We’re at a restaurant for dinner. The server approaches our table with piping hot entrees and starts placing them in front of us.
“And, here are her chicken strips,” she says as she places a basket of food in front of C.J.
That’s our reply when our son is misgendered, when someone assumes he’s a she. We ignore it.
It happens nearly once a day. It happens when he’s dressed masculine and it happens when he’s dressed feminine. It happens when his hair is a sweaty, knotty mess after two hours of gymnastics and it happens when his hair is clean and in a neat French braid. It happens when his fingernails are painted and it happens when their not.
We have a rule that we don’t correct people when they misgender C.J. It’s not our rule actually. It’s his. We just follow it.
We use the male pronouns that he prefers, but if somebody else doesn’t, he doesn’t want us to correct them or even acknowledge it.
“If people think I’m a lady, just let them,” he says.
(By the way, before he turned ten he’d say, “If people think I’m a girl, just let them.” Obviously, in C.J.’s mind, when you enter the double digits you go from girl to lady.)
“If strangers think I’m a lady it doesn’t matter because I’m never going to see them again. So who cares what they think,” he explains.
We’re cool with that. It’s his choice. And, knowing that his choice can change, we’ve checked in with him often during the last six years.
At age four, he didn’t want us to correct people because he liked being mistaken for a girl. That’s when he wanted to be a girl, so when people mistook him for one he would beam proudly knowing that he had convinced someone of something successfully. It’s like the feeling I get when people think I have my shit together and am good at adulting. We all feel proud when people see us the way in which we want to be seen.
We didn’t correct people.
In first and second grade he wanted us to correct people when they misgendered him. He no longer liked being mistaken for girl. Sure, he sometimes still wanted to be a girl, but more than anything he wanted to be his rainbow self. Why couldn’t people understand that he was a boy who was a girl at heart? It was frustrating for him.
We corrected people.
Starting last year, he asked us not to correct people when they misgendered him because of the whole “if they are strangers, I’ll never see them again anyway” reasoning, and because he felt that correcting people drew more attention to the fact that he’s different.
We stopped correcting people.
It was a hard habit for Chase to break. He’s a protective older brother and wanted people to know when they had erroneously referred to his brother as his sister. Plus, if his brother wanted male pronouns, he should get them.
A server approached our table to take our drink order and referred to C.J. using female pronouns. Chase corrected the server.
“Babe, don’t do that, he doesn’t like it,” I said once the server was out of earshot.
“Well, I don’t like it when people think he’s a girl when clearly he’s a boy,” Chase argued. (Disclaimer: C.J. does not always “clearly” look like a boy.)
“But, it’s my choice and I don’t want you to make a big deal out of it! You’re embarrassing me!” C.J. said folding his arms across his chest.
“I’m not embarrassing you! I’m standing up for you!” Chase insisted while pulling his baseball hat down to block us from his view.
And, that, my friends, is how something as simple and mundane as asking for a Diet Coke, lemonade and Arnold Palmer at a restaurant can turn into an emotional debacle when a person is misgendered and it isn’t handled the way they want it to be.
It’s not about C.J. being misgendered ― it’s about how we react to it. We can’t control the first, but we can control the latter – under his ever-changing direction.