Friday, February 24, 2012

Gender Pronouns and Manners

You know, it's one thing when members of the Queer community have to fight for various kinds of recognition by the rest of the world, and another thing when we fail to recognize members of our own community that differ from ourselves. I've been bothered by some observations I've made within the UT Queer community, and any criticism I have to offer the community is made with love, and of course is a matter of opinion. I feel someone needs to say something though, so here it is: we need to be asking about gender pronouns.

The Queer community is about so much more than sexuality; we are not called the "homosexual" community for precisely that reason. The Queer community includes people of various gender identities too. Just as we ask the world not to assume that everyone is heterosexual, I feel we shouldn't be assuming that everyone's gender matches their biological assignment. To do so in the GSC renders many members of the community invisible in a space that is supposed to be safe and empowering for those within it. The easiest way to avoid this is asking people what gender pronouns they use.

Unfortunately, it's been my observation that this hasn't been happening very often. I've watched members of my own community misgender one another, simply because they never bothered asking this simple question. Worse, I've seen people I care about get misgendered repeatedly, and told by the mistaken person that they should just correct them every single time they mess up. That's not how it works, not in the Queer-friendly world I envision. It's everyone's responsibility to ask what gender pronouns people use, to not assume pronouns if it hasn't been discussed, and to put in a real effort to refer to people by the correct pronouns. That's manners. That's respect. That's recognition. That's what I want to see from my own community.

This really hits me on a personal level for a few reasons. For one thing, many of the people I feel closest to are Trans*, gender nonconforming, or trying out pronouns that may work better for them. When I see the flash of discomfort or hurt in their eyes when they get misgendered, it affects me too; I want to protect them. I also recognize the loss of a safe space for them every time this happens, and it feels deeply wrong to me. Finally, a majority of my community assumes they know my pronouns- and they don't. "She" isn't technically incorrect, but there's much more to it than that. More that would be known if people asked (and you will have to ask if you want to know, no spoilers for you~).

Thankfully, the effort to reinforce good manners in the GSC has begun. This fabulous picture now resides in the space:

And I've seen more of an effort in the past few days to respect pronouns. I think we can always do better, and I'm glad to see the progress being made. I have this dream where asking about gender pronouns is the norm in all circles, and I've been in a place where that was the case; it was amazing. We can do it too- the revolution starts at home.

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