One Equal World

Preferred Gender Pronouns: Use ‘Em, Don’t Abuse ‘Em!

Posted on: September 19, 2013

gender identity

Today, gender identity is no longer black and white.
Image: Shutterstock

We are incredibly lucky to be living in a time where the majority of people are able to understand that gender exists on a colorful, diverse spectrum. Circa 1950s gender norms are all but disappeared, and finally, gender presentation doesn’t have to exist in such binary terms. There is more to human representation than archaic masculine “maleness,” and delicate, virginal femininity. Frankly, there always has been – it’s just taken time to allow for gender nonconforming people to disrupt social norms.

Unfortunately, although progress has been made in recent history to broaden the scope of understanding surrounding gender presentation, there is still great discrimination directed towards people who prefer uncommon pronouns and gender identities, something that most impacts the transgender community. Pronouns have long existed as gendering tools. If you’re a woman, you’re referred to as “her,” or “she;” if you’re a man it’s “he” and “him” and “his.” But what if these pronouns don’t accurately describe you? What if you’re transitioning from female to male or vice versa, but others don’t perceive you as being the gender you most identify with?

When people disrespect the preferred gender pronouns that others use to self-identify with, our society takes many steps back. One recent example of this is Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army soldier who made headlines for being convicted of violating the Espionage Act among other offences. Coinciding with her sentence, Chelsea, formerly Bradley, a male, announced that she was coming out as transgender, and wished to be addressed as “Chelsea” and with female pronouns.

Despite her requests, countless news and social media outlets continued to refer to Chelsea using male pronouns, which sent a glaring message to Manning and other transgender people: Your gender identity isn’t valid. Chelsea Manning has been continuously mis-gendered since coming out, which is indicative of a culture where transgender people are not fully respected, or even acknowledged. It is imperative that preferred pronouns be respected, as they hold much more social weight than one can imagine.

According to Carleton College’s informative Sexuality and Gender Activism Page, “For many people, gender is simple and clear-cut: either gender identity aligns with biological sex or gender presentation falls closely enough within traditional norms that most people assume the appropriate “he” or “she.” Many other individuals, however, present their gender identity and expression ambiguously, causing traditional assumptions about gender to be irrelevant or incorrect.” The latter example applies to a significant amount of people who don’t feel comfortable conforming to gendered pronouns.

Quite simply, one should never assume what pronouns another person prefers. By calling someone who prefers male pronouns a woman, or saying “he’s so funny,” about someone who prefers female pronouns, you’re disrespecting and invalidating their gender identity. If you aren’t sure, just ask! And if that doesn’t feel comfortable, resort to gender-neutral pronouns. Using “they” or “their” will be a more socially responsible, and a lot less uncomfortable (and hurtful), than applying incorrect pronouns.

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