My 2 Cents On Pronouns



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.


I Kid You Not

Daily Prompts

Dictionary, Shmictionary

Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).

Infamous. I used that word wrongly for years. I grouped the famous-infamous combo with the valuable-invaluable combo, with –in meaning “more so” with a positive connotation. Never did it occur to me that “infamous” worked in the same way as “insurmountable” or “insignificant” or “insufficient.” So I’d foolishly describe Roger Federer as an “infamous” tennis player and T.S Elliot as an “infamous” poet. Sometimes I’d get it right by luck: “Hitler was an infamous leader.” Anyway, my teachers never called me out on it. I don’t know if they thought it was cute or if they just skimmed my papers, but silly little me “infamously” kept using “infamous” incorrectly until fucking SOPHOMORE YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. I still remember the shock and humiliation that dawned on me like a thunder-cloud when I saw my teacher’s comment on my midterm paper: “That’s not what infamous means!! Infamous means notorious. Infamous is BAD!!” In that moment I felt like my whole fucking life had been a lie. Okay, slightly over-dramatic, but you have to understand: writing was (is) the only thing that I’ve ever considered myself decent at, and to be told that I’d been misusing such a simple word for fifteen years almost killed me. I kid you not. Even now, four years later, that word still gives me the jitters. I use notorious in its place just to avoid the bad memories.

So that’s my confession. Another word I used wrongly is “appraisal.” I took it to mean “worth praising” rather than “the act of assessing something.” Sigh, maybe I should reconsider being a journalist after all.