The Importance of Pronouns

Ok, truth time. Before this summer, I was really confused about this whole pronouns thing. I thought they were really simple- males are he, females are she, there are grammar rules, and so on. During a workshop on sexual orientation at Brown University, the leader asked us to go around and say our name, where we are from, and our preferred pronoun. I thought “um, ok, I mean I can see who’s a guy and who’s a girl…” But as people went around the table, some people who appeared to be female were saying “he”, while others were saying they preferred “they/them.” I was mentally scratching my head, curious as to this usage of pronouns. Like some of you, I had no idea what these people were talking about.

Let’s start at the beginning. Gender identity is a person’s sense of being a man, a woman, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Cisgender individuals like myself are lucky to have been born into a body that we identify with and feel comfortable in. However, others are not as fortunate.

Transgender individuals are those people that weren’t so lucky. Their gender identity, what they feel on the inside, does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Many of these individuals are dehumanized and invalidated for not conforming to the social norms of a cis-dominated society. To respect them, we have to use the pronouns they want others to refer to them by. For some, this may be “they”/”them”, as this pronoun is gender neutral (and, contrary to popular belief, it is grammatically correct to use they/them as singular pronouns. and even if it wasn’t isn’t making someone feel safe and supported more important than being grammatically correct?) For others, individuals either pre- or post-transition, it may be “he” or “she”. The point is to use the pronoun the individual asks you to use.

It is not ignorant to use the incorrect pronoun if you DO NOT KNOW. However, it is ignorant to continue to use the incorrect pronoun when YOU DO KNOW. The act of purposefully misgendering someone is an act of violence. Transgender people face immense verbal and physical abuse, as well as severe discrimination in employment, housing, and social events. Cisgender individuals often fail to comprehend just how dangerous everyday activities can be for transgender individuals, like using the bathroom. Just look at this case from May: a transgender woman was escorted from the women’s bathroom. Simply for using the bathroom designated for the gender she identified with, she was humiliated in public.

The reason pronouns are being talked about a lot is because we have a lot to learn when it comes to identity. But the major goal we should be interested in achieving is for all individuals, regardless of whether they are cis, trans, or genderfluid, or intersex, or any other identity, to feel comfortable in society. It’s really that simple.

Kim Davis

A county clerk from Rowan County, NC has been making headlines the past few days for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She has repeatedly cited her religion as her reason for doing so, saying it would be “authorizing something that goes against her Christian values and convictions.” Despite being ordered by a judge to issue the licenses, she refused, and is now being held in jail on charges of contempt.

No matter what you believe, what Kim Davis was doing was illegal. Since June 26, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal in all states, no one can refuse to marry/issue a license to a gay couple without committing a crime. That’s what the supporters of Kim Davis are failing to recognize- she may hold those conservative, bigoted beliefs, but while serving the public she cannot allow those beliefs to cloud her work.

Luckily, once Kim Davis was in jail, gay and lesbian couples were able to get their marriage licenses from the clerk’s office. The joy they felt was palpable to the crowd gathered- one man buried his face in his fianceĆ©’s shoulder, brought to tears, and one woman said “now we can breathe again.”

Unfortunately, we still live in a country where people like Kim Davis are allowed to hold positions of power. We still live in a country where being gay or lesbian (or any sexuality other than straight) leads to horrible discrimination and hatred. While this was a good step forward- the offending party was jailed and marriage licenses were issued- we still have large numbers of people advocating for the release of Kim Davis. We have people who truly believe that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be allowed to be married, even after the Supreme Court decision. That is a very sad state of affairs.

Students Stage Walkout Over a Transgender Woman Using The Bathroom

I’m shocked. I’m absolutely disgusted. To all the students who walked out of Hillsboro High School, you are despicable human beings.

When Lila Perry, the MtF transgender teenager at the center of the issue, dared to use the girl’s locker room to change at school, it caused an uproar. Female students said that this made them uncomfortable because Perry is pre-transition and still has male genitalia. In a horrific show of ignorance, a student told Fox News that “Putting on a dress and putting on a wig is not transgender to me.” Parents are saying that their girls shouldn’t be forced to feel uncomfortable.

The fact that the students feel uncomfortable does not matter in this situation- they are forcing another student, who identifies as a FEMALE, to feel uncomfortable. By making her use a gender-neutral bathroom, they are telling her that she isn’t *really* female, a disgusting display of transphobia. These students took this student’s gender identity and used it dehumanize her, degrade her, isolate her, and make her feel worthless and unwanted. You know what this feels like? The “separate but equal” era of Jim Crowe laws for blacks and whites. We are repeating history, but this time we are telling transgender people that they are “less than” cis people.

This is no isolated incident. People constantly throw hate at transgender individuals, as though they somehow get a free pass to humiliate them, simply because they are transgender. Today, people somehow think that transgender people should not get to live peaceful lives simply because they don’t fit into society’s narrow mold. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program states that more than 50% of transgender teens will attempt to commit suicide. Planet Transgender, a newspaper reporting about trans news, released the staggering statistic that a transgender individual is murdered every 29 hours. Can you imagine what it might feel like to not fit in your own body? To be constantly tormented by the fact that your identity does not match what you see in the mirror? We can’t understand, yet we as society torment the people who do have to live with those feelings, instead of compassionately supporting them.

It is not enough to have individuals like Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox in the spotlight. They are brave individuals, and sharing their stories has helped to bring awareness to people who are transgender, but it is not enough. We have to work to eliminate transphobia in ourselves, our friends and our families, and in society as a whole. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves, instead of perpetuating our bigoted, misguided beliefs.

To the students of Hillsboro High: I am thoroughly disgusted with you. Your misguided beliefs about transgender individuals only serve to perpetuate a culture of transphobia, that contributes to the violence leveled against those who identify as transgender. I am saddened by your lack of humanity and compassion.