How would it make you feel?
Let’s get a few things straight: we’re not worried about someone’s sensitivity. We’re worried about human decency. And a part of being a decent human being is understanding that pronouns are important to people – especially trans and nonbinary people.
More often than not, young children are raised under the impression that there is a gender binary. There are two genders: male and female. Males are supposed to like sports, and cars, and superheroes. They’re supposed to run for president and be doctors. Females are supposed to shoot for the stars, too. In fact, their role models are usually princesses from fairy tales who either inherited or married into money.
What could possibly go wrong?
Everything, that’s what.
There are two real issues with this. The first of these is that we’re still associating character traits with gender and sex. That school of thought isn’t just antiquated … it’s stupid. The second issue here is that just weeks out from the year 2018, we’re still looking at gender in the binary, or as having only two parts (male and female). The idea of there being a third, non-binary gender is nothing new. This year, California became the first state to recognize a third, non-binary gender. But centuries ago, many Native American tribes (or as I like to call them, the OGs of the continent) recognized as many as four separate genders (though this also could prove problematic, as they still dealt with masculine-feminine stereotypes).
Look, the fact of the matter is that (especially so in our community) there is a large chunk of people who identify as non-binary (meaning neither female nor male) or identify as male or female and just so happen to possess qualities that seem more masculine or feminine than what is considered to be the “norm.” Even I, a cis-gender, gay male who has chin-length hair, a feminine personality, and who sometimes wears makeup, am often referred to by strangers using the she/her/hers pronouns. And the truth of the matter is that it can be a little embarrassing, just like it can be for trans people and nonbinary people. And why? Because in spite of the fact that I am the most colorful fruit in the produce department at the Montrose Kroger, I am a cisgender male and identify as such.
Now let’s think about how that must feel for trans/non-binary folks. These are people who have struggled most of (if not all of) their lives with the gender they were assigned at birth. No matter how long they’ve been out as trans, or if they even are, a superfluity of emotions can stir inside a person when they’re called by the wrong pronoun.
I posed this question on my Facebook, where some of my friends chimed in.
The responses came in quickly.
Cis and mildly passive-aggressive:
Cis and honestly trying to correlate:
Cis and understanding:
So what does that mean you should do?
It’s perfectly okay to ask. In fact, most people (whether they be trans, cis, or nonbinary) would prefer that you ask. I mean, you wouldn’t want someone walking around calling you a chef if you weren’t a chef. Would you? You wouldn’t want someone walking around calling you an octopus if you weren’t an octopus. Would you? Why would a trans man want you walking around calling him a woman?
So, ask what your newfound friend’s pronouns are! It’s okay. And it will save you some embarrassment. Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable asking this person to the side or away from a large group of people. That’s okay, too. Ask and don’t be uncomfortable about it, and don’t put people on display.
OH, BUT HOLD UP! Here’s something you should never ask:
NEVER ask a person about their genitalia that you are not having a consensual, sexual relationship with. Why?
BECAUSE IT’S NOT ANY OF YO DAMN BITNESS.
So, here to explain to me some of the responses you might get when you ask these questions is our good friend Nene Leakes.
Woman – She, Her, Hers
Man – He, Him, His
Same goes for men. This is any person who was assigned a certain sex at birth, but now identifies as a man. Use the he/him/his pronouns in this case.
Non-binary – They, Them, Their
Some people are assigned a female or male gender at birth (or maybe they aren’t) and grow up to realize that they’re not … well … either. Some people (despite the body they were born in) don’t feel like a boy or a girl. They just want to be a person. And that’s equally okay. For them, we use the they/them/their pronouns.
See? It’s that easy! Just ask. It’s just like asking any other question. Like what their sexual orientation is:
Or what they do for a living:
But remember that it is a sensitive topic, so be respectful. Kind of like asking what size someone wears:
Or what their beliefs are:
And like all other things, everyone has the right not to answer your questions if they aren’t comfortable doing so.
So what have we learned?
It’s okay to ask about pronouns! Just be respectful, and let the person know that you’re only asking because you care about their feelings. And remember: treat others the way you want to be treated. Oh, and that Nene Leakes is still a #kween.
We’re a community, and we have to love each other.