybody’s pronouns wrong. This has the added bonus of making it seem like the mental load of acknowledging someone’s transition is so weighty that it’s making you drop crucial memories of your own childhood and basic social competence. Misgender your waitress! Misgender your own mother! Misgender everyone in the room! Nothing makes sense anymore in this mixed-up, topsy-turvy, Barnum-and-Bailey world, but by God, you’re not going to stop until someone else begs you to.
Say “My……………son” as if you were having a leg amputated in the Crimean war without anesthetic.
For every step forward take twelve immediate steps back, to make it clear this load is unendurable. But by no means should you ever say that it’s too much. Never admit that you oppose their transition; repeat only that it’s “a lot” or “a lot to take in” or “a lot to take in right now” or you’re “trying your best.” This hurts even more than childbirth, but as long as you don’t mind seeing how much you’re hurting me, I’ll keep going.
The downside, of course, is that it’s no fun, but there is a type of fun to be found in spoiling everyone else’s. This works best if you’re already inclined towards obtrusive martyrdom, of course; if you’re more inclined towards argument and conflict, I suggest instead “That’s ridiculous, I’d have known if you were” and “What was your gender on the night of April 28th?!”