Opinion Graphic fall 2020

Cats and dogs. Black and white. Peanut butter and jelly. There are many things in this world that society has framed as a binary. To some, gender is included on that list — and so are pronouns.

Whenever the word “pronouns” is mentioned outside the context of a grammar lesson, you people can never be sure what response they will get. I have heard students complain about professors who ask for their pronouns. Responses can range from indifferent to happy to uncomfortable to downright hateful. But the issue of pronouns is not one that needs to be polarizing or upsetting, because it affects all of us.

For those of us who are cisgender, meaning our gender identity corresponds with our birth sex, it can be difficult to understand the feeling of being misgendered. Most of us have never experienced it, and we don’t know what it is like to be transgender or nonbinary. However, respecting someone’s existence is an entirely separate issue from sharing their identity. And confirming and using a person’s correct pronouns is part of that respect.

Whether you realize it or not, you and everyone else have pronouns you wish for others to use when referring to you in conversation. They may align with the sex and gender assigned to you at birth, and that is perfectly fine. But it’s important to realize that the issue of respecting pronouns is not limited to transgender and nonbinary people. It applies to everyone, including you.

Let’s say you were born male, and you think of yourself as a man. When people talk about you, they say, “He’s going to be there,” or “I know him well.” You never think about your pronouns, so maybe you think it’s weird when people ask about them.

Now imagine that your friends and family call you “she” instead of “he.” “She’s going to dinner with us.” “That’s her house.” When you point out their mistake, they refuse to correct their behavior, even though it bothers you. They say they think of you as a “she,” even though you know you’re a “he.” It happens every single day. Some people respect you and use the correct pronouns. Some people say it’s not that important, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Some people hate you for standing up for yourself.

If you are cisgender and get confused, annoyed or even offended when someone asks you for your pronouns, take a moment and really think about it. What if people referred to you by the wrong pronouns every day? You might think you wouldn’t care or it doesn’t matter, but I’d be willing to bet it wouldn’t take long for it to wear on you. Just because some people don’t match your expectations of what their pronouns should be does not mean you get to decide their identities for them.

Researchers at the University of Texas found that rates of “depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior were lowest” when transgender youth were called by their chosen name, according to the results of their study. While names are not exactly the same as pronouns, they are linked — pronouns stand in for names, and they’re also part of a person’s identity. By disrespecting the various ways in which someone identifies, you risk damaging their mental health. By respecting them, you could possibly be saving a life.

If you are cisgender, you probably never had to have conversations about pronouns growing up. You might have come to expect people to fall into certain categories and to look and act in certain ways. Girls and boys, men and women. He and she. When something doesn’t match your expectations, your mind will likely resist it. That’s normal. It can take a while for you to rewire your brain to include people who don’t fit within your binary ideas of sex and gender, but if you are willing to put in the effort to be understanding and respectful, it is very possible.

Next time someone asks for your pronouns and your first instinct is to crack a joke about people being too sensitive or to resist in some way, take a moment and ask yourself, “Why am I so offended by this question? What is there to lose from being more inclusive? Am I a strong enough person to change my thinking and make the world a better, kinder place?”

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