We Need to Talk About Gender Pronouns for Transgender People
Yesterday was a huge day for the Kardashian-Jenner family. Kendall + Kylie debuted their Topshop collection, Kim announced her second pregnancy and (most importantly) Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair. While a lot of Internet chatter yesterday focused on giving North’s lil sib a compass-themed name and congratulating Caitlyn’s bravery, a bigger discussion seemed to be developing: the correct use of gender pronouns when discussing Caitlyn and others in the transgender community. So much so that there’s even a bot working to correct ignorant tweets.
As transgender issues have increasingly become a bigger topic thanks to famous faces like Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings and others making major public strides, many are still new to the T in LGBTQ. Before diving into a discussion on proper pronoun usage, here are a few things you need to know:
1. Gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different things. Understand the difference.GLAAD sums up the difference between the two succinctly: “Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being male or female (or someone outside that binary). Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.” Essentially what that means is you can identify as a transgender woman who is attracted to women but not see yourself as a lesbian, which is what Caitlyn noted in her discussion with Diane Sawyer.
2. Use the terms that the person you’re speaking about/to identifies with. When it comes to using correct pronouns when referring to someone who is transgender it is important to make sure you are using the terms they identify with, since every transgender person could identify with a different pronoun.
3. If you don’t know, just ask. No one is going to think you’re a jerk if you don’t know, but they might if you disregard someone’s personal preference. So… just ask! If you’re unsure of how to approach a conversation like that, GLAAD’s “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” provides the perfect scenario. “If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, ‘Hi, I’m Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?'” Then once you’ve identified a person’s preferred pronouns, it’s as easy as respecting that.
The Vanity Fair headline “Call me Caitlyn” answered that question for the public. Caitlyn then reiterated her preferred pronouns through one of her first tweets, “Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.” But still, 24 hours later, people from news shows to Twitter are referring to Caitlyn as Bruce and using pronouns like him and he. If that happens…
4. It’s totally okay to call someone out and correct their behavior.Mic highlighted Upworthy writer Franchesca Ramsey’s thoughts on misgendering a trans person. She tweeted, “Please check folks who don’t get someone’s pronouns right. We need to call each other out on that shit.” She continued in another tweet, “And yes, you should respect someone’s pronouns even when they aren’t in the same room. Stop that.” Preach, Franchesca.
If you don’t call out a lost Tweeter, tech is on your side. The Twitter bot @she_not_he was created to combat the misuse of pronouns and/or transphobia on the Internet when referring to Caitlyn Jenner. It will correct users who are either ignorantly misusing her preferred pronouns or are just generally confused by tweeting at them “It’s she, not he. Thanks!” when the user tweets “he” in conversation about Caitlyn Jenner. The bot developer told Mic, “Misgendering may seem like a small thing, but it goes to the heart of an individual’s gender identity and to our greater cultural understanding of gender. A bot seemed like a polite, quiet way to remind people of that.” Sometimes our faith in humanity isn’t shattered through the Internet <3
While all of this may be new and overwhelming to some, it’s essential to remember that life is about learning. Open your minds, ask questions and respect others. Even on Twitter. Okay, especially on social media.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
(Photos via Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair)