Misgendering & The Importance Of Pronouns | Emily Bashforth

Misgendering & The Importance Of Pronouns

Most people label their gender with some form of pronoun and it's vital that we use the right ones when addressing or speaking about someone. Deliberately using the wrong pronouns and misgendering, in my eyes, is the highest form of disrespect.
Using the wrong pronouns on purpose is so much more than just mixing your words up. In fact, it invalidates someone's entire identity and can have a really negative effect on them. Going out of your way to call someone by the wrong pronouns, especially when they've repeatedly corrected you, not only shows that you don't listen to them, but it also indicates that you have zero respect for them as a person. It's a sign of not accepting someone and it's also blatant ignorance.

Of course, we will all make mistakes. Most of us will accidentally misgender someone at least once in our lives...and that's okay! With many of us growing up in heteronormative, heavily cis gender focused societies, for a long time, all we were exposed to was he and she. For a long time, we assumed genders, based gender on looks and just, generally, weren't all that clued up on the fact that more than two genders exist. Now, however, we're more educated, more open minded and look back on our childhood with confusion and disappointment, wishing we were exposed to more than we were. Certain ideas are ingrained into us due to our upbringings, so much so that it may take a while for those to completely fade from our brains, so, we will get things wrong. We will misgender people and use the wrong pronouns. It's important to know how to handle these situations and to remind ourselves that these little slip ups don't define our true beliefs.

When we misgender someone, we apologise and we move forwards using the correct pronouns. What we don't do is make the situation a bigger deal than it needs to be by repeatedly saying sorry, being over dramatic and rambling on about that one time you misgendered someone for years to come. Just apologise then carry on as normal - no harm done!

Harm is done, however, when we intentionally misgender people. This may happen for a number of reasons, perhaps people are just straight up rude or perhaps can't be bothered to memorise someones pronouns. We need to end this purposely misgendering culture. People need to be made aware of the consequences of deliberately misgendering and that using the correct pronouns for someone really isn't that difficult.

Using incorrect pronouns, such as referring to someone who identifies as female by 'he,' or referring to someone who identifies as male by 'she,' makes these people feel incredibly isolated. Imagine if someone repeatedly addressed you in a way which you didn't want them to. You'd be upset, right? So why should it be any different for anyone else? When someone tells you which pronouns they use, you carve them into your memory and you do all that you can to respect them. If you misgender someone, don't take that as an invite to test their patience or to see how many times you can migender someone until they cry. Correct yourself immediately and just, generally, don't be an idiot. I always think back to the example of dogs. When someone calls a dog 'he,' and it's female, the owner says "Actually, it's a girl," and that's the end of it. From then on, people use female pronouns for the dog. Why should human beings be any different?

By refusing to accept someones pronouns in an already very transphobic society, you're excluding someone who really isn't any different to you. They're a normal person with hopes, dreams and stories to tell and they deserve to be part of society just as everyone else is.

Regardless of how you feel about a person, whether they are your best friend or your worst enemy, always make a conscious effort to gender them correctly. Even if you've had an argument and hate someone's guts, using incorrect pronouns out of anger or spite cannot be justified. No matter the mood or situation, always get the pronouns right because, otherwise, not only are you attacking the identity of that one person, you're attacking their entire community. If you're going to have a fight with someone, at least have the decency to not misgender them. That's a low.

The world is transphobic and ignorant enough as it is, therefore, we all have a duty to pave the way for future generations. We have a responsibility to shape a world which is accepting of all genders and in which anyone of any gender can be fully themselves. It's time to cut out the ignorance and just start treating people with respect.

You see, when someone who is trans or non-gender conforming tells you which pronouns they use, they aren't just their 'preferred' pronouns, they are the correct pronouns. These individuals don't just choose a different pronoun each day for fun, they just genuinely want you to treat them as they treat you because their identity matters to them.
"But they're only words, why does it matter?" You may ask. It does matter, though. A lot. The trans and non-binary communities have endured many hardships to get to the point they are at, being openly who they are. 'He' and 'she' may be just words to you but, to someone else, they could mean the world. If someone has spent their life feeling trapped in their body or has faced a long battle with who they are, simply hearing someone use the right pronouns can mean everything. It's a sign that someone accepts you. It's a sign that people love you for who you are.

And it isn't just 'he' and 'she' pronouns which we need to get right. She/her/hers and he/him/his are just a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these female/feminine and male/masculine pronouns, but know that many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses she or he feels feminine or masculine.
Some individuals identify differently, another common pronoun being 'they/them/theirs' for non-binary people. (They ate their food because they were hungry). Just because someones pronouns may be outside the norm or something you aren't used to, doesn't mean you can abuse them and ignore someones wishes. So what if you've never called someone 'they' before? What a perfect time to start! Take pronouns seriously because they truly matter to people who have endured a lifelong internal battle with their identity. Whether you feel comfortable using those pronouns isn't up for discussion. The only thing that matters is how the person you are referring to feels. How you view gender and how you identify isn't relevant, what is relevant is how you are using other people's pronouns.

Other gender neutral pronouns include 'ze/hir/hir' (James ate hir food because ze was hungry). Ze is pronounced like 'zee' and can also be spelled zie or xe. Hir is pronounced 'here.' Some may just prefer their name, instead of a gender pronoun too! (Ash ate Ash’s food because Ash was hungry). For some people, a name is a pronoun.

Two ways which we should never refer to someone as are 'it' or 'he-she.' These are offensive slurs used to oppress trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

It's important to acknowledge how much of a privilege it is to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. However, we must not become so consumed with our own genders that we forget to respect others'. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, not only are you hurting them, but you are adding to the oppression they already face daily.

In conclusion, respecting gender pronouns doesn't have to be as hard as it sounds. Just do your reading, expose yourself to the world outside your own little bubble and, remember, it is okay to ask questions! Just word them carefully and show a genuine interest in other people. Use correct gender pronouns at all times in order to make life safe and comfortable for people who have already endured such hardships.

The only time you should not use correct pronouns for someone is if you are around people whom they are not 'out' to yet and the individual asks you not to out them. Go at their pace.

Hearing people deliberately misgender others really hurts my heart. To hear people simply not give a toss about the identity of another person and wish to squeeze them into a box in which they simply were not meant to be in saddens me. And it angers me. It angers me to witness such rudeness, such coldness and refusal to appreciate how someone identifies. No matter which way you try to spin it, misgendering on purpose is wrong and there can never be an excuse for it. It is pure ignorance in a society which is fast progressing and you shall get left behind if you don't get with the times. We must all be educated on gender pronouns, but we must also educate others. If someone misgenders you, call them out and inform them on what your correct pronouns are. They are not superior to you. Likewise, if you here someone misgender someone else, call them out. We all have a responsibility in helping others to be better.

Remember that how you identify is valid.

Love, Emily