Pronouns: Do They Really Matter? Misgendering Hurts!

transgenderDeja Nicole Greenlaw at a former Pride celebration circa 2012.
Photo: TRT Archives
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Misgendering is a major problem for transgender and gender nonconforming people

By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—

I was scrolling through my Facebook wall the other day when I noticed a post about using pronouns. One of the questions concerned whether pronouns really matter when addressing a trans person. I can tell you right now that pronouns really do matter to trans people, but to non-trans people it might not seem to matter that much. The post went on to show how they do matter and they do matter quite a bit.

Like my sister columnist, Lorelei Erisis, I too am a tall trans woman. We are both in the neighborhood of 6’3” and we tower over most of the people who we meet. This makes us both stand out not only as trans women but also as people. We were both tall when we presented as males and are now extremely tall presenting as females. Almost everybody we meet—male, female, those who are in-between genders, and those who are outside of genders—are much, much shorter than we are.

Lorelei and I also do not try to raise our voices to a higher, more “normal” female pitch. Add the low voice pitch to our tallness and many folks might mistakenly view us a males rather than females and use male pronouns when talking about us. I can’t say exactly how much this happens to Lorelei, but I can say that it does happen quite a bit to me. I get “sir” almost constantly on the phone and occasionally in person. Does it bother me? Yes it does. Do I always speak up and correct the mis-genderers? No, not always. Sometimes I just want to get through whatever I am doing whether it concerns dealing with customer service people on the phone or in person, in stores or restaurants. Other times, I just want to get the product or food and I will let the mis-gendering slide, but there are times when I am not willing to let the mis-gendering slide. It depends on the situation, how I feel at the time, and how much time I have to execute the transaction. Sometimes I take the hit, sometimes I don’t, therefore, does it matter what pronouns are used? Yes it does, but sometimes just to facilitate the situation I let the misgendering slide. But it still hurts; it hurts a lot. Let me explain why.

When you misgender someone you are not respecting their core identity. If you never quite understood the struggles of trans people, here they are. Trans people have been wrestling with their gender identity their whole lives and when they finally work through all the head work, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the pain, and the various obstacles—to finally live in their true gender—it is very important to them to be respected as their true gender. They did all this work to get this far to live as their true gender and this is an incredibly important part of their core identity. It truly is a sign of disrespect if they get misgendered and it truly hurts them emotionally. Misgendering ignores the core identity of the trans person. Just think if you were constantly misgendered every day, day in and day out. How would you feel? That’s how a misgendered trans person feels.

The post I referred to earlier in this article made a point on how using correct pronouns does matter. One of the examples discussed if a trans person misgendered a cisgender person constantly and see how long it would take the non-trans person to act on the misgendering. The first misgendering may slide by with no response and maybe even a chuckle or two. The second misgendering wouldn’t be quite as humorous as wouldn’t be the next few ones. By the time the tenth misgendering came around chances are that the non-trans person would become, at the very least, slightly irritated at the misgendering. When the irritation starts is when the idea of misgendering someone begins to really matter. That’s when it really begins to sink in that using the proper pronouns does matter. It matters a lot.

So the next time you interact with a trans person please, please, please be aware of the pronouns that they use because, yes, pronouns really do matter.

*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a trans woman who has 3 grown children and is retired from 3M. She can be contacted at dejavudeja@sbcglobal.net.

 

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