“Pronouns and privilege”

This is addressed to people who don’t call trans people by their preferred pronouns.

It’s not always easy to call people by their preferred pronouns, but it is really important. sometimes we all slip up, trans people included, and we can correct ourselves. Sometimes pronouns sound “weird” (like hir, or zie), but you have to remember that to the person whose pronoun it is, anything else sounds weirder. Some pronouns might not be strictly grammatical – but then you must know that your grammatical urges are a pretty minor thing compared to avoiding marginalising people because they don’t fit gender boxes. In fact, if you choose not to use a trans person’s preferred pronoun, for whatever reason, that’s cissexism.

What does that mean? Well, cis and trans are opposites. Cis means that your gender matches up, broadly, with what society expects given your body. If sexism is about not affording people certain privileges based on their sex or gender, then cissexism is about not affording people certain privileges based on whether they are trans.

Let me lay it out to you. If you’re a cisgendered person, people call you by the pronoun you feel is ‘right’ almost all the time, by the pronoun you want to be called. (I know butch women have this problem.) This is a privilege, because not everyone has it – I don’t. I don’t get called by the pronoun I feel is right or the one I want to be called, frequently, often. And neither do many other trans people, whether by their friends, family, at work, or in the media.

Imagine that a significant portion of the time, when people talked about you, they called you ‘it’ or ‘he’ (if you’re a ‘she’) or ‘she’ (if you’re a he), or ‘he’ or ‘she’ (if you prefer something like hirsie, or they). Not just one person, not just two people, but people you don’t know, people you knew from school, your parents. In the media, you see people like you persistently mis-labelled and mis-pronouned. Imagine the persistent effect this would have on you over time, over months, years. This is the reality for a lot of trans people, and either you contribute to it or you fight it.

When you refuse to extend the privilege of preferred pronouns to trans people, you’ve done something cissexist. This is because you would not refuse to call a cis person by their preferred pronoun, unless you wanted to hurt them. And that’s what it feels like when people mis-pronoun: it hurts – regardless of whether you mean it to or not.

If you’re a cis peron and you don’t use someone’s preferred pronoun, for whatever reason, you’re showing that trans people’s desires and wishes are worth less to you than your desires and wishes. If you don’t call people out when they don’t use preferred pronouns, then you’re showing that your (temporary) discomfort is more important than the shit that trans people put up with all the time*. In either case, you’re contributing to the marginalisation of trans people – me, most personally, but also to my friends, allies, and fellow queers.

Obviously, if everyone just politely used preferred pronouns then it wouldn’t be the end of trans oppression, and even if you don’t call people out on pronouns you can still be doing valuable work. But calling people as they would like to be called is a basic sign of respect that cis people get for free and trans people don’t.

If you don’t reliably and consistently use trans people’s preferred pronouns, you’re part of the problem of the ongoing marginalisation of trans people. The solution should be obvious.

PS. If you felt at all defensive upon reading this, then I recommend you read Transphobic Words and Deeds at Questioning Transphobia and think a bit about where you fit in the picture of oppression and allyship with trans people. Do some googling, reading, maybe ask some questions.


This post first appeared on this blog: http://avoidtheinevitable.wordpress.com/

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