The Power of Pronouns

By Anthony Nguyen

The times sure have changed when it comes to the topic of gender identity and the power of pronouns. We are finally starting to see a broader spectrum of humanity being represented in the world and although for some this may seem confusing, nonsensical, or completely foreign it is so important to be mindful and respectful of those whose gender identity really matters to them. For starters, let’s talk about what gender identity is which is essentially your personal concept of yourself as being either male, female, or neither (i.e. non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, transgender, etc.) For some individuals, their gender identity can remain the same or shift from their assigned sex at birth–both are valid! We present, dress, behave, and go about our lives according to the gender that we most identify with which can be influenced by a variety of beliefs, cultures, and customs. There is even scientific evidence to support that our brain structures are in more alignment with the gender that we personally identify with!

As important to you as it is to be referred to by your name, a person’s gender identity is just as sacred. If you told me your name, the pronouns you used, and I went about referring to you by something completely different, I would imagine that there would be some awkwardness brewing there. Now, ponder a similar scenario where I’m intentionally and aggressively telling you that how you present, dress, identify, and name yourself is inappropriate or “immoral” based on what I thought. I would imagine that if I continuously invalidated who you are and projected my own beliefs onto you that there might be a little bit of indignation felt towards me at that point. We can imply a lot of harmful messages when invalidating someone’s preferred pronouns and based on what we think they should identify as. The psychological distress and emotional turmoil of being misgendered can be damaging, hurtful, it alienates us from loved ones, and can really prevent people from living their best and authentically expressed selves.

The path towards one’s gender identity and expression can be difficult and not always clear. There may be times when people are going to instigate something with you because you don’t appear the way they think you should, hurtful things may be said to and about you, you may feel lost and ostracised from the people that once made you feel safe, and there may even be times where people might be audacious enough to try and hurt you. The discrimination and oppression of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals can have negative and lasting effects on their mental health. These individuals have higher incidences and risks for depression, anxiety, self-harm, and other emotional disturbances. If you are still in the process of figuring out what the best version of yourself may look like, it can be helpful to seek a professional. A therapist can assist you with processing your feelings and with fostering a supportive environment where you can thrive and surround yourself with others who celebrate and validate who you would like to be.