C/O Jessica Yang

As understanding of gender increases, nonbinary folks must learn to navigate more than just being misgendered 

By: Roya Motazedian, Contributor 

Although gender-neutral pronouns have been recognized historically, awareness of pronouns and the many different gender identities has only started to grow substantially recently. Authors from centuries ago, including Jane Austen, 18th century author of Pride and Prejudice, were using they/them pronouns in their work. With that said, if the gender-neutral phenomenon is not a recent one, why is it still so hard to exist as a gender-neutral person? I have realized it is because, while the general population is more aware, it is still not completely educated nor has it properly listened to the voices of 2SLGBTQIA+ folks to fully understand their stories. 

I use they/them pronouns and in all honesty, do not expect anyone to remember. If anyone misgenders me, I just brush it off and move on. However, the way I think and feel is not representative of everyone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. Some people prefer to correct the person who has misgendered them. However, I have a feeling that we — those who use gender-neutral pronouns — all share a unifying discomfort when faced with the long, apologetic rambles we are met with when we are misgendered. 

At my friend’s birthday party this past December in which most people were drunk and everyone was trying to catch up with one another, my friends were quick to apologize each time they used the wrong pronouns as they spoke with me. However, their apologies dragged on and I felt increasingly uncomfortable. They were clearly drunk and I blamed the way they apologized on that, but one of my friends actually said something that greatly comforted me. 

“Being drunk is not an excuse for me to forget the pronouns you use,” she said. 

She was right, I knew she was, but making a scene out of the way she had misgendered me was worsening things. To apologize excessively to the misgendered person is to relieve yourself of the guilt you have. What else do we, the misgendered persons, have to say in response to your apology then but, “It’s okay. You’re forgiven.”? 

The reality is these rambling apologies don’t just happen in drunk environments. After being misgendered in my tutorial once, which I can assure you is not a drunken environment, my classmate chased after me once the tutorial ended just to apologize. I was touched, truly, but I was also incredibly uncomfortable. Her apology just wouldn’t stop and to end it, I told her it was fine. I told her it did not matter, even though it did. 

Then, if apologizing is the wrong thing to do, how should one act when they misgender someone? 

Actually, apologizing is most definitely correct. However, it doesn’t have to be so long-winded. If you pick up on it while you are still talking, then an immediate and quick “I’m sorry” is more than enough.

Apologize, correct yourself by repeating the sentence with the correct pronouns and then move on. In this way, you are avoiding making a spectacle of both misgendering someone and the misgendered person. Folks who use gender-neutral pronouns do not wish to draw attention to their gender as it is just a natural part of them. 

Whenever you apologize to the misgendered person, always avoid telling them about how hard you are trying to remember or how difficult their pronouns are to use. This makes us feel as though our gender is a burden and, personally, it has often made me wonder if I even have the right to be nonbinary. If my gender is such a burden to others, is it even worth it? Should I just hide back behind my gender assigned at birth? 

If you realize later that you have misgendered a person, personally, I would say to forget about the apology but remember to use the correct pronouns next time. I have received many long texts, days after I was misgendered, asking for my forgiveness. I feel burdened by this but I know other people would appreciate the apology. It is different for every person and in this case, you should act based on your knowledge of that person. 

If you take the time to talk to your gender-neutral friends, you can find out what their apology preferences are. Of course, the most preferred thing is for misgendering to never occur but it is something that can happen. Nonetheless, I am sure your friends would be happy to share their thoughts with you. It means the world when someone wants to understand you and your story. 

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