Why Pronouns Matter
Language isn’t just talk. How language is used can uncover and reinforce harmful stereotypes. At the same time, it can be used to challenge prevailing norms.
What do Pronouns have to do with Trans people?
Gender pronouns are words used to refer to people that you are talking about.
E.g., he/him, she/her, ze/hir (pronounced “zee/heer”), and xe/xem (pronounced “zee/zem”), are some of the singular gender pronouns used.
Some might choose to use gender neutral pronouns like Ze/hir:E.g., Raj ate hir food because ze was hungry.
Or use Xe/xem:E.g., Sara is very proud. Xe thinks highly of xemself.
Some even choose to forgo pronouns all together and prefer to use their names:E.g., Rahul was feeling down, so Rahul went out with Rahul's friends.
When referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make people feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, and/or dysphoric.
Myth: Pronouns like singular They/Them or Xe/Xem are Grammatically Wrong.
Language is always changing and will continue to change, sometimes ahead of societal beliefs and behaviours and sometimes lagging behind them.
New words are added all the time!
Further, ‘they’ has been used as a singular pronoun ever since the 1300s to refer to individuals. So why not now?
How am I supposed to know?
Its simple. Just ask them for their pronouns! You can’t always know what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is the easiest way to show respect for their gender identity.
What if I make a mistake?
It’s fine! Calm down! To err is human, to correct divine. If you realise immediately, correct yourself and move on. If you realise later, apologise in private and move on. Don’t get hung up on it. It might only make the other person awkward/uncomfortable. If you notice someone misgendering a person who is publicly out, correct them.
What is Transitioning?
Not all people are born in bodies that align with their self-perceived gender. Someone who has lived for a portion of their lives as a man or a woman, might not see themselves as what the doctor assigned them at birth. This is known as Gender Incongruence.
Transitioning is the process of changing how one presents themselves to the world in order to reflect the gender they feel on the inside.
Many trans and non-binary individuals, who may not feel comfortable in the gender expression expected from them based on the sex they were assigned at birth, choose to transition. Not all trans people transition. One does not need to transition to be trans. Transitioning is a very personal choice and is subject to many factors, many of which may not be under one’s control – e.g., being denied safety and legal recognition.
Not all transitions are the same! People do not transition for others, they do it for themselves. So, what they choose to do to transition is up to them and only them. Some may transition socially and not medically. Some may transition medically by a few procedures. Some may just take hormones and decide not to have any surgeries. Some may choose not to legally change any documents. What we need to learn is to respect people’s gender irrespective of whether they have transitioned or not.
What is Gender Dysphoria?
Gender Dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that is caused by a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth (as well as the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics). Not all trans people experience gender dysphoria! Gender dysphoria is not a requirement to be trans, although many trans people might experience it at some point in their lives.
What does Dysphoria feel like?
The word ‘dysphoria’ is used in general to describe discomfort, distress, or unease. For trans people, this kind of distress may be associated with their gender, their bodies, or how people perceive their gender, and so is often given the name ‘gender dysphoria’.
Gender dysphoria can feel different for everyone. It can manifest as distress, depression, anxiety, restlessness or unhappiness. It might feel like anger or sadness, or feeling slighted or negative about your body, or like there are parts of you missing.
Although dysphoria usually appears first in childhood, some trans people may not experience it until puberty or adulthood.
It is important to respect someone’s gender identity, regardless of whether they experience gender dysphoria or not. In addition to the internal stress caused by dysphoria, trans people often have to face external stresses and stigma due to widespread prejudice and discrimination.
Being misgendered, feeling unaccepted and lacking the freedom to safely explore and express their identity only compounds the dysphoria that trans people experience and leads to additional health problems like anxiety and depression.
It is important to note that these health problems stem not from their trans identity but because of the intolerance and stigma they face due to society. On its own, being trans is not a disorder and is not something to be “treated”.
Counselling aimed at changing someone’s gender identity, sometimes known as conversion therapy, doesn’t work and can be extremely harmful. The belief that someone’s gender identity can be changed through therapy runs counter to the overwhelming consensus in the medical community.
Trans people who receive support, affirmation and acceptance lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
Dysphoria can become severe and affect one’s everyday life if it is left unaddressed and so it is important to enable trans people to access the care they need.
Doing simple things like addressing trans people by their preferred names and pronouns can go a long way in validating and supporting their identity.