Call me 'her': Why pronouns matter: Opinion

For a shift at my job I put up a sign that read "I use female pronouns" as a way to feel more comfortable as customers often call me sir. I was born with a male body, but I identify as female as it's what makes me feel comfortable and happy.

Over the past few years gender has evolved, and our understanding of it needs to catch up

People may prefer pronouns that don't fit with preconceptions of what that gender looks like. (Alice Che/Shutterstock)

For a shift at my job I put up a sign that read "I use female pronouns" as a way to feel more comfortable as customers often call me sir. I was born with a male body, but I identify as female as it's what makes me feel comfortable and happy.

I could see people read the sign and either disregard it, or looked around for an employee more fitting in their minds of their idea of gender. One went so far as to complain to the supervisor about the sign.

This made me feel insecure, and unsafe at my job. The entire experience put into perspective how ignorant and disrespectful people could be, even when the request was non-offensive.

I put up a sign at my work to let people know I use female pronouns. (Nadia Snopek/Shutterstock)

Over the past few years gender has started to evolve past what we were taught when we were kids. While a lot of us have learned to accept these new definitions, many of us have not.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the broader meaning of pronouns and inclusion of "non-binary" pronouns, ones other than he, him, she and her. And from my experience for the most part, Islanders have sadly been less than willing to adapt.

A dangerous reality

People who aren't educated on gender or don't see it as something to worry over might slap the gender they see onto someone, which is where the danger comes into play.

If you call a transgender woman presenting feminine "he" in a populated area, a dangerous person could easily overhear and assault them, whether verbally or physically.

It's important to call people by the pronouns they prefer. (Alice Che/Shutterstock)

While that seems like a rare occurrence it doesn't take much searching to find countless stories of trans people being assaulted.

Worldwide, approximately 71 trans people were murdered in North America between 2008 and 2013, according to the Transgender Murder Monitoring project — a project of Transgender Europe and Liminalis magazine.

According to the Trans PULSE Project, a community-based research project in Ontario, 20 per cent of trans women in Ontario have been sexually abused. All that we can do to stop these actions is to try and educate people as best we can.

Beyond the binary

The best way to do that, is to try to show people this new way of thinking when it comes to current gender norms and hope that they learn to think twice.

Schools could also get involved with teaching students about identity, rather than continuing to teach the two binary genders. When I was going through sex ed, we were only taught man and woman, and men love women. This proved to be very confusing for LGBT kids that were never taught that what they're feeling is normal.

They are, however, updating the curriculum to explore gender more and introduce sexual minorities, which is a step in the right direction.

The hardest part for most people to understand can be non-binary, people that don't like either tag.

Education around gender identity and sexuality could start in schools. (Nadia Snopek/Shutterstock)

People have a harder time grasping it because unlike the male and female, where you can get a basic idea through things such as what a person chooses to wear, you usually have to rely on a non-binary person to tell you to refer to them with their preferred pronoun, usually they and them.

These aren't what people are used to calling a single person, and think it's just used to describe multiple people.

This just isn't the case anymore. Non-binary people assign this to themselves because it's easy to remember and doesn't apply to either binary gender in any fashion.

I've been friends with multiple non-binary people, and all of them have told me similar stories of people either being befuddled at the request to be referred to by they and them or mocked because of it.

Gender now, is more diverse than it ever was and the way people identify with their gender isn't always with what they're assigned with.

It seems Island culture hasn't picked up the evolution of gender, making it difficult for transgender people living on P.E.I. to feel accepted and safe in the place they call home. Trying to change the way people think is the only way we can change that.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Bailey Smith is a writer and student born in Ontario and living in Charlottetown. She is 17.