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Why Pronouns Are Important

Asking and respecting someone's pronouns is the most basic way to show respect to the trans community. It's a simple act that costs you nothing but a little effort and goes a long way. Laverne Cox once described misgendering a trans person as an "act of violence", explaining the pain and outrage she's felt when being misgendered herself and witnessing trans women constantly misgendered by the media. On the reverse, Sam Smith shared that "I feel safe, I feel happy and I feel completely seen" when people use the correct pronouns for them. When people tell us their lived experiences, it's up to us to believe them and use this information to act with kindness. This is why educating ourselves on the importance of pronouns is so vital if we are to show up as allies for the trans community. This means unlearning the presumptions we are socialised around gender and no longer presuming someone's pronouns unless they've directly told you. It also means sharing your own pronouns, whether it's in your social media bio, email signature, myGwork profile or when you are introducing yourself. This in turn normalises asking for pronouns and will encourage others to feel comfortable to the same.


For many, pronouns may seem inconsequential, something you give little thought or attention to. However, for trans and gender non-conforming people, pronouns are a way to show respect and acceptance to their gender identity. The pronouns we use for one another symbolise the gender identity we believe them to have, therefore using someone's correct pronouns is a simple way to affirm that you believe their gender identity. We also need to be careful not to make presumptions about someone's gender, not only is this useful for everyone, but for trans people in particular being misgendered can be traumatic. This is why using gender neutral pronouns, such a they/them, when you don't know someones gender is vital. Plus, if you don't know you can always respectfully ask someone's pronouns and give yours at the same time. These are simple, but essential steps in showing up as an ally to the trans community and changing the presumptions we have about gender will also break down gender stereotypes that are otherwise damaging for everyone.



We are all human and will make mistakes, that's okay as long as we correct ourselves and move on. However, purposefully misgendering someone is to show them that you do not respect their gender identity. For a trans or non-binary person being purposefully misgendered is a small act of aggression they unfortunately have to face often, on the street, in public, even at work. Being constantly misgendered adds up over time. It wears you down, tears at your mental health, and can even be a source of continual trauma. Brooklyn Field, senior at Aragon University explains "I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it’s just a deep pain. It sort of destroys my faith in humanity to a certain point and makes me just a little more afraid of leaving the house the next day.”

 


 

LGBT+ people already face an untoward amount of mental health issues; wellness counsellor Jill Ma says these issues are only compounded for trans people. A 2015 US Trans Survey found that 46 per cent of respondents experienced verbal harassment because of their identity, while per cent had been physically assaulted. Being misgendered only heightens the awareness of these terrible statics to trans people. “The effects of misgendering can include, but are not limited to, feelings of anxiety and sadness, low self-esteem, negative body image and isolation from family and friends,” May says “It can have very layered effects, and can significantly vary by individual.”

 

A 2014 study in the journal Self and Identity, asked transgender people about their experiences with being misgendered. They found 32.8 per cent of respondents felt “very stigmatised” when being called by the wrong pronoun. They found that those who were misgendered more frequently experienced lower self-esteem and a reduced strength in their sense of identity.


“The effects of misgendering can include, but are not limited to, feelings of anxiety and sadness."

“Where I'm at school now there are way less trans and nonbinary folks, no visible trans community, and while our equity training included a video on pronouns, none of my professors or colleagues have ever asked what my pronouns are,” said one of the respondents.

 

“When someone misgenders me at school I just get this shock of painful tension throughout my body.”

 

The issue does not go away when trans people enter the workforce, for many it gets worse.

 

“Being misgendered makes me feel absolutely invisible and disrespected,” says Imani, 22.

 

“I’ve only ever felt safe being out at one job.”



 

As of right now, there are only 21 states in the US that protect trans people from being misgendered in the workplace. In the UK, it is currently being debated as to whether the 2010 Equality Act protects from misgendering – recently a teacher was told that they had committed a hate crime for continually refusing to refer to a pupil by their correct gender.

 

Even with these laws in place, it can be hard to enforce people using the correct pronouns. Many trans people are forced to go back in the closet and “pass” for their gender assigned at birth.

 

“It’s easier (not emotionally, but practically) to just present as feminine and use ‘she’ pronouns,” writes Le, a 20-year-old server at a country club in Baltimore.

 

“It’s uncomfortable and invalidating to be misgendered by my coworkers, especially those who are my age or even my friends.

 

“I work at an ice cream shop in Florida and have been misgendered at work by customers, coworkers, and by my employer,” writes Largo, who goes by she/her.

 

“One time, a group of four guys came in to order ice cream. They left, but later one of the guys returned with more of his friends. They came in the door, looked at me, and burst out laughing. They said, ‘He's so f****d up.’ I went ahead and served them ice cream. They repeatedly called me "sir" until they left the store.”


“It’s uncomfortable and invalidating to be misgendered by my coworkers, especially those who are my age or even my friends. 

Hopefully, no one reading this article would wish to put a trans or non-binary person through any unnecessary pain. Misgendering can happen purely by accident sometimes. You may not even mean to do it, you may assume someone’s gender wrongly. It’s important to acknowledge these mistakes, apologise, and learn their correct pronouns.

 

GLAAD has put together a tip sheet for transgender and non-binary allies. They advise that “if you're unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun.”



 

Asking a trans or non-binary person what their chosen pronouns are can sometimes be the correct course of action, but only in the right circumstance. In an April 2018 essay on Medium, E. Price suggest asking yourself several questions first: Are you in a space that is safe for trans people? Are people in this space well education on trans issues? Will you actually use the person’s pronouns? Will you correct misgendering? Are there other trans people around? Is the person comfortable discussing their pronouns?

 

Asking a trans or non-binary person to tell a room full of strangers what their pronouns are can also be a scary and traumatising experience for them, in the same way, you wouldn’t ask a gay person to loudly declare their sexual orientation to a room full of strangers if they weren’t feeling safe. Especially in a work context.

 

Pronouns are important. Using the wrong one can bring back feelings of trauma and cause new feelings of mental anguish. It is important to act compassionately. When interacting with someone who’s pronoun you may not know gauge the situation, offer up your own pronoun, or ask politely. If you make a mistake apologise and use the correct pronoun next time.



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