The discussion about pronouns has been the topic of conversation a lot recently, so I’ve been reflecting on using pronouns for a while.
Pronouns are the words used to refer to a person or thing rather than using their name constantly. If someone were talking about me, Victoria, aka Dr. V, (*waves* hi, hello!) they might say, “Oh, have you met Victoria? She facilitates regular Orgasmic Yoga classes. Her next circle is on the third Sunday of the month.” She and her are the pronouns I use, and yes that was a shameless plug for my OYoga circles. #NoShameInMyGame
Certainly since I’ve been in the sexuality field since 2012 or so I’ve had more of an awareness around pronouns, but much more recently, perhaps since June 2016, I have been thinking about about them with greater regularity and in earnest in a couple different ways.
First is in relation to others’ pronouns which takes a couple different tacks. One is being mindful and asking people what their pronouns are whether I’m meeting them for the first time, doing an opening circle in a class I’m facilitating, whether I’m in queer/trans or sex positive spaces or not, and checking in every so often (if I forget, or just after some months have passed) and clarifying what their pronouns are again.
The second is more self-reflective. As I’ve been reevaluating myself, my journey, and my identities I roll various words around in my mind, on my tongue, as I think about who I am now. This does change, and has, and it may still change in the future, but it’s important to check in with oneself periodically.
One of the biggest disappointments to me comes from sex positive and kinky people. Regarding getting people’s pronouns wrong, I’ve heard, mostly from people over 40 (usually over 60, if I’m keeping it real) that “it’s too difficult to remember people’s pronouns.” And when, not if, they get them wrong, it’s (either) that they aren’t trying to be malicious, their intentions are good, or that they’re simply reading the person as a certain gender and therefore using the “corresponding” pronoun.
Here’s the thing: That’s not okay.
Especially for those who are in sex positive communities and those with alternative sexual identities, we have to be better.
We have to be at the forefront of this movement. Because here’s the deal: It’s not about YOU. This is about being inclusive and creating spaces where people can be their full, authentic selves. There are so many spaces in this world, especially in the current climate, where folks have to put their guard up because it isn’t safe to be out about their sexuality, gender identity, or expression.
Now, I get it. It takes practice. It takes rewiring our brains. It takes shifting how we think as individuals and as a society. It takes going beyond what we see, stepping outside of our own experience. And if we identify as the gender we were assigned at birth (cisgender) and if we’ve taken for granted that our pronouns traditionally “match” that gender (e.g., assigned male at birth → boy → man → he/him/his pronouns) that think-outside-the-box muscle isn’t well developed. Again, it takes practice. It takes being okay with getting called out or called in from time to time when you fuck up, and getting okay with that squirmy feeling where it sucks to be wrong.
That feeling in your heart or in the pit of your stomach where it hurts and sucks to be wrong, called out, and embarrassed, is but a tiny fraction of what it feels like to constantly be misgendered and not feel acknowledged or seen.
This isn’t meant to have been an exhaustive post, but hopefully gets you to think, consider, and be more mindful generally in your interactions.
Trust me when I say, I don’t get it right 100% of the time. I fuck up. But I am always trying to be better, and listen and learn, and pay attention. If I can do it, you can, too!
3 Small Steps to Begin Shifting How You Think about Pronouns
- When meeting (new) people, in addition to exchanging names, share your pronouns and ask the other people what theirs are. And use them.
- Start to think in terms of gender neutral “they” when you are thinking of people whose gender or pronouns you don’t know.
- If you get someone’s pronoun wrong, and you catch yourself, correct yourself and move on.
- If you get someone’s pronoun wrong and they correct you, bookmark that in your memory, apologize, correct yourself, and move on.
- Do not go into an extended song and dance apology, and definitely don’t complain that it’s difficult or you’re trying your best. That starts to shift the onus onto them, but it’s not their problem. It’s yours. Do better.
A couple articles that inspired me to throw my proverbial hat into the ring
- All Your Questions About Gender-Neutral Pronouns Answered Teen Vogue
- Degendering the Language of Customer Service Barista Magazine
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