by Sara Lewis
In the past few years, we have become more aware of gender and folks who are gender-nonconforming or transgender, and many of us have started to wear or post our pronouns. You may have also noticed that we use “they” as a pronoun more often now. Yes, it can be a singular pronoun; it’s not grammatically incorrect!
I wanted to check in with some OUUC congregants who are gender non-conforming or transgender to find out how well we are doing at being in right relationship across gender differences. Four wonderful people shared their experiences with me, from which I’ve distilled this advice.
- Respect the importance of pronouns. Sage says “pronouns are as important as a name”, and you wouldn’t continue to call someone by something that isn’t their name. “when you’re talking about a person you are talking about them in their entirety, not just the parts you like or agree with”. And that includes their pronouns.
- If you find it difficult to use different pronouns, just keep trying. Dio shares that “The most frustrating thing is when people complain about how hard using the correct pronouns is right in front of me. I don’t need to hear about how difficult it is for cis-people [people who are the same gender they were assigned at birth] to treat me with respect. I just need them to continue to try, even if it’s hard, and if they need to complain do it somewhere else.”
- Drop the “preferred” before pronouns. Sage shares that saying “preferred pronouns” is like saying “what is your preferred shirt size”. It’s not a preference; the pronoun either fits or it doesn’t.
- Respect people’s gender identities and don’t misgender (use a pronoun or other gender reference for someone that is not their correct one) folks. Sage shares that it can feel like a punch in the gut or a knife. Emi shares that being misgendered makes them feel small, erased, invisible, and alone. That’s not a good feeling! If you do misgender someone, say oops and then don’t do it again.
- If you do misgender someone, apologize, but don’t make a huge, big deal about it. Ryan recommends that you treat it like tripping over something on the sidewalk … say oops and sorry and then just keep walking.
- How can cis-gendered people show respect and be better allies? Name your pronouns first, normalize the sharing of pronouns instead of just making assumptions about a person’s gender. Even if you feel your pronouns are obvious, be explicit. Doing so shows you are respecting the inherent worth and dignity of everyone. What if you don’t know someone’s pronouns? Just ask. Normalize asking people and not assuming all are cis-gendered.
- Know that you are going to mess up. Language changes, and you may be told that language you are using is not appreciated. Even if that language or attitude was fine in the past, be respectful of what folks are telling you and be ready to learn and change.
- Know that being corrected is part of being in relationship. If you are being corrected, it’s about relationship. Sage says, “If I correct you it’s because I want to maintain this relationship, I don’t bother correcting people I’m not going to see again. We’re not going to put ourselves out there and risk ourselves if we don’t think there’s anything there to make it worth it.”
- Emi recommends that you err on the side of caution: don’t touch people without permission, don’t ask intrusive questions, don’t be overly friendly and weird. Just treat folks with the respect you would treat anyone.
Bottom line? Just keep trying and remember to give everyone inherent worth and dignity. Dio says what they hope cis-gendered people will do is: “They can continue to try. That’s really all I want, that they try to be better today than they were yesterday.”
Response from Curtis Tanner
My partner/spouse Wendy and I have been active members of OUUC since 2001. Over the past 20 years, we’ve each served in various roles to help support our beloved religious community. I think that given past and current commitments, it is fair to see myself as a visible leader for OUUC.
I currently understand myself to be a cis-gender, heterosexual male. I expect that people who know me, and people meeting for the first time, would assume these gender and sexual orientation labels for me. Nonetheless, I think it important to share my pronouns – he/his – even when this may seem obvious or already known. I think it is important for me to do so because of my role as one of OUUC’s many visible leaders. I believe in doing so, I communicate some important messages that contribute to a more open and inclusive community.
First, I understand that for transgender and other non-cis people, it is important that they know OUUC values diversity and wants all people to find a home with us. Sharing pronouns communicates that we are people who do not assume everyone is cis-gendered and we are truly interested in knowing all of their humanity.
Second, I seek to model for my cis-gendered sisters and brothers that I do not expect people to assume my gender identify, even when it might seem obvious that I am a person who identifies as a man. Being cis-gendered in our society is a position of privilege for me, and not “needing” to share my pronouns is part of that privilege. Making a choice to share my pronouns levels the playing field incrementally.
Finally, if all of us share our pronouns, we help make it safer for people to share their true selves within the OUUC community. Normalizing sharing pronouns creates a safe place for all, even when it may not be safe for some to do so elsewhere in their lives. I hope we can offer sanctuary for all who seek a spiritual community by respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all people.