I think I came out to my parents in February of 2014. Because of this, I make quiet jokes to myself that I am essentially only two, so people should really give me a break, as a two year old college student is unheard of. As a high-functioning two-year-old, going about my life and expressing my gender mainly lies in pronoun use. I dress masculine, my voice is low, and I have a slowly growing beard, so the only way I can express myself and my gender are through little things, more often than not with they/them/their pronouns.
I am not a man, not a boy, not a son, and definitely not a father; I am not a he, I am no him. Yet the assumption of my gender remains, as it does with all trans people who don’t “pass,” with other and more assumptions.
Pronouns seem like a new invention to people, or at the very worst some sort of scheme or made up reason to get mad at someone. Regardless of the opinion, everyone deserves to have their pronouns respected, yet, clearly, that does not always occur. I’ve been out for two years and I get misgendered every day, multiple times a day even, by a myriad of different people. Some of these people are close to me, some are random strangers, assholes who I encounter occasionally, and a good chunk of them know my pronouns, but it still happens. I’m writing this for my friends, acquaintances, and for anyone I have to interact with, because the only pronoun conversation we get at here is focused around asking for PGPs (but not, ironically, always respecting them), which is a whole different issue entirely and does a disservice to every person here.
If you mess up pronouns, stop saying sorry. I mean it. When people call me he, if they are thinking about pronouns, the immediate response is something along the lines of “Oh my god I’m so sorry.” I don’t want to hear “I’m sorry”. It puts me in a position where the only response that doesn’t make me seem like an asshole is “Oh no, it’s okay.” After a certain point, I have heard individuals fuck up and respond with their apology an innumerable amount. I am absolutely tired of making people feel better when they’ve done nothing wrong. At this point, continuous usage of an apology tells me that my pronouns are a burden to your social conversations, and that I am better off not participating. However, the intent of the “sorry” is always understood. When people mess up, of course the natural response is sorry, and of course the people who say sorry are people aware enough of pronoun usage to realize almost immediately when they misstep. Over time, though, sorry starts to grate on the ears, a reminder that pronouns warrant an afterthought.
The majority of people I interact with on a daily basis have my pronouns down better than ever, and better than anyone else I know, but, on the occasions that these people fuck up, it is not the end of the world. While individual actors are important to me, the main difficulty of being misgendered isn’t leveled on a one on one scale. My biggest problem isn’t when close friends misgender me, recognize it, correct themselves, and move on – it is the amalgamation of constant and consistent incorrect pronoun use.
For me, responsibility falls on a culture of ignoring pronouns if it is anything other than an afterthought. Pronouns are not something you will infallibly get if you are not thinking. You cannot race through a conversation and hope to be respectful at the same time without constant thought and practice. As an individual, when you misgender someone (even on accident), you maintain yourself as a cog in the cissexist machine. If said cog thinks about pronouns as something to actively participate in with preemptive thought, that person removes itself from the machine, and the whole thing moves slower.
My end goal is to live around people who are able to separate themselves from the machine. Another goal is to shed light on people who participate in it, maintain it, and cause consistent problems. I meet these people everyday. They are on the sports teams, they live in Norris, they live in Cleve, they get dinner late, they get dinner early, they play beer pong, they run niche clubs, they smoke cigarettes outside of Gardner, they dance in Harris. They are your close friends, they are your family, they are your siblings, they are your classmates, they are your teachers, and they are your acquaintances. Check your friends when they make mistakes, and you will learn whether these are people who would recognize the problem if it arose.
If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask. Honestly ask everyone you meet what pronouns they use, because the idea that you can tell which person uses which pronouns implies that there is a visual difference to how people with different pronouns look. If you’ve been fucking up pronouns before, chances are you’ve been making assumptions as to people’s pronouns, and you’re probably terrible at it, and it’s also likely that you are responsible for unknowingly alienating someone on campus.
Lastly, take a second and think about how many times someone has assumed your gender and your pronouns and been right. For trans people, the occasion is marked with pigs flying and hell freezing over, but for cis women, who use she/her/hers pronouns, who present feminine, or cis men with he/him/his and present masculine, most (if not all for the hypermasculine type of man that shows up around here more often than expected) assumptions are correct. Imagine if the assumption about your gender, who you are, was wrong, and you spent your days navigating a college campus filled with people who saw you differently. Imagine if you changed your name because you hated it, and half the people you knew called you by your new name, while a quarter would do their best but sometimes fail. You wouldn’t tolerate it. You’d want them to address you as you are, not who you were or who they think you should be.
There are no more excuses. We are all connected to the internet, we all have Google, and we can create instructive dialogues between one another to create understanding.
No oppressed group owes you an explanation, but now you have something like it.
Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer.