Transmissions: It's not all about pronouns

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday August 24, 2022
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

I've long had a complicated relationship with pronouns.

I really love that the question of proper pronoun use has become more entrenched, at least in so many of the places I frequent. While I'd hardly call it wholly commonplace, I see more and more places that are offering up a place for declaring and/or asking about pronouns.

For many years, I'll admit, I've gritted my teeth about it a bit. I've been in one too many situations where asking me my pronouns is a way to single me out and treat me as something different. I might be the only person expected to offer up my preferences, with the non-transgender people around me expecting everyone to just know what they use.

My feelings have softened. I've been seeing more and more times where it is the non-transgender making a point to share their pronouns, without this sense that it is a chore to them. So many of the applications I find myself using in the workplace, for example, have default spaces for pronouns, as if sharing them is just simply expected. It's oddly refreshing. My teeth get to remain un-gritted now.

Nevertheless, there's still something that doesn't sit right: it's not the pronouns themselves, nor is it the practice of asking them. Those are fine. It's more how this sharing of pronouns seems to serve as the lowest common denominator of trans acceptance but is, so often, treated as the pinnacle of allyship.

That can be a problem.

We're in the midst of the biggest backlash against trans rights to date. Our health care is being threatened, both by lawmakers and by right-wing vigilantes. Children — trans and otherwise — are being subjected to intrusive background checks and potential genital inspections. Our liberties and livelihoods are under constant threat. More than two-dozen people — that we know of — have been killed in the United States thus far this year due to anti-transgender violence.

These are big, top-drawer issues and not ones that are going to quickly go away. The mainstream media is all too happy to stoke fears of transgender people, and our very existence appears to be on the ballot in both the 2022 midterm and the 2024 presidential elections.

We're living in a time when transgender people and their families are leaving their homes and migrating to an ever-dwindling number of safe states. Meanwhile, troll Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican Georgia congressmember, has filed one of the more draconian bills in what would amount to a federal ban on transgender people. Sure, it has no chance of passing in the current Congress, but this is not future proof.

I don't say any of this lightly, but transgender people are facing no less than an existential threat.

I love to have my pronouns respected and, as I mentioned above, it's great to see that asking people what pronouns they prefer has become more commonplace. Still, will that matter if the only place left for my pronouns is my headstone?

As a slight aside, too: As part of this culture war on trans existence, there are plenty on the right who have started to zero in on pronouns. They, too, want you to focus on pronoun use while they strip transgender people of our inalienable rights.

Consider Florida Republican congressional candidate Lavern Spicer. She recently tweeted the erroneous and ridiculous statement that there weren't any pronouns in the Bible, nor were there any in the Constitution. These are either ignorant statements made by uninformed people or, more likely, those such as Spicer know exactly what they're doing and just attempting to gain attention, no matter how wrong the information.

I should also note that I used incorrect pronouns for Spicer above, as she also stated via Twitter that her pronouns are "sit your dumb ass down" and "shut up about this foolishness." My apologies, but also I have no regrets.

You'll find hundreds more like Spicer, however, laser-focused on how we shouldn't be so worked up about pronouns, while themselves are getting pretty worked up about pronouns. I'm never quite sure how many of them are doing such simply to sidestep an issue of basic decency, and how many are genuinely working themselves up to a froth over a simple grammatical term. I mean, I saw how they got about Mr. Potato Head when Hasbro said last year it would drop the Mr. from the overall logo but had to clarify that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head would still be available.

What I do know is that for everyone that I see saying that pronouns need to be eliminated, you can only truly understand what they mean by replacing the word "pronouns" with the phrase "transgender people" in that phrase.

That is, truly, why this isn't about pronouns.

Right now, we need people who are willing to speak out and tell the truth about trans lives. We who are trans are very tired of the battle right now and need to be reinforced. What's more, many of those who stand against us — as well as a sizable amount of those who might be willing to listen — are not going to take the word of a transgender person.

They will view us as biased long before they will assume the same of a non-transgender person, even those who have a clear interest in eliminating transgender people as a whole.

In a time of increased attacks on transgender people, we need everyone we can to push back on the disingenuous and false narratives currently dominating the discussion. We're not here to harm others, to replace anyone, to assault your wives and daughters. We are here simply to enjoy the same rights as any non-transgender person shares. Like allowing us to have our own pronouns — but yet so much more.

So, I appreciate you sharing your pronouns, but please understand: it is the first step, not the last.

Gwen Smith's pronouns are she and her. You'll find her at

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