I'm astounded by adults who refuse to acknowledge my trans son's gender

Photo: Carolyn Tate and her son (Supplied)
Photo: Carolyn Tate and her son (Supplied) 

Parenting a transgender child is exactly the same as parenting any other child in most ways, but there's an added element of danger.

Like living your life on a high wire. Mostly it's fine, but there's always the possibility of falling a long way and getting very hurt.

While other parents may worry that at some stage their child may be bullied or excluded by social groups, it's almost a guarantee that it happens with trans kids.

Over the course of his transition, my son has been called names, excluded from social circles, gossiped about and bullied, both at school and online.

What I find astounding though, is when that bullying or exclusion comes from adults, who should know better, and who should be better.

And, look, I get that not everyone is super comfortable with the idea of transgenderism. Maybe you haven't been exposed to it before, maybe you don't know how to talk about it, maybe it makes you uncomfortable because you're scared you'll say the wrong thing.

Being uncomfortable is okay. Admitting that is okay. Asking questions is okay. But covering that discomfort up with cruelty is not.

Let's take Sarah Harris's mess of reporting on actor Elliot Page on Studio 10 recently.

She initially used incorrect pronouns when talking about Page's transition, saying, "Good for her," then tried to cover her blunder with a terrible joke about how confusing it all was.


She was understandably lambasted for it.

The following day, Harris made this apology:

"I need to apologise for my reaction that I had yesterday when you first announced the news about Elliot Page. I completely stuffed up the pronouns," she told viewers.

"I got flustered and tried to make a joke and move on. Looking back that was pretty insensitive. It was a genuine mistake and I'm so sorry. Yeah, I'm just … I'm sorry. It was a brain snap."

Everyone has their opinion on whether that response was sufficient and genuine, but I think Harris's handling of this was okay. She did stuff up – she should have been better prepared for that story. But she listened, she learned, and she apologised.

I'll bet she doesn't do it again.

But not everyone is as open to learning as Sarah Harris.

There are people in and around my son's life who still insist on using female pronouns when they talk about him.

It's a practice called misgendering, and – a bit like intentionally calling someone Jason when you know their name is really Justin – it's a passive-aggressive way of telling them you want them to feel uncomfortable.

What you're really saying, of course, is that you feel uncomfortable, and you want to make yourself feel better by sharing that discomfort around.

When you think about it, a person's gender has very little to do with the contents of their underpants and so much more to do with the way they identify. I certainly don't need to see anyone's genitals before I know how to refer to them – and I'd be happy if we could all agree to keep things that way.

Sometimes, when someone is in the process of transitioning, or if someone identifies as non-binary, it can be hard to know which gender pronouns you should use. It's okay to ask. And it's even okay if you make a mistake and get it wrong, if you listen and adjust when you're corrected.

Calling someone by their correct pronouns costs you exactly nothing, and it shows you to be an emotionally intelligent and caring person, who understands that someone's identity is their own, and it's not for you to project one that makes you feel comfortable onto them.

And if you get it wrong, listen, and commit to learning from the experience.

A staggering 77 per cent of people who began their transition before the end of high school report being mistreated in some way, including being misgendered.

Intentional misgendering is at best ignorant, and at worst, a cruel way of trying to hurt someone who already faced more challenges than their cisgender peers. 

So if you're wondering what pronouns to use for someone, please just ask. The world could do with more thought and kindness.