The last person my mom ever misgendered me to was the hospital security guard who came to notarize a durable power of medical attorney listing me as the responsible party. As usual, her misgendering was unintentional. I didn’t correct her because it would soon be moot.
‘Who are you designating?’ he asked.
Gesturing at me, ‘Him,’ she said.
He looked momentarily confused until he connected the dots and then looked embarrassed and awkward. By that point I was used to it. It still sucked. He beat a hasty retreat once done with his task.
My brother and mom’s boyfriend didn’t seem to notice. They stood in opposite corners of the intensive care room lost in their own thoughts. A couple of hours earlier mom had firmly reiterated her decision to a doctor to stop all curative treatments for her lung cancer, emphysema, and pneumonia, saying she was ready to die.
Even though her living will was in order, I had asked to have the power of attorney before she went on the morphine drip that would slip her into death – just in case something went sideways and a decision needed to be made.
The misgendering and deadnaming from my family felt relentless in those last few days of my mom’s life. It made an already emotionally grueling time that much more unpleasant.
In my brother’s defense, it was the first time he’d ever met me as me. He’d been very good in the beginning at catching and correcting himself. As our mom’s situation worsened, discussions with the doctors and nurses shifted into harder conversations and they all started slipping more and more along with fewer self-corrections.
In times of stress we often fall back into deeply laid, predictable grooves of routine, and these people who had known me my entire life defaulted to their memory of who I used to be. Mom had been admitted twelve days prior and the misgendering and deadnaming slowly became worse and more annoying. Each time I’d correct them with, ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘hers’, and, ‘Heather’, and each time they’d apologize.
On the bright side, the hospital staff was always courteous to me, even when they knew I was trans or had come to the realization like the security guard after a misgendering. This turned out to be a huge relief and I never felt like I wasn’t listened to or taken seriously because I was trans.
Even though my mom misgendered me to the end, I know there was no malice behind it and that she loved me. She just never quite made the full cognitive leap to replace the old with the new in her head. For me, it does not take away from the times she introduced me as her daughter to the nurses and didn’t mess up.
Being trans requires making your own cognitive leaps to accept yourself and decide what to do about it. It also asks those around you to make their own leaps. Some will fall short. That’s just how it is.
Mom never fully understood why I transitioned and was resistant to it at first, but she did come around to support and respect me. That meant a lot to me, even though she couldn’t keep my pronouns straight right up to her end.
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