Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
When our communications manager asked if someone on staff would write a blog post in honor of International Pronouns Day, I jumped at the opportunity. My pronouns are so important to me and I wanted a platform to share WHY!
And then, when I sat at my computer, I realized I was stumped. How do I convey the importance of using the correct pronouns in a way that makes sense and resonates?
I started to write a post that was pretty negative; pointing out the humiliation and sheer terror I feel when folks mispronoun me, especially in a public or professional setting. But I figured this was too negative for the blog.
So I opened a new word document and started writing about the euphoria I feel when someone uses my correct pronouns; how I feel seen, validated and respected. I then searched synonyms for ‘euphoria’ and listed those. And that all felt too forced.
So here we are.
I’m a genderqueer, trans person trying to find the words to convey the importance of using someone’s chosen pronouns. And oh, how important it is. But I’m having trouble.
You might wonder, why is this a big deal?
Well, ever wonder what it feels like to be misgendered?
Close your eyes for a moment (after you’ve read the scenario unless you can read with your eyes closed). Imagine how many times throughout the day someone refers to you by your pronouns or your honorific (Ms, Mr, Mrs, Ma’am, Sir, etc). At work, at school, at the airport, while you’re commuting, shopping, at a restaurant or coffee shop, the doctor’s office. Literally anywhere where that you interact with people.
Now imagine during each of these interactions; the wrong set of pronouns or honorifics are used for you. Imagine giving that information upfront, advocating for yourself, and someone still not respecting what you’ve asked for.
This is what it feels like to be erased and to be ignored for you who are.
And let’s take this one step further. Imagine you’re at a really important meeting or conference with a client and because of the way the day is set up, many introductions must take place. You’re meeting a lot of important people and your job and reputation depend on these meetings. The day ends with you as the keynote speaker and you’re going to be introduced in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.
“We’d like to welcome Dubbs Weinblatt, Keshet’s Associate Director of Education and Training. We’re so honored she could join us here tonight to share with us her story and to teach us what it means to be an ally to the LGBTQ community”
A warm feeling of shame and embarrassment washes over me. I gave him my bio with my correct pronouns and still, I was misgendered in front of a large room full of people, eager to learn how to be allies to the LGBTQ community.
I now have to take the mic and, in a split second, decide the best course of action. And this is on top of already feeling the pain and humiliation of being misgendered in front of a large group of people.
I have to decide in that moment whether or not I correct this person for using the wrong pronouns. Do I use this as a teachable moment, and in doing that potentially embarrass the host who is also an important strategic partner? Do I gloss over it and continue on with my content? Do I explain that using someone’s pronouns they declared to you IS being an ally? What’s the most professional move? What will help me move through this moment and stay connected to my work and the reason I’m there in the first place?
By the time I’ve decided what to do, I’m exhausted and I’m fighting to stay present with my work. Luckily (really, unluckily) this happens so often, I’ve learned how to navigate these moments effectively and can quickly move on.
And listen, different folks react to being misgendered in different ways. Some people are able to let it slide and move on without paying much mind to it. Other folks, like me, have a really hard time with it because it feels like the essence of who I am is being negated, ignored and disrespected; even if the person misgendering me didn’t do it on purpose.
What I want you to walk away with is this: it’s so important to use someone’s correct pronouns. It is euphoric, validating and it is an extremely important sign of respect. Mistakes happen, of course, and that’s okay, but you have to try.
If someone tells you what their pronouns are, use them. Full stop.
For more information on pronoun usage, check out Keshet’s resource library at: https://www.keshetonline.org/resources-and-events/
We also suggest this resource, “What’s in a Pronoun?”