Stop Defining Others: A Tale of Pronouns and Misgendering

Stop Defining Others: A Tale of Pronouns and Misgendering April 7, 2017

Stop by Pat Green
“Stop” by Pat Green

“I’ll have a chimichanga.” he said.

“Wonderful, miss.” The waiter replied and walked away. I could see the hurt on my son’s face as he had been misgendered.

It had not happened often when we were out together, but it does happen sometimes. Usually, I correct the record politely to whomever does it. I looked at my son and simply asked him.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said in a monotone.

“Do you want me to take point on this one, or do you want to correct him?”

“I dunno, dad.”

A few minutes later, the waiter came to refresh our drinks and my son looked at the waiter and said, “I’m a dude. My pronoun is he, him.” His voice shook a little, but it was deep and strong.

The waiter looked at him for a moment. “I’m so sorry. Thank you for telling me.”

My son relaxed the rest of the dinner. My fiance’ and I encouraged him periodically and congratulated him for taking his stand. He was proud of himself and the adult responded well. That is not always how it goes.

There is a parent/teen support group we go to on a monthly basis. In it, all the parents and teens wear name tags that have your name and your preferred pronoun. When we introduce ourselves in the room we give our name and our preferred pronoun. The point of the exercise to be known and recognized for who you are and no one else gets to define who you are.

Sometimes people will make honest mistakes. Most of the time, like the waiter, a correction goes without incident. There are some people who take it upon themselves to misgender or misname someone. When someone tells you their proper pronoun and you continue to use the incorrect pronoun, you are misgendering someone. It does not matter if they “pass”. It does not matter what your opinions on transgender issues are. If you do that, you are hurting someone and you have no right to do that to them regardless your feelings on the matter.

To misname someone is something that the general public does not do often, because most people do not know someone’s assigned name at birth. This is something that is sometimes done by family members or old friends and associates of transgender people. My son and some of his peers call it their “dead name”, others call it the assigned name. No matter the title, it is not something that needs to be used anymore.

My son’s name change is legal. His name is what is currently on his brand new drivers license. He also has a new social security card with a gender marker change. No religious individual or secular individual with biases gets to tell him what his name and gender are. They do not have the right. The courts have ruled in his favor. Even if the legal process had not been addressed, it would still be his right to tell you who he is.

In my life, I have encountered people I have not been sure about their gender. That said, every day I walk about in public I see people who’s names I don’t know. I do not obsess about what their name is. If I really want to know their name, I will introduce myself and ask them their name.

If I meet someone, I simply introduce myself by saying, “Hi, my name is Patrick. My preferred pronoun is he, him.” Most people who are in the LGBTQIA community will respond in kind. People who are not familiar with it will ask why I gave my preferred pronoun. We get to have a wonderful, polite, and educational conversation. It may feel awkward at first, but it becomes natural more swiftly than you would think.

In closing, as a parent of a trans teen, pronouns was a hard learning curve for me. In the early days I would stumble over my words and get the name wrong and pronouns wrong. These days is comes easily, but every once in awhile I blow it. When that happens, like the waiter did, I apologize. It is that easy. If you want to begin the road of being an ally or understanding more, proper pronouns defined by the person is a great way to start.

So what is your name and preferred/proper pronoun? It would be nice to meet you.

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