Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Time Machine Effect

Transition, as it is for most all of us, takes time. Going down the list of people you have to tell, actually telling those people of your plans, and what they mean. Beginning hormone therapy, switching mode of presentation, changing your name, both in practical use and legally. Correcting the people in your life, tirelessly, when they use the wrong pronoun, or your old name.

These processes take time. Eventually, at least in my case, I've reached a point where it's mostly behind me. My immediate family either refers to me correctly, or refuses to gender me at all. All of my friends know and I'm just Katie to them. Largely, I'm past transition in that regard. It's old news. It's just how I am and how I live. The norm, if you will.

But this leads to a very interesting thing which I'm dubbing the "Time Machine Effect". That is, when your life is going smoothly, everything is fine, then you have a family gathering of some sort to attend. Be it a family reunion, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other excuse to gather up members of your family whom you haven't seen in a year or better, these situations almost always seem to be the equivalent of stepping into a time machine with regards to transition.

Those who first come say such things as "Oh hi, [old name]!" to which I promptly correct them. At best, I get a scoff and a disgruntled, angry look. At worst, they smile, nod, with an infuriating air of "humoring me" - going out of their way to use my new name but putting obnoxious, special emphasis on it in as if to say "I'll use these words because you're here, and you WILL notice that I am using them, but as soon as you're out of earshot, I'll call you what I please".

Now that may seem contradictory, but there are members of my extended family who do, in fact, accept me. And for them it's just businesses as usual. "Hi Katie" - no special emphasis, nothing.

You also have members of your far-extended family who don't even recognize you. I was mistaken for my mother once at thanksgiving. Of course, you then get treated to members of your closer-yet-still-extended family who feel the need to say "Oh, that's [old name]!"

To maybe explain the effect more: I never, ever get gendered male anymore. It just doesn't happen. No conflict. "Hi I'm Katie" done and done. The aspects of how I was prior to transition appear less and less in my daily life. It creates a jarring shift when suddenly an entire group of people whom you're expected to visit and socialize with all behave like you never transitioned to begin with.

The situation is, in general, a total nightmare. I suspect that it may improve over a couple of years worth of family events, but I also consider that the downtime between events may be so long as to continue to foster their ignorance. In any case, I thought writing about this might give appropriate warning to those early in transition. Watch out for this - at the wrong time, it can really kill your self esteem.


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  1. I don't really have anything to add except:

    ...yeah. Yeah.

  2. Holiday gatherings with extended family, while stressful for many people, can be especially trying for gender and sexual minorities(GSM). Personally, I think I will just skip the parties this year, my first one out of the closet.

  3. How is it you know they are just humoring you, and not just genuinely forgetting? I suppose tone has a lot to do with it, but maybe some people are just apathetic about the whole thing. What I wanted to say was you seem very anti-cis in this one, like you assume the worst out of non-transgender people who are not your friends. It's your blog to say what you want but I have noticed when you expect the worse in people that is what you get.

  4. The specific person I was referencing there intentionally was using an extremely condescending tone of voice (and generally treating me like I was mentally damaged). In her particular case, there could be no mistake, she was deliberately fucking with me.

    The apathetic ones just refuse to gender me at all, and I don't really begrudge them for it.