Pronouns are not optional

Misgendering is never justified, but neither is refusing to take a stand against it

Girl holding she/they name tag

Melaney Noguera

Everyone must be conscious of and accept each others’ pronoun.

To some, my lumberjack flannel, slim-fit khakis, and two-tone blue Vans are the epitome of every cisgender teen boy’s appearance. For that reason, nearly everyone instinctively refers to me as “he” and “him”– and they would be correct in doing so. 

Up until the beginning of last year, I took my gender identity for granted. It is something I have never had to seriously consider before. I have had the privilege of always feeling comfortable in my own body – which is a feeling not everyone is so lucky to have.

When filling out forms or other information-requiring documents that prompt me to write down my gender, I never have any second thoughts. I have never had to experience that constant voice in my head, making me doubt whether or not I am valid. But most importantly, I have never had anyone else invalidate my own identity.

Misgendering, which is the act of referring to a person or using terms to describe someone that does not align with their affirmed gender, is a particularly serious issue in the transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming communities. This includes, but is not limited to, using incorrect pronouns or gendered terms such as “male,” “female,” “man,” or “woman.”

Although Acalanes High School is typically known as an all-inclusive, progressive campus, the number of times I hear students and staff members misgender classmates each day proves that reputation is false. Even though I’m not the one that constantly has to face this lack of acceptance, as someone that tries their best to sympathize with others, the pain I feel every time I observe it occur only grows greater with each instance. 

Misgendering is never justified, but neither is refusing to take a stand against it or not actively correcting others and yourself.

What many fail to realize about misgendering is that just because it is accidental does not mean that it is any less damaging or hurtful. No matter the intentions, any instance of misgendering, even the slightest of slip-ups, can hurt someone just as much, if not more, than if it were intentional. 

I’ve been involved in many conversations in which people have tried to convince me that they should be allowed to misgender others solely because using “they” in a singular fashion is grammatically incorrect. This age-old argument that a singular “they” has never existed in the English language is commonly referenced as an excuse to ignore others’ pronouns. But, according to linguists studying gender and pronouns, the use of “they” and “them” in reference to an individual is increasingly becoming accepted and is already widely considered by linguists to be legitimate. 

As a newspaper editor, I am incredibly picky when it comes to grammar. Because of that, it has taken time and effort for me to become accustomed to using the singular “they” to address people that I personally know. But, I acknowledged that it is far more important to affirm other people’s identities and make them feel accepted than to complain about awkward-sounding – yet nonetheless correct – sentences.  

It is not anyone’s responsibility to clarify their pronouns prior to engaging in conversation. Rather, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they are not misgendering other people. In order to do so, initially using non-gendered terms is the best way to prevent oneself from using incorrect pronouns.

It is also incredibly important not to make assumptions about other people’s gender identities based on their gender expressions. Men don’t need to dress masculinely; women don’t need to dress femininely, and, most importantly, non-binary and gender non-conforming people don’t need to dress androgynously. 

It is not other people’s responsibility to make guessing their gender easier. Instead, it is everyone’s responsibility to not make assumptions and respect each other and others’ identities.

To create a safer and more inclusive community for all non-binary and gender non-conforming students here at Acalanes, every person must be committed to accepting and affirming the gender identities and pronouns of others.