In the first blog, we discussed why it is so important to welcome people with the fullness of who they are, what that means and how to do it. In this blog we’ll talk about why an informed approach to names and pronouns is actually a safety issue, and we’ll also address the question of how you should handle it if you make a mistake.
If we are asking people to name themselves and share their pronouns it is important to make sure that we are also creating a safe space to do so. Some people may not be out about their gender identity to everyone in their life and be using a name and set of pronouns at work, school, or with family, and another name and set of pronouns in their friendships and other intimate relationships. If someone discloses to you that they use a name and set of pronouns that are different from what they use in the space you share with them, it is important to respect this choice as one they are making for their safety and well-being. It may take some time to get used to using a name and pronouns for a person in one space and different ones in another space but making a sincere and committed effort is the work required to make spaces safer and more inclusive.
How are you and the people you host spaces with addressing these safety issues? How are you educating yourself on issues surrounding two-spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming identities? Doing online research, reading articles and books written by two-spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming authors, and bringing in facilitators for professional development and other kinds of education sessions are great first steps.
If you use an incorrect name or pronoun for someone by mistake there are ways to course correct, make it right, and go forward with more mindfulness and respect. If you make a mistake, correct yourself and move the conversation on. Over-apologizing and focusing on the error can put the person who has been incorrectly identified in the spotlight and make them feel like they have to tend to your feelings. If someone else makes a mistake with the name or pronoun of someone you know, correct them. The more this work is done by others, the easier it is for people to live as themselves without having to manage how others address them. While good intentions do not erase the ability for us to harm people, the difference between someone learning and doing their best to refer to people respectfully and correctly, and someone who doesn’t care and who instead allows their own assumptions of others to guide their actions is palpable. Again, as we strive to refine our language habits we need to be equally diligent in expanding our views and frameworks on gender as a whole. Rejecting binaries, understanding that people can understand and name their own gender on their own terms, taking the time to educate ourselves and practice what we learn, and speaking out against transphobia when we see it, are keys to more welcoming and inclusive spaces for people of all genders.
Read the first blog published on Nov. 9 in its entirety.