When I finally came out as trans at work back in 2015, it took a little bit of time for my coworkers to get up to speed. Most of them were great at simply self-correcting and moving on. There were always a few people who would start to make excuses for how hard it was, though, and go on and on at length about it, citing the pronouns that they used for me when they first met me or whatever. This latter behavior is a bit irritating, but I eventually got some of them to stop.
At my current job, where I started out female-presenting but visibly trans to begin with, I’ve only had one coworker have any trouble with my pronouns, and she’s always been great at self-correcting and moving on, with no further comment. And that is exactly what I want.
Most of my friends have been great about it too. When I was using they/them (as a concession to “how hard it is”), most of my friends were good at either self-correcting or mutually-correcting each other. There would be a few holdouts, but none of them really turned out to be actually friends – they’d all turn out to have some deep-seated transphobic baggage that they refused to address, and I’d have to cut ties with them. Fortunately that was the vast minority. And much more recently when I realized that I definitely prefer she/her, but they/them is still fine, well, I still have the same friends who are still being supportive in the same way.
In particular, one of my oldest friends, who is now also my business partner, has been amazing at self-correcting, in a way that is apparent to others and gets others on board. And he’s even gone through a second phase of that when I did the they/them to she/her switch, which isn’t even that necessary but I so greatly appreciate that he makes the effort.
But there are certain people in my life who claim to want to be on board but keep on making excuses for why they can’t, and why it’s so hard for them, and eventually shift the blame onto me. And they are people that I can’t simply cut ties with.
For example, they will address me as he/him to a wide audience. When I ask them not to, they claim that they had addressed me in a gender-neutral way (when that’s not actually what I want), and then when I point out where they very clearly did not, they say that they had meant to do it and it must have been a later edit where the mistake slipped in.
When I ask them to be better in the future, any apology I get is in the form of “Sorry, but” like “Sorry, but I’ve known you for so long” or “Sorry, I’m just remembering you as a kid” or “Sorry, but this is so hard on me.” If there’s even a “sorry” at all.
My least favorite version: “I do self-correct but you must not hear it in anger.” No, trust me, I am absolutely looking forward to hearing the correction and I want nothing more than to hear it, but it never comes. Maybe you do it in your head, and that’s a good first step, but it needs to be out loud. It needs practice. It’s not the thought that counts in this case.
And the apology cannot be conditional, and it cannot dwell on the root of the mistake. “Sorry, but” is not acceptable.
Apologize. Self-correct. And move on.
Eventually you will no longer need to do any of that, because it will simply come naturally.
As an analogy: the year 2019 has started. You’re probably still habitually writing 2018 for dates. I know I sure do! But you realize your mistake, and you self-correct and move on.
I also posit that simply avoiding pronouns is not a great path forward; all that does is move it one layer down, where you’re still thinking of me with he/him pronouns but then contorting yourself to not say it out loud. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not think of me as male?
I realize that this isn’t the easiest thing to do. And I understand that slips will continue to happen! But it’s easy to apologize, self-correct, and move on. Making it any more difficult than that means I’m not going to want to keep communicating with you. It is much, much easier for me to simply not be in a situation where I repeatedly get hurt.
So, please, just repeat after me:
Apologize. Self-correct. And Move. On.