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How can I correct my family's use of language related to LGBT+ issues without making them uncomfortable?

I recently "came out" as queer, or more specifically somewhat pansexual¹, to two more members of my family.

They were very understanding, or at least tried to be, but it was still really awkward talking to them about LGBT+ issues... I obviously thought about the possibility of mixed reactions. I've done this before and know that some people don't respond well initially.

What I didn't really expect or know how to deal with was the well-meaning, but somewhat tone-deaf response. These two family members are rather open-minded people, I guess you could say they're rather socially/politically liberal.

I guess I got the sense that while they mean well and are trying to be supportive, they're comfortable talking about LGBT+ people, but don't have much experience talking with LGBT+ people.

It was mostly just language things. Like switching back and forth between using a person's dead name and current name, mixing up pronouns, misunderstanding and misapplying some terminology, and stuff like that.

To be absolutely clear, I know that they mean well. They're not trying to offend anyone. They really wanted to understand where I'm coming from and what being queer means for me. They just don't have much experience with communicating with a queer person about LGBT+ issues.

Again my question is, how do I correct some of these language problems without making them uncomfortable talking about these issues?

I love them and I know they still love me, that's why they're talking about this stuff and asking questions. It just gets uncomfortable talking with them about it when a lot of what they say comes out badly... And I know that sooner or later I'm going to be introducing them to a partner, so it would be nice if they didn't inadvertently say something awful, and I'm fairly certain that they'd rather not make those missteps either.

  1. (For those that are unaware, or confused... I'm a cis-male, meaning that I identify as the sex/gender I was assigned at birth. I'm also pansexual, meaning that I date people without much regard to their sex, gender identity, or lack thereof. I guess you could say that I'm more attracted to a person's personality and I'm not really concerned about their plumbing.)
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    You may want to consider 'birth name' instead of 'dead name' - while not definitive, some transsexuals consider their new self to be a transformation of their old self, and find the implication that their old self died to be offensive. – corsiKa Nov 18 '17 at 19:35
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    I don't understand something : why should your coming out as pansexual change anything in terminology? Or are you talking about other people? Your name and associated pronoun didn't change, did they? – Eric Duminil Nov 19 '17 at 14:43
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    @Eric Duminil no, my name and pronouns didn't change. It's just near impossible to explain the difference between pan and bi without talking about trans, agender, gender fluidity and so on – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 15:39
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    @corsiKa, an example on how tricky it can be with terminology, even in lgbt+ communities. – Viktor Mellgren Nov 23 '17 at 11:43
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    @Jennifer442 I understand that some feel that way. Others don't. But logically, it would seem those who prefer deadname are less likely to take offense to birthname when compared to how many who prefer birthname are likely to take offense to deadname. I don't disagree with your logic, I just thought I'd throw that out there. – corsiKa Nov 23 '17 at 23:31
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Re-learning how to communicate with people we have known for our whole lifetimes can be very complicated. Sometimes their miscommunications might come from them not yet being comfortable addressing issues, pronouns, or sexuality that they have never once thought would be something that'd hit close to home for them. Other times these miscommunications might come out of truly unintentional habit.

If this is brand new information (maybe they aren't using your preferred pronouns), maybe they just need reminded that things have changed. This could be done by just repeating your preferred pronouns/name whenever it's said incorrectly.

At this stage, try be patient and warm when making corrections. This will help your family members feel less awkward and guilty about their slip ups. While it's really frustrating to hear these things, being hostile has the chance to only make it harder for them to see you as the new identity you want them to accept.

If things escalate into a territory in which you feel that the mistakes aren't innocent slip-ups, but are instead intentional ignoring of your requests, I'd suggest, still politely, saying something like:

Hey, I don't feel comfortable hearing anyone call me 'X' anymore. I know this is a transition for you as well, but it's not my (name/pronouns/identity), and I want to only be called 'X' now.

If even then you're still met with ignorance, I think the scope here becomes a much more in depth one.

Edit to address posters comment

OP described in a comment on my original answer that their issues is primarily in relation to dating trans people and family recognition of this.

My exact coming out to my parents was dating a trans woman. In my conservative family, it did not go well.

As per my advice above, I often reminded them to use my girlfriend's correct pronouns, but they were insistent on not referring to her in that way.

Eventually, it came to me saying the following:

Your incorrect usage of pronouns for someone very close to me is really uncomfortable, and even disrespectful, to me. If you continue to do this, I would rather you didn't speak to me at all about it until you're ready to make that effort.

I then had to stick to this. My mom would still say "he", and I would dismiss myself from the area and not continue conversing. Eventually, she began using the correct pronouns (albeit with a begrudging tone).

Everyone is different, but I would still try to apply my above advice to your personal situation, as I feel it can still be of general use.

If nothing else, saying

When you ignore using the correct pronouns to describe people I've had important life experiences with, it feels like you are invalidating parts of my life, and I don't want to feel like that when speaking to you.

might help them realize even if it's not you they are speaking about, they are still impacting you.

  • Good answer overall, but my pronouns haven't changed. I'm cis, but I've dated trans people, that's how we got into those issues. – apaul Nov 17 '17 at 17:06
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    @apaul edited to hopefully reflect slightly more relevance at the end of post. Left the rest the same. – Jess K. Nov 17 '17 at 17:20
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    I'm sorry to hear that you had to put the foot down like that with your family, I really hope I don't end up needing to do that with mine... Thanks for the insightful answer. – apaul Nov 17 '17 at 17:30
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    @apaul Fortunately, it sounds like your family is genuinely interested in learning, especially if it's something they are willing to discuss with you (albeit with some hang ups). Patience and perseverance are going to be your best friends, and hopefully you don't get even close to needing where the 'bulk' of my advice lies (which is beyond that zone). :) – Jess K. Nov 17 '17 at 17:32
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One thing that's surprisingly helpful is laying out a framework for what someone should do when they make a mistake. For instance, when my friend came out to their family as non-binary, they explicitly told their family "If you misgender me and you catch it, just correct yourself and move on. Don't apologize, don't make a big deal out of it."

It helps the other person not feel so bad about mistakes while they're transitioning their use of pronouns. It also makes those mistakes less awkward for you, especially once they start self-correcting.

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Remember that they have far less experience with the situation than you do. Things you might see as given, they have never thought about. And as an addition, they have no relatable experiences. So even when trying, they do not have the means to determine how you might feel about what they are saying.

And as they have no way to live through your experiences, the only way for them to understand, is you telling them.

In my opinion, understanding should go both ways. The situation between you has changed, but don't view it as them having to deal with you. It's just as much a challenge for you to understand them as it is for them to understand you. Try to see why they are saying what they are saying and you will probably see that they are doing the same - trying to understand.

So whatever you hear that sounds offending, just ask yourself, how would they know? They didn't gradually get into that situation learning to adapt on the way, they got there in a leap. So explain. And explain.

And remember, they have every right to be annoyed by a challenge abruptly brought into their life, just as much as you do. You'll have to get through that together.


In short:

You've presented them with a new social situation. They are trying. Don't expect proficiency from someone without experience. Experience can, for them, only come from interacting with you and mistakes are a side effect of learning. Accept that and help them learn.

7

I think you've identified that they want to be supportive, but are on uncharted territory, for them.

Given that is the case, there's probably little doubt that they are also keenly aware that they don't know what's the best terminology, what carries negative connotations, but it's not a natural thing to say, especially if you feel like your attitudes are somewhat "enlightened," "Hey, I'm basically pretty ignorant about the language and some of the issues." There might even be fear of judgment about them not bothering to get up to speed on their own, previously.

I think you should just say "Hey, I realize that dealing with LGBT+ issues and personal interactions might be a bit new to you. Would it be okay if I help out with the accepted language and terminology? I'll be happy to answer questions about 'why' if there's any confusion, as well."

If they're self-conscious, then maybe they'll indicate they prefer you not do that. Most likely, they will appreciate your understanding and your help with making their good intentions reality.

You're addressed something they are probably also acutely aware of in a way that does not cast judgment on them - only acknowledges that they might not have a lot of experience. It's a pretty non-confrontational initiative, and it's you breaking the ice. If they're inclined to be receptive, I'd think this would be a pretty comfortable way, for them, to have this approached. You've also indicated a willingness to help them navigate the waters and explain issues that they might not have any perspective into, personally. I think that's all positive.

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My question is, how do I correct some of these language problems without making them uncomfortable talking about these issues?

Perseverance

Perseverance is the only answer here.

I would suggest you correct offensive remarks to people you care about when you hear them. If they care about you, they will not want to be ignorant or offensive, and will be happy to learn and make you more comfortable during the initial stages of coming out.

If you politely correct them when it happens, you eventually will eliminate it. By not waiting, you are lessening the impact of making the correction. If you let it bottle up and blow up on them for something they are not aware of, then it is much worse. You will have to be patient with your loved ones as they learn.

In short, your friends and family will not want to be offensive or ignorant. It will be on them to an extent to figure out what is right and wrong. It will also be on you as well to help them, as they are joining you on this journey.

protected by Community Apr 4 '18 at 0:12

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