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Inclusive Pronouns: The First Step Towards Acceptance?


O P I N I O N


Mehnaz Roshni


Even as the most widely spoken language in the world, English pronouns are still limited to referring to male or female as ‘he’ or ‘she’. However, some people identify as neither of those sexualities or even both. As a result, neutral and preferred gender pronouns are added to express their identity. 

For example, Kit Wilson, an interviewee for BBC, chooses to use ‘they/them’ pronoun during conversation along with peers. It is done so that others would get the memo of referring as ‘they’ instead of ‘she’ or ‘he’ for them. Upon asking the reason behind it, Kit replied to BBC in an article titled Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns:

“Neither end of the [male/female] spectrum is a suitable way of expressing the gender I am. Sometimes I feel ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ at the same time, and other times I reject the two terms entirely.”

Although change is visible in every sector to bring unity, the negligence of such matters still prevail. Mispronouncing pronouns have been profoundly normalised to the point where we cannot fathom the idea of re-educating ourselves with few basic pronouns that might have helped people of the LGBTQ+ community in different sectors.

The most widely used pronoun spectrum, restricted to he/she, was modified to include “they” as the singular, gender-neutral pronoun by the American Dialect Society in 2015, where “they” is used as a neutral pronoun or as a filler pronoun for situations where the gender identity is yet unknown. Even after this, when misgendering occurs on the internet mostly, it is in our moral obligation to unlearn such practices. Caitlin Dewey, an American journalism and cultural commentator, stated,

“Misgendering, as this practice is known is the LGBT community, isn’t just a style error in violation of AP’s own rules — it’s a stubborn, long-time hurdle to transgender acceptance and equality, a fundamental refusal to afford those people even basic grammatical dignity. 

When we intentionally or unintentionally ignore the gender-expansive pronouns, it initiates the fact of refusing to accept the existence of non-gender people or any non-binary human being. As a result, ‘this slight error’ becomes a vulnerable topic for some. It is important to note that mispronouncing pronouns is very common with neutral names along with physical attributes. However, when the same happens in a gender diverse community, such mistakes are deemed as potential alerts since non-binary people have had long battles to introduce this pronouns as a part of their identity in the first place.  

As Alex Stitt states in article titled Pronoun Diversity,

Transgender and non binary people have existed before, so did gender neutral pronouns. However, since the language is constantly evolving, it is foremost to understand the  significance behind it. Correcting our pronouns is important because it allows people with an identity that could make them feel included and respected.” 

Regarding the importance of lexical pronouns in language, an article titled She? Ze? They? What’s in a Gender Pronoun, published by NY Times, explains how gender pronouns are an attempt to solve the confusion about referring to someone who is not identified as a male or female or both. 

Many transgender people are entering into the workplaces and institutions with “genderqueer”, “gender-fluid”, or “non-binary” identities instead of binary genders that we are accustomed to. To create a work environment in which nobody feels obliged to feel under pressure and to express oneself freely, gender pronouns are necessary. As an individual, there’s always room for improvement to enlighten oneself of such responsibility in order to bring a more comprehensive outlook. Given if one does so unintentionally it is better to simply apologise and to do better onwards.

How can we help? Well, by making an inclusive environment for one. If we normalise adding the ‘they/them/theirs/ze’ pronoun along with the traditional ones, this will make things easier. As a result, a person who was not comfortable before does not need to hide any longer on false pronouns and can choose their identity accordingly.

Now, how do these exceptional pronouns work? Well, different people like to choose self-ascribed pronouns for themselves in which they feel comfortable to communicate. For example, if person X wants one to use they/them pronoun in particular, one doesn’t get to choose to call that particular person with any other pronouns. In most cases, the safest and most friendly option is to just ask them politely. It is very important to note that one’s gender and identity are very significant and some gender expansive people are still struggling to identify their sexuality to this day. So any form of derision to make them uncomfortable in their skin can cause social insecurity and trauma which will be counted as a serious act of bullying.

From a global perspective, correcting pronouns has been perceived positively. With social media coverage on the vulnerable side of the LGBTQ+ community, people are understanding the need for changes in the system that includes the rights of everyone equally.

On the other hand, from the Bangladeshi perspective, this might be a huge step considering the non-binary gender population of our society are still closeted due to social norms and family pressure. For example, in a research paper titled The Rights of Hijras in Bangladesh, it was noted that even with the presence of national identification option as third gender identity, a “hijra” citizen had to identify themselves as ‘X Hijra’ in their national identification card, i.e. use Hijra after their names. However, the Bangladesh government has included a third gender category on passports since 2011, along with granting third gender status from 2013.

However, Bangladesh does not have any anti-discriminatory law to protect sexual minorities, which leads to sexual exploitation in the workplace and persecution in medical facilities. Such maltreatment can be avoided if not stopped by firstly correcting their identity itself. In other words, constitutional recognition must be established along with protection for these communities. Added with slots for non-binary gender or transgender category must be introduced in public/private institutions and forms to gather the information and pronouns accordingly.

In the research paper The Rights of Hijras in Bangladesh, when asked, most of the respondents claimed they are not interested in labelling themselves among the many terms as gender-neutral or gender fluid. According to them, the term ‘hijra’ is not derogatory as few claim it to be. Adding the society is only interested in labelling them according to their (society) perspectives instead of just hearing them out.

Furthermore, gender expansive pronouns can be introduced from the elementary level in school and institutions. However, the debate of highlighting neutralisation pronouns in children’s books is a very sensitive topic to bring to the table. A similar debate sparked in Sweden when a children book was published with the ‘hen’ pronoun instead of the generic pronoun she (hon) or he (han) in 2012. 

The majority were against the change, claiming children, upon learning such non-gendered pronouns, would not only be disoriented with their sexuality, but also reject the virtue of binary (being either male or female) gender. On the other hand, the author argued, since children are greatly influenced by gender, such gender pronouns would advance their ability to visualise irrespective of boundaries such as gender. 

Since such discussions are still considered taboo, correcting one’s pronouns can be the first step of acknowledgement in a conventional society like ours. The prospect of correcting these pronouns means a sense of accomplishment. The idea of referring to a person based on what they want to refer to gives a sense of freedom and acceptance that everyone deserves.

 

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