In recent years, transgender people have become more understood and accepted into some communities. Because of this, pronouns are often included in introductions by trans people. Whether it is a name tag with their pronouns, included in their social media bio or a verbal introduction, trans people are typically expected to inform everyone of their pronouns, and assume everyone else’s.
The fact is that everyone should be introducing themselves with their preferred pronouns. It should not just be on trans people to bring pronouns into the conversation.
Whether in class, at work or somewhere else entirely, when a trans person is the only one to introduce themself with their pronouns, it can alienate them and bring a lot of unwanted attention their way.
There is a simple solution. If we as a society normalize sharing pronouns as a part of introducing ourselves, we can avoid situations that can make trans and nonbinary people uncomfortable.
We also need to stop assuming someone’s pronouns and/or gender just based on the way they present. Someone who appears or presents feminine may not use she/her pronouns, and it is important to ask to avoid situations of misgendering.
According to UC Davis, “One’s gender can be communicated with the use of pronouns, so mistaking their pronouns mistakes their gender. Misgendering is when someone’s pronouns are not respected, which can be an act of violence. Disrespecting a transgender person’s pronouns could threaten their safety and jeopardize their security.”
Cisgender people tend to not understand the potential harm that can come from being misgendered. Cis people rarely deal with being misgendered, so they might be desensitized to it or not even know what the big deal is. When you use the wrong pronouns for someone or use terms they do not identify with, it can leave trans people feeling isolated and hurt.
If you are cis, take a moment to imagine going about your normal day, except people keep referring to you with the wrong pronouns, calling you the wrong gender or the wrong name. It probably makes you a little uncomfortable. That discomfort and disrespect is magnified when you are a trans person being misgendered. It is important to realize the privilege that you hold if you are cis.
University of Wisconsin wrote “It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.”
For some, asking for pronouns or introducing yourself with pronouns seems unnecessary. You may have never even considered to ask–but it’s not too late to start!
Instead of being ignorant to the struggles of trans people and going through your life without checking your privilege, take the time to wonder how you would feel in someone else’s shoes, someone who often deals with oppression and harassment.
Tips cis people can use to learn to be better trans allies
Be the person that brings pronouns up; introduce yourself with your pronouns like this, “Hi, my name is x and I use she/her pronouns.” This invites others to do the same.
If you misgender someone on accident, do not make it a big deal. This only draws attention to the fact that someone has been misgendered. Instead, apologize and correct yourself.
If someone is using pronouns you are unfamiliar with, look it up on your own. Instead of putting it on them to educate you, Google it yourself.
Do not use other pronouns to describe a trans person’s past. For example, if you are talking about a trans man, do not say things like, “he used to be a her” or “she is a guy now.” In fact, try not to talk about a trans person’s past in a way that refers to them as a different gender. Likewise, do not use someone’s deadname to refer to them in the past.
If someone else misgenders someone, step up and correct them. Again, do not make it a big deal, only correct the pronouns or name and move on.
Do not ask about a person’s transition, being transgender or anything else that seems extremely insensitive or personal, unless they invite you to ask.
If someone you have known for a while starts using a different name or pronouns, it can be a challenge to train yourself to use these new identifiers. If you find yourself messing up their pronouns often, take the time to practice on your own time to minimize any potential harm.