Trans Comedy Award: Who owns your pronoun?

Wednesday 6 February 2013, 11:14

Claire Parker Claire Parker Trans Comedian / Project Lead

Welcome to my second blog outing. This week I will be discussing two elements of transition that can have a big impact on a trans person life and in many respects are out of their control. So with just over 3 weeks to go before the closing date for submissions for the Trans Comedy Award (28th of February at 5PM), take a few moments, grab that umpteenth cup of coffee, chillax and have a browse through a little more of my own personal perspective.
(read Claire's previous blog post)

Pronouns

From the moment the midwife rubs you down with a towel and hands you to your mother, pronouns define you. "Here you are Mrs Parker, he is a beautiful baby". Of course what the doctors, pediatricians, nurses or even my mother could not have known was that the midwife had left off one small consonant, one insignificant low scoring scrabble letter, the letter "S" to make the word She. Unlike the word "Transsexual" which is a winning word score.

trans-crossword.jpg From then on everyone's perception were set, wired into what "he" represented.

"He" means, boy, trousers, whiskers, willies, blue clothing and a voice most definitely from a Brian Blessed workshop for manly voices. Add to this the siblings of that little word; his, him, he's and the scene is set for 30 years of the most intense neuro-linguistic programming course ever devised for my friends and family.

Now roll on 30 years and one awkward evening of coming out tears later and not only do they have a new name to contend with but more annoyingly they have me jumping on everything they say and correcting the hell out them grammatically. They try their best of course, but its ingrained, they are programmed. In contrast no-one who only knew you post transmission ever uses the incorrect pronoun. The older you are the harder it is as well, so my nan is completely screwed. Many a time she would ring my mother asking after me, only to sound confused as to which pronoun to use. If it got too much for her she would change the subject and ask how my brother was. Here is an example from my stand up.

Nan on the phone

   Hello dear how are the boys doing?
   What? Oh yes, It's Claire now isn't it. Silly Me.
   So hows he doing?
   Did I?
   Well has she got himself a job yet.... I mean has he got herself a ...
   Oh bollocks! How's the other one doing?

Nothing is harder for a relative than getting their heads around your new name and the appropriate pronouns that hang off them. Try as they might it is a slow process. Unfortunately in the early stages of your transition they will slip quite often which is okay in private but très embarrassment in public. Your sitting in a French restaurant treating your mother to a mother's day meal. The waiter inquires if the lady who has gone to the restroom would like some wine and is informed. "No he is driving". You get the picture.

Some of you may be thinking I'm exaggerating a little bit or laying it on thick for effect and that if they had to change someone's pronouns it would not be too difficult. Well to underline my point. About a year into transition I found myself discussing my past life and recounting a story where I referenced myself by saying "me and two other guys". Arghhhh, even I had been programmed.

The good news is that constant exposure to a trans person who you knew in a previous life will de-program you if you are struggling.

One thing that constantly amuses me are people who make all the effort to get it right when they are in your presence but when discussing you outside of your immediate company continue to use the old terms. Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to placate all parties the de-programming fails as it is impossible to keep up and they often slip in your company then immediately correct themselves which is delicious to watch as they wriggle or squirm and espouse fervently how difficult it all is and how "I've known you for too long to get it right every time". So huge apologies to Mr Wilde for updating his cutting comment on the vagaries of fame.

  "The only thing worse than being talked about is when your Grand Mother is talking to you."

Not as snappy as Oscars but so apt. Which leads me on to the subject of ownership. Who owns your pronoun? It is often said that the only thing you truly own in this world is your name. Now tell someone who has that name ingrained for a generation that you are changing it and all the associated pronouns and while there may be acceptance in all quarters something strange happens with some close relations/friends. They pick up the ownership of your old pronouns and use them in instances where your past may be being discussed. "When Claire was a little boy he use to....". I cannot speak for others here when I say I am not too precious about this and I recognise a need for some close members to  remember and revisit that person, by keeping that persona alive.

The same cannot be said for the forced use of the incorrect pronoun which we see a lot in news papers (although it is slowly getting better). It is often an editorialised effort by the writer to claim your old gender and promote it though the story in an effort to control the pronouns that describe you. In other cases it is just sloppy writing, slipping aimlessly through a parade of gendered pronouns without due care for the subject. In some cases pronouns are even used to ridicule and marginalise by using a tired old form that goes something like this :- "So we asked him, her, she, he, it, whatever"

So spare a thought for the trans in your script and the power of the pronoun. It may only be a low scoring game closer in scrabble but by golly it packs a punch, and just in case you were wondering, "Transsexual" scores 221.

Work

Leaving aside how a business deals with the process of coming out (which is covered in my last blog), for a trans person, nothing strikes more fear into ones being than how people will react at the office. Some won't even attempt it, they will leave one job, transition, then get a new job at a point on their journey when they are comfortable.

For me no one really knew what was going on at work. Most thought I was gay, in the same way that most gay men have long highlighted hair, French manicured nails, tinted face cream and a soupçon of mascara, NOT. Many a time I would be suited and booted, the shining epitome of a city consultant, smart, well turned out, confident and with a lovely set of white-tipped French talons. Many an eye conversation would be taking place between my clients just on the edge of my peripheral vision.

I don't think they really guessed I was transsexual. In fact anything but; gay, eccentric, even someone going through an early mid-life crisis but not trans. Of course there were other clues. One day I was at my PC and received an email from a friend who had been to a party and had sent a picture of Claire to my works email account. It was only on my screen for a nanosecond, but just long enough for a colleague to spot it. "Well you kept that quiet didn't you" came the smug sounding barb.

The game was up. I just waited for the inevitable piss take and finger-pointing. Crumbling inside I froze, then came the phrase "You never told me your mum was a hottie". Relief, and despondency as I wrestled with the fact that I looked like a women (as of course I should do)  tinged with the fact that I looked my mother, 30 years my senior.

I think subconsciously I was screaming out to people that I was different, all the time straight jacketed by the social norms and perceived correct business proprietaries one should adhere to. I was pushing the boundaries of androgyny, waiting for people to ask me if I was transgendered or buttonholed me to ask "how can we help". The real world fact is that they don't. They hadn't a clue, not a dicky-bird. This is strange because there has been so much about transgendered people in TV and film. I think I can illustrate this by that reaction people give when they see a trans person in a public place. They can be heard to say "Is that a man in women's clothing" or something similar. Never "do you think that is a transsexual?".

So by coincidence redundancy was visited upon me. So my work life was somewhat roundabout and involved a couple of years getting all the adjustable bits sorted in-between a plethora of temp jobs.

Being very rough round the edges it was quite obvious to staff that I was different. Without denigrating my size too much, the Elephant in the room was blowing it's trumpet of gender variance right in their faces.

My first temping job was at a local council reorganising their filing system. I had come up smelling of roses. I had been placed with social services and probably the perfect case study. I was treated with complete respect as one of the girls. You would have thought that curiosity would have gotten the best of most people and maybe it did behind closed doors.

listening-room.jpg


The next temp job was noticeable by the fact that while it was the first job at which I did not discuss my status it was still obvious I was neither one thing or the other. I worked on the help desk answering the phones. This was great for practising my new voice as I could actually hear myself talk. However what I didn't know was that I was a celebrity and not in a good way. I would often see huddles of people talking and pointing at me. Not in judgemental way though. I was different, fantastic and with a big wow factor, not like the X factor or even the XX Factor and this somehow overrode people's ability to treat my status as confidential. Being too tantalising as a topic of conversation had made my very being apropos. Nothing warms the heart more to hear someone who assumes you are out of earshot inform a colleague that "you used to be a man". My eternal thanks to the 2 girls who gave me valuable unspoken comfort in the toilets where I had run to in a blubbering mess.

Happily I now have a full-time job that was created for me while I was temping for a major healthcare company. They recognised I had skills that were under used and that they would benefit from. So I totally advocate temping to get back into the loop and get your skills and not what you are recognised.

As of today, the small talk still happens even though I pass. This is because I work 2 miles from where I grew up and there will always be staff coming and going who knew me in a previous life. Not that I'm over sensitive about it these days I just find it odd that people will make it their job to let people know about Claire because she is fantastic. However If I was a CIS women and had experienced a hysterectomy would they feel the need to inform all new members of staff?

Very few people are lucky to have a completely stress free transition at work so if you see someone going through it in your work place please use all the correct pronouns and remember they are just like you. After all we all have secrets. Don't we?

Oh and by the way, these days I AM FANTASTIC.

Till next time, happy writing.

Claire

© - This article and extracts of Claire Parker’s stand-up are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without prior consent. Follow Claire on twitter @ItsClaireParker

Claire Parker is a Trans stand up comedian and is project lead on the Trans Comedy Award.

Trans Comedy have joined forces with BBC writersroom to launch The Trans Comedy Award - an exciting new talent search for TV comedy scripts featuring transgender characters and/or themes - find out more about what we're looking for and how you can enter your script.

Browse resources, ask questions on the forum and read blog articles on the Trans Comedy Award website.

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    Comment number 1.

    From the day I have started writing a trans themed comedy script, I have asked myself a hundred times "May I be a trans? How it would be if I was a trans?", this question does not lead me to a clear answer, just makes me wondering about how much someone should be open-minded and have a progressive way of thinking to not ignore his or her real identity. How someone should be able to think out of the box! In my idea, this ability is fantastic.
    The comic side of being a transgender, is not being different, but receiving unusual reactions from the people who are not able to put something new in their head.
    Thank you dear Claire Parker to share your experiences and many other useful information here, and to give us a broader view on the subject.

 
 

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