The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Relatives refuse to call trans sister by feminine name

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: My sister came out as trans last summer and began going by a beautiful feminine name. Certain members of our family have expressed resistance and “compromised” by agreeing to call her by her gender-neutral middle name, which our parents chose for her at birth. She tolerates it and has told me she thinks it’s good enough.

I exclusively use the name she wants — it’s her name!! — but what should I do when I hear one of these relatives use the middle name? Do I let it slide, because that’s what my sister herself is doing, or correct them and make a stink, every single time?

— Nickname

Nickname: “Who?” Then when they answer: “Oh, you mean [beautiful feminine name]. Her name is [beautiful feminine name].” Say it every single g.d. time.

When I answered this originally, I said to call them by the wrong name — and if they didn’t like it, then say you are willing to compromise, you just need to like what you call them.

But with a cooler head, I realized your sister might not want you to fight her battle for her or to fight it this way — as richly as your relatives deserve it.

I do still, many months later, have no answer for why people are so insistently obtuse about treating someone in a way they’d never stand to be treated.

Hi Carolyn: A longtime and close friend, “Tom,” is in a now-serious relationship with another close friend of ours, “Molly.” My girlfriend and I have been very close to them both for 10-plus years. (We’re all about 30.) We really like them individually, but when they’re together, we find it almost unbearable. They have a strange, sappy, coupley dynamic that shapes almost every word they exchange. We’re at the point of trying to avoid spending time with them together. Others in our circle feel somewhat similarly, but see them less.

I want to raise it with Tom that it’s a bit grating. My girlfriend thinks I should not, because we’ll alienate them, though we’re clearly alienating ourselves. I’m not sure how to decide whether I should accept and move on or raise it.

— D. C.

D. C.: If (you think) it works with your Tom dynamic to say something to him, then talk to him about it. You know better than I do whether this would fly.

But even then, they’re a new couple, right? So consider waiting it out, too. One of the things “longtime and close friends” do for the greater good is tough out the less-than-endearing phases of each other’s lives.

They’re shmoopy right now. Good for them, right? It’s okay to make, “I’m happy for them, I’m happy for them,” your mantra until they burn off the newness.

Carolyn: They’re on the verge of getting married. We’re only noticing the behavior now, because he’s moved back to the area after they were long distance for a couple of years. Guess that means I’ll need to bring it up with him!

— D. C. again

D. C. again: Not necessarily; long-distance prolongs the shmoops. But if they bless you with something egregious, go for it: “I find it challenging when you’re in her lap and hand-feeding her like she’s an orphaned bird.”

Re: Shmoopy friends: Tell them to get a room a few times. Most people will get the idea.

— Anonymous