It’s a serious understatement to say there’s a lot that goes into transitioning. And for every anticipated hurdle, there are unexpected challenges that come along. One such challenge is the awkwardness of associating with acquaintances when you’re mid or post-transition.
For example…friends from other robotics teams that you only see at competitions.
Imagine this: you’re at a competition, and you approach a team’s pit to say hi to friends you made the last time you competed with this team. Maybe you were on the same alliance or shared parts or just got to talking about scouting in your downtime. You hang out every time you compete together, but you don’t really talk outside of that. Since the last time you saw them, you’ve come out as trans and started transitioning. You’ve started going by a different name and pronouns and changed your appearance. You go up and say hi, and they greet you excitedly….by your dead name. This is uncomfortable, but you have the option to let it pass if your transition isn’t something you want to address. Until one of your teammates comes to get you for help with something and calls you by your preferred name. Suddenly, your friend from another team has all these questions, and you’re in a difficult position where you’re more or less forced to come out.
Being trans isn’t all that someone is, but it’s often forced to the forefront of their identity because of the conflict between who they are and who they used to be. This is especially prevalent when it comes to interactions with people who aren’t privy to all the intimate details of your day to day life.
I began socially transitioning in my senior year of high school, but robotics was always somewhere where I was walking on eggshells because of the climate of my team. Because of this, I wasn’t out to most of the people I associated with at FIRST events. Fast forward a year, and I’m an active alumnus of the program and still volunteer at events. Without the pressure of my team, I’m no longer in the closet and exclusively using my preferred name and pronouns. Because of this, paired with the fact that hormone replacement therapy has started to take effect, I’m finding myself having these conversations more than I ever have before. Being forced to discuss your identity under any circumstances can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it is especially so when it’s unexpected and out of your control.
After going through this same song and dance enough times, I’ve gotten it down to a science. Here are the six pieces of advice I have for maneuvering these encounters more comfortably.
- Bring it up the first time they dead name or misgender you (or the first time they witness you being referred to by the right name/pronouns). Reintroduce yourself with name and pronouns. “Actually, I go by —— and use —— pronouns” is fairly straightforward and usually well received. If you tiptoe around the subject and wait to bring it up, it makes the conversation even more uncomfortable when you finally get around to it.
- Keep it short. Getting into drawn out conversations about how long you’ve felt this way or your plans for transition make a brief encounter into torture, and once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes tedious. If they’re someone who you’re interested in discussing it with further, set aside a different time to have that conversation.
- Be secure in yourself, and learn when to walk away. At the end of the day, you know who you are. You may like these people, but they’re clearly not an important enough part of your life that you came out to them specifically, so if they don’t accept you, it’s okay to move on. You’re going to have to come out to a lot of people in your life, and it’s okay to not associate with those who don’t accept you.
- Don’t do it alone if you don’t have to. Telling someone your name/pronouns has a stronger immediate impact when paired with exposing them to your interactions with people who are already respecting your preferred name/pronouns. They’re more likely to get it right, which makes the interaction better for everyone involved.
- Don’t let the interaction escalate into a scene. The middle of the pits might not be the best place to have this conversation, so if it means taking them somewhere more quiet/private, do so. At the end of the day, you’re simply correcting a misconception they had about you, not making the biggest announcement of your life. It doesn’t have to be everyone else’s business.
- When possible, be proactive. To avoid these situations entirely, it can often be beneficial to make your identity public after you’ve become comfortable enough being out. Posting broadly to social media or reaching out to people individually, even people you have limited interactions with, on your own terms gives control of the situation back to you. It’s daunting to think about coming out to everyone. After all, the same is not required when someone comes out as gay or bi, for example, because sexuality doesn’t have to be at the forefront like changing name/pronouns or physically transitioning does. However, taking that initiative can limit future awkward interactions and make transitioning more smooth.
Being mid-transition is awkward and uncomfortable and challenging. You have to face unwanted attention for just being yourself. But it shouldn’t limit you from doing the things you love or seeing people that matter to you. You’ll always have to be coming out to someone…just don’t let those interactions define how you live your life.