In light of Caitlyn Jenner presenting herself to the world, I’d like to talk about the importance of using the correct names/pronouns in regards to people in the transgender community.
In high school, I became friends with a completely different group of people. These people were the drama kids, the theater people– the kids who were slightly cast out from the rest of my grade but were happy enough on their own not to care.
They didn’t care what people thought about them at all. They performed at open mics, danced in the hallways, laughed at silly jokes, hung out with each other after school in the auditorium, and were generally very open and accepting. It was a wonderful group to be a part of.
One of my friends in that group, who I wasn’t that close with, had struggled with their identity for a really long time. They discovered their true identity as a transgender/genderfluid person in the middle of high school, and has had a really hard time both figuring themselves out and getting people to accept them.
They changed their name to a masculine one, including both their legal name and their new name on their Facebook profile. They started to dress differently, too, sometimes dressing to look more traditionally masculine and sometimes dressing traditionally feminine. They went to senior prom in a suit dress, much to the shock of the rest of my high school class.
They asked us all to call them by their new name and use they/them/their pronouns, and I am ashamed to say that, at the time, I didn’t really try. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t understand what had happened or why they were acting differently, and that made me unwilling to listen and open my mind to who they were. I didn’t really think it was fair for them to expect me to call them by a different name, and I didn’t see why it was important for me to accept their new identity. They had been who they were the entire time I’d known them up until now, and it didn’t seem fair for me to have to change for their sake.
Some of my other friends felt the same way as I did. They scoffed at their new name, calling them “she” and “her” and by their given name in front of them and when talking about them. They didn’t understand it either, and we were all pretty mean about it.
Eventually, a bunch of my friends and other people began to take their new identity seriously. They used the pronouns they preferred, called them by their new name, and were defensive when anyone did anything different. “That’s their name,” my friends said. “That’s who they are now, even if they weren’t before.”
My friend ended up going to a school a moderate distance away from my town. At college, they identified solely with their new name, and people called them that because that’s who they were to them. When they brought a friend from school back to my town during a break, he called them by their new name. When their friends at school interacted with them publicly on the Internet (like on Facebook and Tumblr) they used their new name and pronouns. I think that that’s when I began to see them for who they really are– because other people called them this name and used these pronouns, it was easier for me to accept it too.
I understand that it makes me seem close-minded and selfish– I mean, I didn’t accept them until other people did. Before other people understood and I saw that other people understood, I put my needs before theirs. I disrespected them, hurt them, dehumanized them by disregarding their identity, and for that I am sorry.
I am writing this post to emphasize how important it is to try and understand. It’s important to educate ourselves and to learn, rather than to reject and blatantly ignoring another person and their needs.
And to be honest, it wasn’t until college that I really understood how important it was to identify them as who they wanted to be and who they truly are. At school, I took a Women & Gender Studies class. I read about and saw on TV and in the media people like Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera, and Laverne Cox, who advocate for transgender and LGBT rights. These women really put a face to the trans movement just by existing, and help make people more aware of the struggles transgender people face. Making people more aware, educating them, and putting these issues out there lends hope to the future that transgender people will one day be accepted and not have to be afraid to be themselves.
I know that my friend still struggles with this stuff every day. But it helps by recognizing who they really are as a person.
In the wise words of Ezra Koenig: