Most people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about pronouns.
But then again, most people aren’t LGBTQ+.
I was having lunch with a friend whose child is in the midst of a transition. She told me she still struggles to use the right pronoun to refer to her ftm child. Rather than making a mistake and accidentally saying “she” when referring to her kid, my friend uses the name her child prefers – a shortened version of the birth name. After all, my friend used “her” and “she” for nearly two decades. That’s gotta be a tough adjustment.
It’s not that my friend is unsupportive. Far from it! She says doesn’t truly understand, but she’s trying. And she simply wants her kid to be happy. But changing “she” to “he” has proven to be a real challenge after almost 20 years. So my friend uses her child’s preferred name when referring to him, or sometimes uses “they.” It makes for a bit of an awkward conversation but I followed along pretty well. I even found myself doing it too – using “they” instead of trying to remember which pronoun to use. Maybe I was just picking up on her way of speaking, but it did seem to make it a bit easier in the flow of things.
And afterward I thought, Does calling them “they” somehow diminish them? Does it take away their gender completely? Was I just taking the easy way out? I mean, “they” has a name. Is it better to try to use the right pronoun even if I mess it up sometimes? Seems to me that (from the outside looking in) either their new first name or an accidental pronoun screw up might be better than “they.”
As someone who (until recently) has had no exposure to anyone who’s trans, I had no clue how very difficult it would be to change how we think about someone – much less, how we refer to them. And as a cisgender, I had absolutely no idea how much it means to someone who’s transitioning to be identified by the right pronoun. I mean, it makes total sense to me – I just hadn’t given it any thought. Until now.
Now I am thinking about it alot. And I promise, I’ll try to get it right! But please forgive me if I mess up, or put my foot in my mouth (which happens more than I’d like to admit). I’m supportive, I promise. But I am still learning. After all, I’m an old dog …