One of your peers may wear a dress and makeup everyday but that does not make them a girl. Another may have a beard and wear sports attire, but that does not make them a boy. The way a person presents themselves does not always serve as an indicator of their gender identity.
As a society, we have been accustomed to associate physical characteristics and manners with a particular gender; this can be harmful to those who do not conform to the traditional gender binary or social “norms.”
An important element of a person’s gender identity is their preferred pronouns. Asking for the preferred pronouns of an individual should not be limited to those we suspect of being trans or nonbinary. Cisgender people should begin sharing their pronouns as it helps trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming individuals to not feel isolated when they share their own.
When you respect a person’s preferred pronouns, you’re respecting and validating their gender identity. In a 2019 study, published by the University of Texas at Austin, compared the well-being of transgender youths who can use their chosen name and pronouns to those who are not. The study found that transgender youths who were able to use their preferred pronouns experience 71% fewer symptoms of depression and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.
There are many ways to implement queer inclusive practices into our everyday lives. In situations that call for an introduction, you can simply include your preferred pronouns and ask others for theirs in return. When I introduce myself, I say, “Hi, my name is Zaynab, and my pronouns are they/them. What are yours?”
Online there are many opportunities to show your allyship. Adding your pronouns to your email signature, social media profiles, and zoom names are all things you should consider implementing to create an inclusive space. Instagram has even launched a feature where you can add pronouns to your profile.
As someone who would categorizes myself as nonbinary, I find that I am misgendered almost every day. I am called the incorrect pronouns more often than my preferred. Although, I have made my pronouns very clear, this situation occurs daily.
I get it. I dress feminine but clothes do not equal gender. I think cis people often struggle with still picturing nonbinary individuals as male or female in their minds. We must unlearn ideas and behaviors in which we assume one’s gender and thus assume their pronouns.
If you do happen to misgender someone on accident, the best way to move forward is to apologize and correct yourself. The best apology is changed behavior. I understand your intentions were most likely not hateful; to atone, hold yourself accountable and put an effort in using the correct pronouns.
“Transgender and nonbinary people do not even exist,” and “There are only two genders,” is the most common argument against using people’s preferred pronouns. Although I drastically disagree with these statements, in all actuality, these arguments should not even matter. Calling people by their preferred pronouns is not about your principles — it is simply the polite thing to do. If for some reason you are still struggling to “believe in” transgender people, you should at least be able to respect their identity. Using one’s preferred pronouns is simply common courtesy.