By Jordan Robbie Growing up I’d been told that I was a tomboy, as well as that I was a girly girl, and that I must’ve been gay or bisexual to be masculine while simultaneously being a girl. Everyone seemed confused about who I was and whether or not to treat me like a princess or a prince- after all, it changed every day.
By the time I turned 21, I learned I was gender fluid.
I spent a good 4 months pondering my pronouns. For example, on my boy days did I want to be addressed as he/him? After chewing over the gender-neutral they/them for quite a while, I settled on nothing. I decided I feel equally as comfortable being referred to as she, he or they.
I’ve seen it on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, where people refuse to respect people’s pronouns. Even cis-gendered people who have their pronouns listed in their bio feel transphobia when someone refers to a he/him as a she/her just to be snarky. Unfortunately, we predominantly see it towards members of the trans community – people refuse to respect their pronouns and address them by their name and instead cling to this façade they believed this person once was. Saying things like “back when Caitlin Jenner was Bruce Jenner” is offensive. Bruce is a deadname, we don’t use it when referring to Caitlin, it doesn’t exist. Caitlin was never a “he”, she’s a she. Shockingly, this concept is mind boggling for some people.
I grew up in what I thought was a very LGBT+ friendly household – my parents have always had many friends of the LGBT+ community, supported our queer family members, and encouraged my sister and I to support the queer community. One day, I heard my father referring to a long-time family friend, let’s call him Adam, as his deadname. His mother had sent us a Christmas card with his deadname, and my mother immediately said, “his name is Adam!”. My father, however, kept referring to him by incorrect pronouns and called him by his deadname. When I said that they don’t exist and he is Adam, he responded by telling me that he doesn’t “have time for people who change their gender every day”. Adam had come out as transgender years ago. I was disgusted in that moment and realized that if he truly has a problem with people who change their gender every day, how would he feel if he knew about me?
In digging deeper into deadnames and incorrect pronouns, I’ve discovered that this is a pattern in people above the age of 55, who refuse to respect people’s gender identity with reference to a life they were confined to in the past. This is not to say that transphobia is exclusive to this age group, nor are all individuals 55 and older transphobic, unfortunately transphobia sees no age, but the vast majority I’ve discovered fall into this generation. They often mask their ignorance with their age by saying things such as “there were only two genders back in my day” and “at my age it’s confusing to learn this”. However, I’m the one who’s confused, because it’s very simple.
“Hey there, I’m Tommy and my pronouns are they/them.”
“Hi Tommy, I’m Addison and my pronouns are she/her.”
Is so much more respectful and simpler than:
“Tommy, you’re obviously male so I’m going to call you he/him.”
I’ve learned that middle-aged people and older excuse their disregard of they/them pronouns because “grammatically it’s incorrect”. Is it though? I’m sure we can all relate to their home phone ringing and hearing “hello, this is air duct cleaning”, to which we all hang up and our parents look at us and say, “what did they want?” because we’ve always unknowingly addressed people as they/them when we don’t know their gender.
Just because someone was wrapped in a blue blanket when the doctor who birthed them took a look at their genitals, doesn’t mean they’re going to be referred to as he/him. Sure, people love to argue that the name they were given at birth is their name, period, but then when people get married and take their partner’s last name, is their name not always their pre-marital name? If someone has a nickname, will you refuse to address them as such because it’s not the name they were legally given at birth? Should we address our parents by their names instead of mom and dad because that isn’t their legal, birth-given name? See, it’s simple. If we can comprehend that we don’t always address people by their birth-given names, then people of the trans community are no different.
The most baffling thing to me, isn’t the ease of addressing someone appropriately, not even the genuine respect for another individual, but who’s business it is. If you’re cisgendered, then congratulations for you, nobody is asking you to change your pronouns or your name. Someone else’s name, gender identity and pronouns have no effect on your life, they have nothing to do with you. Therefore, why go out of your way to hurt someone else and claim it makes you uncomfortable? Their life is not your business.
It is polite and socially acceptable to ask someone for their pronouns as well as their name upon meeting them, and it’s okay to ask any questions you may have. We would prefer you ask us all the questions – when did you realize you didn’t identify as cis? How did you pick your pronouns? If I call you by the wrong pronouns by mistake, how bad is it? Etc. We want you to ask, we want you to learn because if you can understand, then we can feel comfortable, and when you ask, it shows us that you care enough about our gender identities and you’re willing to adapt in this ever-changing world.
To recap etiquette for members of the trans community: someone’s pronouns are their business, and it is rude to address them as something else. Their deadname does not exist, they are not [blank], they never were [blank], [blank] does not exist. If you’re ever confused or need help understanding, just ask, we don’t bite.