44. How Should You Refer to My Past?

A Reader's Question

A few people have asked me how they should refer to my past in terms of name and pronouns. In fact, people have more typically asked me more generally: how should you refer to a trans* person's past. Below the fold, I'll post a friend's actual questions and then my response.

Metamorpho-sis_JustTalking.pngA pronoun question popped into my mind while looking at people on facebook I haven't seen in a long time, some of whom are other genders from when I knew them.

Suppose someone you knew in high school identified as female but now identifies as male. How would you complete the sentence:

"I haven't seen ______ since high school."

I have the same question for names, in cases where they've been changed.

My linguistic intuition is to complete the sentence with the pronoun or name of whatever gender they were at the time to which one is referring, since that is what I tend to do other circumstances where names have been changed. But I can see how that might seem like an instance of non-acceptance, which I wouldn't want.

Is there a general rule for this? Other contexts:

"______ was in my Latin class."
"______'s dad was a professor at the college."
etc. etc.

The more general rule is simply to ask the person for their preference. Everyone's different, and I do know some people who prefer to have their pre-transition past referred to one way, and their post-transition past (present, and future) referred to another way. For me, though, I want everything referred to with my post-transition name and pronouns.

I also think that's the safest rule of thumb if you don't know the person's preference. You're less likely to deeply offend them by using their post-transition name/pronouns than if you use their pre-transition name/pronouns.

Sometimes it can make things a little awkward. For example, it seems odd to say of my childhood that, "When [philosochick] was a little girl…" Since I never was a little girl (sadly, believe me). So I often manage this by saying, "When I was a child…" I remove the gendered youth terms when I can. So you have that option, too.

Yours truly,