What if someone insisted on calling you by the wrong name? Day after day, after repeated corrections, they insisted on calling you by a name they think is better suited to you. It begins to affect your sense of self, your self-worth, and your interactions with others, who may take this person’s side over yours. What right do they have to choose who you are? Who knows yourself better than you?
While there has been more support for lesbian and gay individuals in recent months, there has also been less support, and even negative attention paid to those who do not fit into the gay or straight categories. Erasure happens to bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and transgender people on a regular basis, and sadly, this is often coupled with harassment and even abuse.
Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death highlighted the danger transgender individuals live in, and many must keep themselves hidden to survive. There’s not much support, not even from family, leading several transgender individuals either to seek out support from other sources, or to spiral into believing they will never be accepted, and many take their own lives, just as Leelah did.
It’s heart-breaking, this loss of life. These individuals are courageous, daring to be themselves in a world that shuns anyone who doesn’t conform. Those who survive are often catalysts for change, and should be recognized for their efforts and their determination.
Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on Orange Is The New Black, is one such leader in the fight for transgender rights. She has the opportunity of playing a transgender character, and being transgender herself, lends stark truth to the role as we see her struggle with family issues, health issues, and acceptance from every single person she meets.
While Ms. Cox does receive support from the general media, I wonder if she would have received as much had we known her before her surgery. Look at how people like Bruce Jenner or John (previously Shiloh) Jolie-Pitt are treated pre-surgery.
Bruce Jenner, who has not shared her new name, will be transitioning this summer, and will speak about the process later this month with Diane Sawyer. Articles are popping up all over the place, writing about “his process to become a woman” when, really, Bruce has had to hide herself for years and is just now able to come out as who she really has been this entire time.
John Jolie-Pitt, with the support of their* wonderful parents, is able to be open at an earlier age and will hopefully have less of a difficulty with acceptance, although at this point, tabloids everywhere are questioning the Jolie-Pitt parents (“Should They Let Shiloh Dress As A Boy?”), insisting on using John’s birth name, despite their plea to be called John, and generally bullying both John and their parents..
The thing is, we don’t get an opinion about their pronouns or names. These individuals’ identities are not up for discussion.
If you know someone who is transgender, and you slip up and use their old name, apologize and let them know you will endeavor to call them by the right name. If in doubt about their pronouns, ask. Don’t assume, and try your best. Support them. They need to know that they are accepted, regardless of whether they are on hormones, decide to forgo surgery, or don’t have the capability of doing anything other than wearing outfits that make them feel more like themselves.
This of course extends to people who reside outside the supposed gender binary as well — agender, genderfluid, neutrois, genderflux, bi-gender, and etc.
We should respect our fellow human beings enough to use their correct names and pronouns. There’s no such thing as “preferred” pronouns. Use the correct ones, and say their names.
*John Jolie-Pitt has not publicly chosen pronouns or affirmed that they are transgender, but the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their have been used out of respect for John. Whether or not John is transgender, or simply chose a name often used for cisgender males, it’s not really any of our business. All we should do is support their decision to be called John in lieu of their birthname.Image Credits: Bravo