Gender, Social Justice

This is what you’re actually saying when you ignore someone’s gender pronouns

Not sure of a person's pronouns? Just ask.

My Dad refuses to use my roommate’s correct pronouns (they/them/theirs) because, according to him, it’s “too difficult” and “grammatically incorrect.” I correct him every single time, but it still stings. It stings to hear the person whose opinions I once held as gospel get something so wrong.

I come from a family of white, liberal, highly educated people. We take for granted the value of our own beliefs. My parents were both involved in anti-war activism when they were in college, and both donate to progressive causes. A lot of my childhood was listening to my Dad go on expletive-filled rants about the Bush administration. I went with them to protests, and I still share most of their values. Their influence has made me a passionate activist.

But I’m not so grateful for the way in which they’ve taught me to feel like I’m so right that I don’t need to listen to the people I’m supposed to be fighting for.

Here’s what I want to scream at my Dad every time he misgenders my friends: it’s not about you.

To anyone who claims they can’t use a person’s correct pronouns because it’s “too difficult,” I don’t care if you think you’re right. It’s not about how smart you think you are. It’s about basic respect for other people.

I initially decided to write this piece after multiple conversations with my roommate about their experiences being misgendered by coworkers at their new job. I was angry on their behalf about the seemingly deliberate insensitivity of cis people, even after multiple “coming out” conversations. Why was it so hard for these people to show basic courtesy by making an effort to use the right pronouns?

It’s because they, like the educated-white-liberals in my family, are so assured of their own correctness that they overlook the importance of actually listening to people. If you don’t “get” they/them pronouns, it’s your job to educate yourself.

It’s not a trans person’s job to justify their existence to you. Take yourself out of the conversation.

Kyan Oliver Furlong, a trans media artist currently based in Massachusetts explains, “When you misgender me and I don’t correct you, it’s not because I’m giving you a pass. It’s not because it’s okay. It’s not because it doesn’t bother me. When you misgender me and I don’t correct you, it’s because I’m exhausted. It’s because I’m afraid of how you will react.”

If you do mess up a person’s pronouns, just apologize, correct yourself, and move on. If someone corrects you, the same thing. Apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Don’t get defensive. Don’t apologize profusely, making the person who corrected you feel like they need to say “it’s okay” when it’s really not. You also don’t get to throw yourself a party every time you do get a person’s pronouns right. It’s not about you.

No, it’s really not that hard. Just practice in the mirror. Just start doing it and it will become natural. It’s only “confusing” if you refuse to accept that there are more than two genders. It’s only “confusing” if you ignore the experience of the person in front of you saying ‘Hi, my gender is something other man or woman.’

No, it’s not “grammatically incorrect.” But even if it were — who cares?

It’s about showing other human beings basic respect. It’s about accepting people at their word when they tell you what their life experience is. It’s about listening. It’s our obligation to try harder, not a trans person’s obligation to keep explaining themselves to you. It’s our job to do better.