I generally don’t use YouTube as a focal point of think pieces, but the video I just watched is so eye-opening that I had to jot down my thoughts.
It’s a three minute Youtube video posted by Cut Vid, a channel reminiscent of an indie Buzzfeed – less revered, more refined. In the video, a group of transgender people talk about what pronouns mean to them. They start with one word–“identity,””choice,” “liberty,” then elaborate with some pretty amazing analyses. The group is as diverse as it gets, with Caucasians, AAs, Latinos, and Asians of all ages. The answers drown in a storm of emotions, some in pain and disillusionment, others defiance and pride.
The two responses that carved the deepest impressions on my mind are from two middle-aged, white transgender women. In a coarse, masculine voice, the first said she see pronouns as a vocal validation of her identity and, more importantly, a symbol of sovereignty.
“If anything I’d be more hung-up on the need some people feel to attach ‘preferred,'” she says. “My pronouns are not preferred. They just are. My gender is not a desire that I have or a wish or something. It’s who I am. It’s just part of me.”
That response raises an issue, a question, we unconsciously dismiss: why are pronouns, a part of speech exclusively associated with sexuality and identity, regarded as a preference rather than a force of nature when we talk to or about transgender people? Why is it that, as a society that has grown so much scientifically, politically, and socially, we still see transsexuality as the revolting exchange of sex organs rather than a displaced soul’s yearning for a body, a home, it can never have? Preference implies choice. And with regard to sexuality, either assigned by birth or brain, there isn’t one.
Another response that grabbed me was the closing one. “You better get them right,” is how she sees pronouns. Yet the importance of pronouns rests not in sight but in respect.
“What’s more important: how you see me, or respecting how I see me?”
To the cis population, pronouns only take an offensive turn when someone identifies us in a different way from the way society does. That’s confusing, isn’t it? Think of it this way: you look, talk, act like a dude, you’ve been referred to as a “he” and a “him” your whole life, then this asshole comes along and calls you a “stupid bitch” because, I don’t know, you refused to spilt coffee on his shirt or something. That’s offensive to you because, what the fuck, you look nothing like a “female dog,” right? Maybe that’s a bad example, but my point is that cis people like me never had to deal with two perceptions of one identity. Society and I use the same lens when when looking at me. You’d never ask a cis person, “Do you prefer to be a ‘she’ or a ‘he’ today?” Because you know there can only be one answer, right? But what happens when the body you’re born into and the body you want to be born into fight for dominance in the mapping of your identity? What if both voices are legitimate in the eyes of society? You need pronouns to settle that conflict.
The disparity in the significance of pronouns between the cis and trans communities underscores the, perhaps unconscious, linguistic privilege we have developed as the prevalent gender identity. We don’t realize, having been fortunate enough to be born in a body we belong to, just how liberating and validating a simple part of speech can be.
Pronouns radiate a sense of selfhood and certainty for a group of people that knows none. When identity and appearance clash and struggle, pronouns are the torch that melts them from antonyms into synonyms, reins into wings.