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Why Pronouns Are Important

You may have noticed a small but important change on your myGwork profiles: you can now display the pronoun you wish to be called by. For some this may seem like an incremental change, something almost unnoticeable. But for many more in the LGBT+ community this is vital. For a trans or non-binary person being 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.


“I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it’s just a deep pain [to be misgendered],” explains Brooklyn Field, trans senior at Aragon University.


“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 percent of respondents experienced verbal harassment because of their identity, while 9 percent 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 affects, 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 percent 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 respondants.


“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 “ifyou’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 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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