I misgendered people today...throw the whole mouth away (2018)

(Note: This was initially written, and published, in August 2018. I am not certain when I converted it to an unpublished draft, but I have decided [in summer 2024] to make it public again because I think it's important to be transparent about our mistakes so we can demonstrate growth. It took many years for me to first recognize, and then subsequently, embrace myself fully as a non-binary woman. It's been a journey, and I prefer accountability to revisionism. Thank you for your consideration.)

I made a remark that was reeking of cissexism earlier today, and I’m writing this to call myself out, to apologize, and to be accountable. It was done unintentionally, and it was done without malice - BUT IT WAS STILL WRONG.

I was wrapping up a speech, and because the program itself was running somewhat behind schedule, I was trying to do so fairly quickly to allow the audience a much needed break between sessions. As such, I was “ad-libbing” a bit to get to a stopping point. I was emphasizing the importance of denouncing the widespread (male) gender bias that exists in the autism community - referencing the gendered origins of the “light it up blue” campaign. Ironically, it was here - while I was in the midst of expressing concern about gender bias - that a cissexist comment popped right out of my mouth. 

In noting that “light it up blue” isn’t representative of me, I mentioned having “a vagina.” As soon as the word leapt out of my mouth it instantly felt awkward and wrong, but it was already stated. In hindsight I wish I had immediately walked it back that very moment. That is what I SHOULD have done. But I didn’t...I just continued, concluded my speech shortly afterward, and returned to my seat.

Although no one has brought it up, my statement has haunted me for hours. With my careless wording, I erased the identities of hordes of people for whom “light it up blue” also is not representative by implying that one has to be in possession of “a vagina” to be excluded by that campaign...when one ABSOLUTELY does not. I also invalidated the individuals who DO have vaginas who may identify with that campaign, or with the gender most commonly represented in autism statistics (men/boys). In short, I effed up. And I’m very sorry and I regret making the remark. 

That statement was wrong. And I should KNOW better. I’m not a woman because of the genitalia that I possess; my gender isn’t some biological factor dependent upon what is between my legs. This is typically not that type of remark that I would be associated with, much less be the one to utter it! I recognize that gender is a complex entity. It’s reasons like this that I choose to use *phrases like “people with wombs” and “pregnant and lactating people.” And why I was an enthusiastic supporter of AWN changing its name. Why I intentionally declined to wear the “trademark” pink hat when I attended the Women’s March.

Yet I did this despite “knowing better.” It’s possible when that phrase came out of my mouth that I was scripting/quoting/engaging in delayed echolalia - something I sometimes do out of habit and later cringe when I realize what the context wasn’t necessarily appropriate. I don’t know for certain, but either way it happened and it should not have. 

I realize there might be some people reading this who might subscribe to a specific, binary view of gender that correlates with perceived biological sex. Maybe that’s because of your religious beliefs; or maybe it is a personal belief that you were raised with; maybe it’s something else. And because of that, you might not grasp the enormity of what I did today. 

You might even think what I’m saying doesn’t make sense. I realize that you might not understand...just like people don’t understand how it stings when someone mentions how “articulate” I am (or another Black person is, or when I can’t find “flesh” colored dance tights to match my daughter’s legs, or when my adopted children are assigned yet another “family tree” assignment that will not be representative of our blended family or are asked to bring a “baby picture” that we don’t have to school. When whatever “you” are is the “norm,” is the “status quo” - you often don’t “get” it. Because you don’t HAVE to get it. You’re not “other.” You’re not different...so you probably seldom think about those who are. 

But that’s not me. I KNOW what it’s like to be different. I was born “different,” have lived my life as “different,” and I’m going to die “different” - because of that, I am cognizant of and sensitive to micro aggressions even if they apply to an area of life where I might not necessarily be marginalized personally. Even if due to privilege - in this case, how I was assigned at birth - such a remark doesn’t directly “harm” me, it DOES indirectly harm me because making such a remark hurts other people - making me a person who hurts other people. And a decent human being should care about showing respect for and toward other people and not be complicit in harming, misgendering, and othering them. 

So even if no one “caught” what I said, I know I said it, and I humbly and sincerely apologize - publicly. And I promise that I will do better. 

*(Of course I think it's okay to say "pregnant women" if it is clear that such terminology is preferred by those one is referring to; "woman" is not a dirty word. It's just not the way all people with vulvas necessarily identify and it's not my place to force language on folks.)