Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Pronoun shift

I was ruminating on the first few weeks when my husband and I, as well as DJ's aunts, brothers and grandma were all trying to make the pronoun shift, not to mention calling our new female relative by her new name.  As I lay awake in my bed before dawn today, (why the hell was I up so early after getting my butt kicked at work the day before?  Oops, that's another separate issue and violates my "one issue at a time" rule. Sorry.) I was trying to remember what led to that transition become easier.  All I can come up with is sheer repetition.

I can only liken it to muscle memory.  You know how when you do something often enough, your brain doesn't have to think about it anymore?  Your body just goes on auto pilot and does what it needs to do, responds as it needs to respond, says what it needs to say? For instance, most of us have had enough lousy days that we can no longer keep track on any of our phalanges (that would be fingers and toes for those of you who don't know and don't feel like surfing through Webster's).  And the majority of us have enough social experience to know that most people don't necessarily want to hear about our lousy day, so we can answer, by rote, "I'm doing great.  How are you?", when someone says, "Hey, how's it going?" ( I live in a small town in the south.  "Hey" is an accepted greeting, even among the educated.  And no, we don't have a piece of straw hanging out of our mouths that we must try to speak around when we say, "Hey".)

The first few months, as we were trying to use the appropriate pronoun of "she" instead of "he" it seemed like making the switch would never come readily.  Using DJ's new name wasn't too terribly difficult since it was a derivative of her given name, thank goodness.  If she'd gone from say, "Eric" to "Penelope" that would have been quite an uphill climb for my limited faculties.  But the pronouns were especially difficult because they are so blessed similar sounding and only slightly different to say; and yet, the addition, or subtraction, of the "s" to the "he" means all the difference in the world to the person to whom you are referring.

So this just popped into my head.  Almost all of us under the age of 40 have taken a keyboarding class.  Remember the first time you set eyes on a keyboard and wondered how the heck you would ever make your left index finger remember that it was responsible for typing "f", "g", "t", "r" and "b"?  Now, my body has it so memorized that I had to look at the keyboard just now to remember which letters my left index finger was able to recall, all by itself, without my thinking about it. That's muscle memory.  I'll bet within one or two months of your keyboarding class, your left index finger was able to find all of the abovementioned letters, without thinking, which even now I can't think of without having to look at the keyboard, in spite of having written about it not 30 words, or seconds ago.

That is the process that will occur when you're trying to make the pronoun shift.  And it will occur because of simple repetition. If you're worried that your transgendered loved one will be offended when you slip up, because you will slip up, don't.  If you have let the person know that you want to make the change, he or she will know that you're making your best effort;  that, in itself, is more important than anything else because it signifies your acceptance.  And there is almost nothing that a quick, but sincere apology with a rueful smile can't remedy.  If, for some reason your transgendered relative does become sensitive when you slip up, gently remind him or her that this is new for you too and that half the time you call everyone you know by the wrong name because it's part of the aging, parenting, and human process.  We've talked about having a sense of humor before.  It's integral, in this extremely fallible person's opinion.  The transgendered person must attempt to have a sense of humor, as well.  It's ok to gently and lovingly remind the person to lighten up, that you're doing your best and that you're all in this together.