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Pronouns

You have probably heard a thing or two about pronouns beyond primary school English class! Pronouns are often gendered ways of referring to somebody, and the most commonly used gendered pronouns are they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, and he/him/his (eg: There is somebody at reception, could your please see who they are and make sure their details are up to date?)

For trans and gender diverse people, referring to us by the correct pronouns can be deeply validating, can make us feel cared for, and helps us to feel safe around you. Referring to us by the wrong pronouns can lead to us feeling distressed, invalidated, and shut down, regardless of if it's an accident or not.

We live in a deeply gendered society, and so many of us subconsciously see people as one of two genders, and find it hard to shift that in our language. Making that shift is powerful in creating safe spaces for the trans and gender diverse people in your life.

Creating safety

We know that words can hurt sometimes, whether we mean them to or not. Similarly, what we say can create a safe space. Using correct pronouns and gendered language can help trans and gender diverse people feel safer.

Dysphoria

A number of trans and gender diverse people experience gender dysphoria; a feeling of deep distress and dissociation that occurs when the way they, or others see their gender is not congruent with their actual, self defined gender.

Violence

Trans and gender diverse people are far more likely to experience discrimination, violence, and abuse than cisgender people (people who aren't trans). For many of us, we are not sure when or if a misperception could turn into something more confrontational or violent. Misgendering and using incorrect pronouns can raise our alert levels to be on the look out for behaviours that could become worse.

validation

Because of this, using or asking for our correct pronouns can mean a lot to trans and gender diverse people. It can help us feel validated, seen, and worthwhile. As a result, we are more likely to feel safe around you, and trust you.

Shifting your language

Some people find it harder than others to change their language from what we are told is "normal". This doesn't make you bad, it just means you might have to work a little harder...at least to start with.

quickly correct yourself and move on.

It's best not to make a big deal about it, even if you feel awful for misgendering someone. It's best to:

Apologise

Correct yourself

Continue on

Practice makes perfect

Alternatively, fake it til you make it! You can practice in the mirror, or with another friend who is not trans. Find ways of speaking about your trans friend/student/colleague/family member: "I'm so glad Ash is coming over for Christmas sh...I mean, they always bring thoughtful gifts, and it's been a while since I've seen them since they moved in with their partner in Melbourne."

Create a signal

Again, working with someone in your life who is preferably not trans, ask them to create a funny, or subtle, or maybe even extreme reaction when you misgender the trans person in your life! You could ask them to blast an air horn, pull a funny face, tap their nose...whatever works for you to make the change you want to make!

Do your research

It's best not to rely on the trans person in your life to give you all the answers about all things trans! Many of us have to do this everyday and it can be exhausting.

Speak to a counsellor who is well versed in LGBTIQA+ issues, google things like "pronouns", and "how not to misgender". You can watch shows like "You Can't Ask That" on ABC iView, or read books like "The Pronoun Lowdown" by Nevo Zisin. You could even enrol in an LGBTIQA+ inclusive practice, or "101" education session.

Open your mind

While we was just saying to not rely on the trans person in your trans teacher, depending on your relationship with them, you can ask them some questions.

Be mindful of your intention: if you are seeking to understand WHO they are, you are probably on the right track. If you are wanting to know WHAT they are, you might be on the wrong path.

Some starter questions to get to know what trans means to the person in your life could be:

"What does that mean to you?"

"How can I best support you in this?"

"Where can I speak openly about this, and where would you prefer I didn't speak about your gender?

Do it your way

The most meaningful, safety building gestures can be those that are "so you"!
 

For example, you could be the doting Aunty that loves to give your relatives cologne or perfume for Christmas. You could give your now-neice perfume, instead of the cologne you used to get.

You may like to start your work meetings with "Ladies and Gentlemen", and one of your staff has come out as non-binary (often called "enby"). You could change it to "Enbies, Ladies, and Gentlemen", or "Distinguished staff".

Or it could even be practicing saying "hey bro" instead of your usual "hey sis".

You won't do it perfectly

...and that's ok! If you would like to take some further steps to let the trans and gender diverse people in your life know that they matter, please get in touch!

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