Pronouns do matter- talk on pronouns, misgendering and general injustice to the transgender and genderqueer community- as well as the transgender community of people of color.
[from Getty Images]
First off, what is a pronoun? A pronoun is what you would use to refer to someone, for example, “he is my friend, his name is Jacob.” People will be assigned a set of pronouns [he/him/his or she/her/hers] at birth, however, not everyone will conform to them for all of their life, being gender nonconforming or under the transgender umbrella and could therefore seek to change them later in life.
If the answer is mixed or unclear- let’s define, what is a transgender person? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as so: “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.” So, a transgender person is a: woman originally born in a male body, a man originally born in a female body, a nonbinary person or person identifying outside of the gender binary spectrum originally born in either a male or female body, and plenty of other examples. What is not a transgender person? A transgender person is not: a predatory man under the disguise of calling himself a woman, a “he-she”, “thing”, or “it”, someone seeking to gain attention or to “stand out” or an invalid or broken human being.
So, if someone is to refer to themselves with certain pronouns that do not match those given to them at birth [such as they/them/theirs, ze/zem/zirs or a trans woman using she/her/hers] it is because that is how they are identifying, and purposely neglecting to use their pronouns, or purposefully misgendering them is harmful and disrespectful, and can make the individual feel dysphoric and excluded. A person may seem to you to be a cisgender individual by having certain sex-defining characteristics [such as a defined chest or lack of, facial hair, etc], but you should not assume they identify with the gender you perceive them as, and if in doubt, ask them!
A 2014 study showed that transgender or genderqueer individuals would feel stigmatized, lose self-esteem, and even lose strength and pride in their identity after being consistently misgendered, or having the wrong pronouns be used.
Not everyone can realize the impact that misgendering could have on transgender/genderqueer/gender non-conforming folks, but it can really make them feel invalidated and hurt, plus- what does it cost you to use a different set of pronouns? It is absolutely free to change the words you use to refer to someone and it can truly make them feel loved and validated- so why not do so?
An Ontario-based survey showed that an alarming 77% of trans people admitted to considering suicide- and 45% of them had attempted it. The study also showed that 20% of transgender people were physically or sexually assaulted, and 34% were given verbal threats or verbal harassment.
Another 2011 survey also reported that 12% of transgender youths were sexually assaulted by school peers or staff, and 22% of homeless transgender people were assaulted if staying at homeless shelters. 15% of transgender individuals have reported being sexually assaulted while in police custody or jail- the statistic more than doubles for transgender people of color. 5 to 9 percent of transgender individuals have reported being sexually assaulted by police officers, and 10% report sexual assault from healthcare professionals.
To finish with a quote directly from the task force .org: “Black transgender people lived in extreme poverty with 34 percent reporting a household income of less than $10,000 per year. This is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general Black population rate (9 percent), and eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).” Which shows even higher discrimination against transgender people of color.
I will conclude this poorly organized rant-type essay. Pronouns DO matter to people- and more than you think. Transgender people suffer from many injustices, but I have no power in changing that- so perhaps I can at least change your mind on properly gendering trans individuals, and avoiding purposeful misgendering.
Below are some helpful links for definitions, studies, statistics, and stories.