UW climate survey underscores need to use proper pronouns

More work needs to be done so that trans students feel accepted.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

The 2016 Campus Climate Survey found that only 35 percent of trans students felt welcome on campus. Trans students are also more likely to be the target of hate or bias incidences. We need to do better.

Even the simple act of introducing yourself can be a challenge for transgender students. Informing peers of your pronouns often means coming out to complete strangers on a regular basis, and enduring those uncomfortable conversations only to have your pronouns ignored anyway is a uniquely frustrating experience.

If you don’t experience being misgendered, imagine this: you meet someone for the first time and tell them your name is John. They say, “Nice to meet you, John! I totally respect that your name is John, but I think you look like a Jane. I’ll work on it, but I’ll probably mess up a lot.” They continue to call you the wrong name, assure you that they’re trying and expect you to be okay with it. For many trans students, especially non-binary students, this is the reality of interacting with most people every day.

Being called the wrong name and being misgendered are not exactly the same thing, but the point of the example is that you would likely not do it to someone or allow someone to do it to you. After learning someone’s pronouns, misgendering them is just as absurd and inappropriate as calling someone a name you think suits them better. Being misgendered contributes to social dysphoria, the discomfort of being perceived and addressed incorrectly, that many transgender people deal with every day.

The effects of dysphoria can be seen in the startling mental health statistics studies are finding. This 2013 study found that 51.4 percent of transgender women and 48.3 percent of transgender men deal with depression, compared to 16.6 percent of the total US population. Furthermore, a 2014 survey found that 41 percent of transgender Americans attempted suicide, almost nine times higher than cisgender Americans. Using the wrong pronouns actively hurts your trans peers, and it has a simple solution: education.

Generally, there are three common scenarios that can lead to a difficult situation for all parties involved. The first being an accident, wherein someone incorrectly refers to another person when they already know the correct pronouns and usually get them right. The best response for this person is simply to apologize and move on.

The next one is when someone repeatedly uses incorrect pronouns and has no malintent, but at the same time is not putting effort into correcting their mistakes. It is best for this person to consider the effects of their disregard for someone else’s identity and practice using the correct pronouns.

The most harmful is one where someone is purposely using incorrect pronouns with malicious intentions. Generally, this is uncommon, but ignorance like this does exist everywhere. Although these situations are all different, they all occur quite frequently and are all harmful to the individual being misgendered.

On college campuses where education is everywhere you turn, it is vital that we take learning out of the classroom and grow as people too. Educating yourself on interacting with people and respecting others is key to life beyond college. Working towards respecting one another should be a goal that we are constantly striving towards. One of the simplest ways to do this is to listen to trans people and respect their pronouns.

If you want to learn more about respecting your trans peers, the ASM Equity and Inclusion Committee is holding a Pronoun Workshop on Thursday, Nov. 16, from 7-8 p.m. in L196 Education Building.

What are your reactions to the climate survey? Have you had experience with someone using wrong pronouns? Please send any and all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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