Ask Aunt Fran: The pronoun thing

Hi, boys and girls (of either sex). Welcome to a new feature in Franorama World, one I’ve been threatening to start for a long time, and, well, honey, I ain’t getting younger …

Welcome to Ask Aunt Fran.

This is where I help my friends, family and total strangers understand this creature who used to be a boy — or at least look like one — but is now a girl. I’ll be using this space regularly to answer — anonymously, of course, unless you want the attention — questions you might have about the hows and whys of this wild trip of mine.

If I can make at least one person understand this a little better — help one person not have to go through as much agonizing, moralizing, debating, wailing, gnashing of teeth, fear and just plain bullshit as I did for 40 years, then I’ve succeeded. If I can cut through the mist of ignorance and lack of information and make you understand better what’s happening, then that’s great.

Please understand — oh God, here comes the lawyer weasel-type disclaimer — that my answers are based on my own experiences with transgender matters. Everyone’s experience is different — similar but different. I’m not a psychiatrist or any other sort of mental or physical healthcare expert. I’m just one of the girls who’s going through this.

Anyway, I have a bunch of questions I’ll be addressing as I go along. If you have any questions about my gender trip or trans matters in general, please email them to (Or if you know my personal email, that works fine, too.) And remember: Your identity will remain anonymous unless you request otherwise.

OK, the introductory portion of our program is over. Roll ’em …

And the first question is …

“So do I call you ‘he’ or ‘she’?”

Yes, the pronoun thing …

The state of California gets it. Last week, I got my new driver’s license with my new name, photo and sex (actually it’s new gender, but the state is still confused and calls it my sex). But the upshot is that the state now legally recognizes me as an F and not an M.

But among the people I know, some get it, some don’t. Usually it’s the ones I’ve known the longest who have the hardest time with it. I want to wring some of their necks when they see that I’m in female mode (which is about 90 percent of the time now — the only times I’m not are when I’m riding my bicycle or just crawling out of bed) but still call me “he.” Especially since I’ve given the people closest to me over a year of leeway now to get used to this.

I’ve gotten to the point where someone will say “he” and I’ll look at them and flat-out say “Heeeee?” and maybe smack them on the shoulder or something unladylike like that. And then they’ll correct themselves.

Generally, the rule of thumb in dealing with any transwoman or transman is to refer to them in the pronoun in which they represent at that moment. If you see me femme, which is most of the time now, I’m “she.” If you see me in boy drag, which I’m slowly but surely phasing out, I’m “he.”

Not only is this just plain good manners, but it could save our lives.

You need to understand that not everyone is as understanding or accepting of transgendered folks as you. And that if we’re in a strange place, with a lot of goober types around, and you call me “he,” there’s a good chance you’re inviting trouble to come find me.

Luckily, I’ve been blessed to be able to pass very well most of the time; unless you know me already or take an extremely close look, chances are I look like a genetic woman. But there are a lot of transfolks who don’t pass in their true gender, and there are ignorant creatures out there who will get downright hostile, even violent about it. Anti-trans violence is still a major threat.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released its 2009 LGBTQ  (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) hate crime statistics in July. The group reported that there were 22 hate murders last year, the second-highest total in a decade, and 79 percent of them — 17 of the 22 — were people of color, and most were transgender women or feminine-presenting.

Interestingly enough, the 2009 violence spiked in October, coinciding with the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

And those are just the murders. We’re not talking about non-fatal violence, or even harassment. The NCAVP also said that 62% of the incidents reported to it last year, such as intimidation, harassment and other forms of discrimination, might not fall into the category of criminal acts.

So yeah: One little letter — the difference between “he” and “she” — could conceivably mean the difference between life and death for us, or at least the difference between no problems and beaucoup harassment.

So if you see me out and about and are talking about me to someone else, if I’m looking like the girl I am, I’m “she.” If not, I’m “he.” Or do I have to hit you, which would be very unladylike? Maybe I’ll just discreetly kick your shin under the table instead …


6 Responses to “Ask Aunt Fran: The pronoun thing”

  1. Jane Says:

    Aunt Fran,

    Just want to say, great photo!

    And I think you should syndicate. And I think the Chronicle should carry your column.

  2. Lexy Wilcox Says:

    frannie fran fran! muah!!! love the column. i’m glad you finally got around to putting it up. yay!! CT misses you, I miss you! Just keep blogging, just keep blogging! I’m certain you ARE affecting lives!
    love you,

  3. Lexy Wilcox Says:

    oh, also… side note… when i left my sister amy’s house on my motorcycle the other day, i saw her oldest boy walking home from the bus with two other kids. i stopped and said hi, and he kept going. i’m not sure he realized it was me. then my friend lara overheard him say to his friends, “that’s my uncle lexy.” HA! so, is he proud of uncle lexy for being an uncle, or ashamed of aunt lexy for having a motorcycle? interesting question. however, they’ve referred to me as uncle lexy on and off all their lives…

  4. Melissa W. Says:

    Thanks for writing this. It is sometimes confusing for friends who have known you for a while to know what the proper thing is, and probably easy to slip up (at least to myself.) I hope I’m always respectful of your transition. Be forgiving of the forgetful, even if that’s not an excuse. As you say, it’s a pretty serious matter.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I love the pic is really cute 🙂

    This is brilliant..I am happy your doing this column.

    Fran I will be honest…although I met you almost 2 years ago, your always a girl to me. It may be hard for me if I run into you during the other 10% of the time. So please try to be patient with me if a she slips…. I mean no disrespect.

    Maybe peddle pushers, a beach cruiser with a basket and a cute horn?? 🙂

    I really appreciate the statistic…its sure to help one remember to be more aware…thanks Aunt Fran 🙂

  6. Jackie Says:

    oh and I just noticed I plastered your column with smiley faces haha!


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