To folks just beginning to learn how to use my pronouns, you may just see these words as just words.
Words that don’t feel natural for you to say, that don’t roll off the tongue properly because it’s just so “grammatically incorrect.” But the same people who demand direction from me in grammar and in how to use “they/them” singularly seem to be completely unaware of the fact that my pronouns are much more than words to me. Which is why I get so incredibly frustrated when people mess them up or demand explanations from me when I get offended.
My pronouns are a symbol of my oppression as a trans person (well, one of the many symbols). Cisgender people who use she/her or he/him pronouns have a privilege over me by having an uncomplicated, universally accepted gender identity. They also have pronouns that everyone knows how to use.
I’ve chosen gender neutral pronouns because “she” harshly conflicts with my masculine identity and “he” feels too scary to take on as someone who usually passes as a woman. So I chose they/them instead, pronouns that are not only commonly used singularly in gender nonconforming communities but also in literature and everyday conversation for centuries (the latter of which cis people are always shocked about. Just think of how you refer to a coworker or child that you don’t know the gender of yet). However, despite this and despite my constant requests and explanations, I’m misgendered by even those who know my pronouns. Constantly.
Since the majority of my friends (and the world) is cis, it’s often pretty hard for some folks to wrap their head around why one word (and the use or lack thereof it) could affect me so deeply. They rather blame the fact that my request for these pronouns are unusual, even absurd; and that by them even attempting to gender me correctly or correct themselves is enough to make them feel as though they did a sufficient job in trying with me. Except this very attitude is enough to make me feel invalidated as it is.
Getting misgendered is a really disconcerting and upsetting experience. I’ve seen my mom, a cisgender woman, get highly offended when someone calls her “he” or “sir,” only to be met with apologies up the wazoo by whoever made the fatal mistake. However, when I speak up about my pronouns, I’m not always given the same understanding.
My mom didn’t like being referred to as a man when she identifies so closely with her femininity as a woman. And when I hear “she,” I feel frustrated since I’m not a woman. I feel invalidated and invisible like she did.
But the difference is that I hear “she” every single day.
Every day I’m reminded of what people see as opposed to what I am, what I want them to see. I’m reminded of how I’m trapped in a female body and of self loathing.
Being misgendered makes me feel naked, like each “she” is a stab in my side, a crack in my mirror, an entry in my diary. It’s endlessly difficult to maintain any semblance of body positivity, any self acceptance structured around the idea that men can have breasts and a vagina, when friends, family and strangers label me without my consent. When this constant repetition of incorrect words lead me to feel confused about the reflection staring back at me from the mirror, even more so than usual.
It’s exhausting to go through it. To constantly correct people, when each time I do it, I feel less and less encouraged to do so. It’s tiring having to comfort cis friends who are swearing up and down how progressive they are in a drawn out apology over calling me “she.” I wish for once someone could just see that it’s their responsibility to hold themselves accountable, that it’s not my job to comfort them when they make mistakes, and that Google is a perfect replacement for throwing every question they have about trans people ever at me.
More than anything, I hope cisgender people know the privilege of their pronouns and their visibility in society. Because with each “she,” it feels as though my soul, my body, my being fades further and further into total disappearance. Complete erasure.