Illustration by Alex Nash

Advocacy from cisgender people must not stop with correct pronoun usage

Nearly every class or event at Lewis & Clark begins with quick introductions which often include sharing pronouns. In addition, I frequently wear my they/them earrings and speak openly about being nonbinary. Why then, do people use the wrong pronouns for me in academic and social situations at LC? The answer is simple: Cisgender people usually do not put the work in to undo their assumptions about the transgender people they interact with on a daily basis.

In fact, it was just last week that a peer in one of my classes referred to me as “she.” This was ironic, as they were someone I had known for years who had just heard me discuss a rhetorical concept in conjunction with my lived experience as a nonbinary person. The topic at hand was hermeneutical injustice: the absence of language to describe the experiences of those in marginal positions. 

I have gone through much of my life without the literal words to describe my experiences, and though I have come across the word nonbinary and singular they pronoun, I still suffer from this deficit. Yet, even when I do have the language to begin addressing my experiences, people refuse to use it. I also understand that familiarity with language for nonbinary people is something many people are still learning, especially as it continues to develop. However, the large majority of cis people use singular they pronouns all the time in the abstract. They just struggle when it applies to a specific person. The scripts exist for such usage, so the disconnect must be stemming from somewhere else. To me, the fact that people will only slip into she/her rather than he/him when referring is telling of their assumptions, something that many people are evidently not willing to challenge. 

I get it. I have breasts and curves. My name is Venus, an ode to the Western ideal of femininity. I wear glitter, crop tops and tall shoes. Many things about me and the choices I make are things people have been conditioned to associate with femininity, womanhood and she/her pronouns. However, why should I have to change these parts of myself to be taken seriously? The burden of work should not be on me, especially when at every turn I make my identity and pronouns clear. 

We are all socialized to conjoin these concepts, and it is something I have had to work through myself. That is why I do not blame people for holding these associations, but I do insist that cis people put in the work for this ideological delinking. 

Your support of trans people can not stop at artificially using their pronouns. When people slip up, I can tell if it is done innocently or more perniciously because they refuse to unlink womanhood from their conception of me. You need to constantly be challenging your gendered assumptions, especially when you know they are categorically false. This can be shown through practicing the pronouns of others in private, not assuming the gender of strangers or correcting others’ pronoun usage. 

Honestly, I do not care what this unlearning looks like, as long as cis people are dedicated to doing the work to understand others. Using my pronouns is the bare minimum, and many of you fail to even do that.

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