If Your Family Misgenders You Over The Holidays, Here’s How To Respond
It may be the most wonderful time of the year for some, but for a lot of trans people, going home for the holidays can actually feel pretty scary and lonely. Visiting family can sometimes mean enduring comments about your clothes or hair, getting dead-named, and being misgendered. If your family misgenders you over the holidays, or refers to you with the gender and name you were assigned at birth, it's easy to feel like there's no place for you at the table — especially if your place card literally reads your dead-name (@ my house).
For many trans people, being dead-named and misgendered feels like a form of violence. Regardless of whether you've just come out or have been out a while, being referred to as a gender with which you don't identify can feel awful. It's erasure, and can be incredibly painful and difficult to handle. It's not easy being misgendered, but there's good news: Decking the halls with trans safety-centered strategies can help you to feel strong and supported throughout this holiday season.
I spoke with Lisa Phillips, LSW and Trans Care Specialist of Philadelphia's LGBTQIA health and wellness Mazzoni Center, about ways to handle being misgendered over the holidays and different methods to remind yourself that you're a flawless trans angel.
Establish your limits.
Coming out as any flavor of transgender can sometimes mean being subjected to intrusive questions (even if well-intended). From ducking inquiries about surgery or hormones, to being forced to listen to unsolicited opinions about your appearance, there's no shortage of inappropriate conversations you might have to endure.
"Think about what your boundaries are prior to family time; maybe even create a list of topics or behaviors that you could overlook and things that you cannot tolerate," Phillips says. "It is always OK to say 'no' or disengage from a conversation that feels uncomfortable or invasive. Thinking about your boundaries ahead of time might help you be better prepared for more challenging conversations. However, sometimes we don’t know we have a boundary until it’s been crossed, and this is OK too!"
Knowing what you are and aren't willing to discuss can be helpful when heading into a family event. If a boundary gets crossed, it's OK to leave the table, or even the event, if it means ensuring your safety and wellbeing. If it feels like all eyes are on you, and you don't want to "make a scene," it's OK to pull yourself away from the conversation and address the conflict at a later time. If you know you have allies at the gathering, perhaps asking to grab an eggnog refill or take a lap around the house can serve as a well-deserved break.
Make a game plan.
Getting misgendered is overwhelming no matter where you are, let alone at a family meal over the holidays. If you know that your family means to be supportive, it can help to reach out to them directly before the party starts.
"Is there is a family member that you feel close to, or a person that seems to be affirming of your gender identity? Maybe think about sending them a text or an email prior to the family gathering," Phillips says. "Sharing your nervousness with someone else at the family function may help you feel less isolated and can provide a go-to person if things start feeling hard." If you don't have a supportive family or don't expect to have anyone supportive physically nearby, reach out to supportive friends and let them know you might need to vent or talk to them. In addition to your own social support system, there are many queer and trans centers, as well as online support groups, that are here for you. Retaining a relationship with your family after coming out can be a huge privilege, but it can still come with stress or feelings of isolation.
If it's difficult for you to be in the same space as family members who misgender you, remember that you don't have to stick around to be polite or pretend to make nice. "If family is not trying to use your correct pronouns, know that you don’t have to stay anywhere that feels uncomfortable," Phillips says.
Of course, up and leaving from a family gathering may be difficult, especially if you're feeling a lot of pressure not to make a scene, or if you're more introverted. If you're sensing your safety and comfort may be violated at a certain event, consider reaching out to the hosts beforehand to say you don't plan to stay long, or asking a friend to call you with a fake emergency, providing a quick way out.
Have something to look forward to.
If you know the holidays are going to be a sh*tstorm, it can help to think up a few backup plans and different ways to remove yourself from harmful situations.
"Try to arrange an alternate plan if family time becomes too difficult, Phillips says. "Take a break and do something grounding before re-entering the situation: take a walk, journal about it, text your support people, engage with online community, etc. Plan a special and affirming activity for yourself after the family gathering to celebrate having made it through!"
Knowing that after family dinner, an Oreo McFlurry and Tierra Whack on-loop await you, or that a fun New Year's Eve party is a couple days away can help get you through the awkwardness or pain of the holidays. It's important to celebrate yourself and all that you've been through.
Know who has your back.
Going to a family event can be particularly tricky if only some members of your family know you're trans. You may feel anxious about whether or not someone will out you by accident, or unsure about how to address different family members calling you by different names. It's perfectly natural to feel the pressure to be out to everyone, or apprehensive about how to correct your family when they use the wrong pronouns.
"Have a conversation with the family members that you’ve shared your gender identity with about your needs and comfort level with the family you aren’t out to," Phillips says. "You get to determine how you want coming out to go with family and it’s OK to not be ready to share with everyone."
If you're not out to your entire family, checking in with the family who you are out to may help you feel more supported. Ask them to keep an eye on your rude uncle, or to be ready to go on a running-away-from-haters walk at anytime.
Additionally, if you're out to some family members, but not all, it's possible that some may try to defend you by correcting others about your pronouns or name change. However, while they most likely have your best interest at heart, your #straightbutsupportive cousin telling your Grandma that you now use "he/him" may actually be outing you before you're ready — explain this to him ahead of time. You don't need to be out as queer, trans, or anything else, before you feel comfortable.
"If you have the emotional energy, you could correct your family members by saying something like, 'I’m actually using she/her now,'" Phillips says. "If the misgendering continues, ask a supportive family member to speak up for you. If you aren’t feeling like you can ask for this support from family, step out and call or text an affirming friend to vent. Think about who you’d like to be able to reach out to for support and affirmation during family time. Have a conversation with them ahead of time to make sure they are able to be your support person/people and share with them what your needs may be. Be open about your nervousness with family; you don’t have to carry it on your own!"
Knowing who makes you feel validated and supported can be very helpful when heading into potentially uncomfortable areas, like a family dinner party. You have people who love and support you, and if others are making you feel ashamed or are dismissing your identity, you don't have to put up with that. You don't have to be alone with your fear, pain, or even anger.
There's no easy way to handle getting misgendered, especially over the holidays. Having a game plan, restorative events to look forward to, and knowing who you can lean are just a few ways that can help you to make it through the holly jolly (and sometimes painfully-straight) family parties.
Additionally, the Mazzoni Center makes a yearly holiday survival guide for queer and trans people that's packed with tips and resources, and totally worth the read. No matter what, all trans angels are strong and beautiful. You deserve to feel protected, celebrated, and given lots of presents every single day of the year. At its best, the holiday season is a time to celebrate, eat, and be merry with loved ones, but when it comes to gender — the naughty and nice binary is the only one we need.