I have an event coming up where I will see people that I haven't seen for a long time, few of whom know that I am transgender. I want these people to know who I am, and to call me by my preferred name and pronouns. How do I go about it? "I'm changing my names and pronouns" is how I've done it before, but ever since the first time I did that, I've been aware that it sets up a whole heap of expectations - expectations that I don't want to fill, and wouldn't know how to even if I did.
Here's what I've done in the past. "I'm changing my names and pronouns", a polite request for people to try their hardest to respect it, an acknowledgement that it is hard work, a mention of my new facebook profile and the fact that I'll be inviting them to join it, and a "looking forward to seeing you soon" sign off.
Oh, did I mention? I disclose on facebook. That might seem weird, but really, I never considered any other way. I guess that says something about me! It does make sense, though. Obviously that's not how my close friends or family find out. But when it comes to wanting to be known by my preferred name and pronouns at a certain event or within a particular group of people (a temporary job, a reunion, a night out etc), there honestly is no better way to announce it to the people who are your friends, but not your friend friends. Not the ones who you call up and go for coffee with. The people you know from various corners of your life, but only see in that context. The people who you only wish 'Happy Birthday' to on facebook. Your facebook friends. A semi-formal 'note' to the least well-known ones. A little personality added to the slightly closer ones. And invitations for all to my new profile, where I am slowly growing a community of people who call me by my preferred name or, if they don't call me anything at all, get used to seeing me as that person.
I think that might be the most important part. Due to the way I work and live, I have numerous non-overlapping groups of friends and acquaintances. Some of them I see only once a year. I appreciate that getting used to calling someone by a new name is hard work, and it's proportionally harder for people who have known me for longer. So for someone who hasn't seen me for a year, but has known me for 10, getting used to interacting with Ollie, even digitally, might be quite helpful. Particularly after the occasion has passed and we might not see each other for another 12 months!
It's selfish, too, of course. I don't want to make 50, or even 10 phone calls every time I want to disclose to a new group of people. It's not just that I'm self-conscious, although I would be. I think the phone call, or even worse, the in-person disclosure, puts pressure on people to respond. Everyone has to find something to say in response, and sometimes, the only thing you might be able to come up with is "Oh. .... Good?' I wouldn't criticise that! But the facebook message doesn't put that pressure on someone. It gives them the space to read, take in, consider - in their own time. Most people reply with something casual, often including the words "no problem", and often using my preferred name. It may not sound like much, but it's surprisingly comforting!
Now, on to the problem with this approach. I don't identify as male. What I do identify as is not completely clear. Sometimes it is boy, occasionally boi, often queer, often trans, sometimes nothing at all. I'm not convinced about what pronouns I want to use, or whether I will ever have any surgery. I don't know if I'll legally change my name or my gender. But I don't know how to say that in a short, relatively formal email and, more to the point, I'm not sure I want to. It's stupid of me, because I am setting up those expectations that I mentioned earlier. My message indicates a narrative of trans identity that is at least recognisable by the mainstream: girl becomes boy. Surely if I added a few lines to explain that it's not as black and white as that for me, I could make my point. But I don't want to invite the questions. I already have to deal with plenty of ignorant, nosy, inappropriate enquiries about surgery, whether I'm 'out' to my family, what my partner thinks, etc, often from people who I barely know. I don't want to add gender-uncertainty into the mix.
Sometimes, I like to talk about my gender-identity - what it means to me, how I (want to) present, how I feel about gender roles, whether I would be a 'father' to my children. But I don't want those things to be open to all comers. I want to discuss them gently, respectfully, with my closest friends, and only when I am feeling safe and comfortable. I don't want "so, what does queer mean?" to blindside me when I'm tired or afraid or hating myself, and I can't trust my 'Facebook friends' to know when that might be. For me, it is safer to keep the border clear and defined, not to blur it with my uncertainty and doubt. It's easier to laugh/brush off questions about something I'm not (transsexual) than about something that I am ( ... ?).
Is this messed up? Yes, definitely.
Would it be easier to not disclose at all, and keep being known by a name and pronouns that I don't identify with? No, not at all.
I hope that it isn't always this way.