Gender Questions: Have They Ever Changed!
What's Your Pronoun?
"So what's your preferred pronoun?"
The question felt very strange in my mouth, though I've become quite a bit more comfortable in asking it lately. Over the years, I've come to realize that there are an increasing number of students who are embracing just how fluid gender can be, and I'm also realizing just how insensitive so many of us are when it comes to how we view gender.
Even tonight, a young lad that my kids know grinned when he saw me with my oldest and said, "A mother son experience."
It is something he has referred to, in different words, over the months he has known my oldest. The kid would have been right were it not for the fact that I gave birth to two daughters, and while my oldest daughter appeared to let the matter slide off her shoulders, I know comments where she is referred to as a boy have bothered her greatly in the past.
"Why are people so narrow minded, Mom?"
Good question, and there are never any easy answers, though there are tons of possible responses, just as there are to the preferred pronoun question. When kids are little, they tend to associate short hair with boys and long hair with girls. We are a very visual species, us humans, so in order to understand the world around us, we look to obvious indicators to determine where people fit.
Therein lies the problem. We are so used to gender being a very binary construct - you are either a man, or a woman, and that's it - that we have a hard time swallowing the idea of there being the potential for more than one gender. It's the training - boys wear blue, girls wear pink (though it was the opposite in the early 1900s; it didn't work that well, so the switch was made), and we don't know what to do with you if you fit into a different box.
Small wonder that those who identify along the LGBT spectrum struggle greatly with mental health. Something as simple but highly complex as acknowledging someone's preferred gender could go a long way to helping ensure that the person in question feels secure and safe to be who they truly are, despite how (un)comfortable their personal closets are.
The sad fact is, the teen years are challenging enough, and when you also are trying to determine your sexual orientation or your gender, the odds are very much stacked against you. According to Egale Canada, LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2009). In addition, teenagers who have been rejected by their families for being gay are over 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who identify as straight (Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009).
I didn't understand notions of gender pronouns except as I taught English and looked at how the gender pronoun fit in whatever sentence I was discussing at the time. However, English doesn't work quite as neatly as it should, so I shudder whenever I have to use the "they" pronoun whenever I have to talk about one person who uses "they" as their preferred pronoun.
Say what you will about the "what's your preferred pronoun?" question; if it is something that will help students feel a little more like they are being accepted for who they are, then it's time that we as adults and those who really want to make the world more accepting extend a little more of an olive branch to those in the LGBT community who identify as being somewhere along that spectrum. Maybe it's time we embrace that gender pronoun question and that will get the conversation going.