“It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.” - Anonymous.
I was recently at a book launch of one of Namibia’s phenomenally talented and queer activists Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe, and there was a transgender gentleman there, who was clearly still in the process of trans gendering. When he walked past my friend and I, because he still had feminine resembling features, my friend opted to say, ‘oh, hello sis.’
The gentleman then said, ‘sis is not my pronoun; please refer to me as him/his’. I could see that my friend was a bit lost because she figured this was a woman.
So, I decided to tell her that there is a larger spectrum to identity, sexuality and gender. These are all intersectional terms that would make up who a person not only identifies as but also how an individual would like to be addressed.
Often times, people make the mistake of using the wrong pronoun when addressing someone - but sometimes, people do it deliberately because the argument is, that is not how they were born.
Let me make it clear for you, while educating you. Firstly, it is of paramount importance to understand the importance of pronouns. This is how people from the queer community choose to be identified by other people. So, usually, the biggest misconception when it comes to gender preferred pronouns is the fear of making a mistake and assuming the person is automatically angry.
If your mistake does not come from a place of mockery, then there is usually not anger involved because it is an honest mistake.
Thus, when you do make a mistake, you can apologise and tell them you did not know or you apologise by using the right pronoun.
What you, however, must not do is wallow in guilt and go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. Abeg, do not do it.
It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered to feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job.
It is also just plainly annoying.
Why this is important to note is because a gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is argued to be a pronoun that does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed; you are most likely to make mistakes the first time around. So, correcting yourself and using the right pronoun will show that you respect the individual and their identity because, otherwise, they will feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed and alienated.
We all know how harmful words can be. Words are powerful language tools that help us convey meaning and connect. We use words to communicate, characterise, and describe everything around us.
Nothing may be more personal than the words people use to refer to us through our names and pronouns.
Thus, be kind. Educate yourself on the different types of pronouns and the ones people prefer.
• Frieda Mukufa’s lifestyle section concentrates on women-related issues and parenting every Friday in the New Era newspaper. She also specialises in editing research proposals, proofreading as well as content creation.