After reading the story about the trans woman who tweeted her arrest and imprisonment this afternoon, I was pretty disappointed by the comments. By now I'm used to the random "we need to fear penises because they rape everything all the time" comments that try to rationalize this sort of treatment of trans women. But I was surprised by the number of people whose response was to essentially shrug and not see what the big deal was, despite the fact that this woman had the right legal documentation. And it leads me to believe that a lot of people don't really get how loaded pronouns can be for someone like me.
I'm sure a lot of people can at least appreciate on a superficial level why being misgendered sucks. I mean, cis people who stray from the strict rules of gender can find themselves getting intentionally misgendered (e.g. women who cut their hair short are deemed "too manly") so it's not that hard to sympathize, at least on a superficial level. But there's a lot more going on for me as a trans woman when I called "he" (although that thankfully hasn't happened in years).
I've put a lot of literal blood, sweat, and tears into my transition. I've dedicated an ungodly number of hours having each of my hairs individually zapped and ripped out of my face. I've done a lot of work to train my testosterone-poisoned vocal cords to produce a female sounding voice. And although I haven't had The Surgery™, I have endured enough surgery to know that surgery *REALLY* sucks. In short, I have put in so much goddamn effort into my transition that after 6 years of this shit I am beyond exhausted. My soul is tired, and I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning because of how much has been drained out of me.
And yet I have to live every day of my life knowing that despite all the hard work I've put into becoming who I am, the vast majority of cis people would casually dismiss it as soon as they saw my dick or became aware of its existence. My lived reality as a woman would get blithely ignored simply because of my genitals, a part of me that few people are ever actually going to see and/or interact with. In our society, the complex phenomenon known as "gender" is reduced to one's peepee parts, and that means until I get my surgery, I'm kinda fucked. My identity is conditional on other people's perceptions, who at any time might discover this thing in my pants and never have a second thought about using the word "he" in reference to me.
Living with that knowledge is not just oppressive: it's scary. It scares me to see how easily people in power can casually bowl over the totality of who I am as a person and ignore the identity I've struggled for all my life; that at any time, someone might see my junk and view me as a totally different person. It's scary in the same way that street harassment by pervy dudes can be scary and intimidating. It makes you feel vulnerable, and keenly aware of how much of your happiness and freedom from harm is built on the good graces of others. It makes you realize how much your right to bodily autonomy and self-determination are actually not rights at all, but privileges granted by the privileged. And they have the power to take it away from you if they decide it's something you're not entitled to anymore.
That is what the word "he" means for me.