The Importance of Being Gender Aware in the Trump Era and Beyond

Last week we saw our Commander In Chief, Trump, unilaterally decide that Transgender individuals were no longer fit to serve in the military. Too expensive he said. Unequivocally untrue, but what isn’t that comes out of this administration these days? The backlash was immediate. The call from GLBTQ organizations was powerful and thoughtful. Even high ranking military officers later came out opposed to this newly directed dictate. Seriously, anyone interested or willing to be a member of the military who is able to serve and wants to fight against those like ISIS should be more than welcome in any branch of service.

What is really important here is the disrespect shown to those who don’t seem to fit our preconceived ideas of gender norms. Someone like Trump doesn’t even have the language or wants to learn the language to speak about or to the Transgender community. How does that happen? One key way is by being aware of the pronouns we prefer others to use when referring to us, and finding out those of others who may have a preference.

The English language has long used gendered pronouns when referring to someone that are primarily male (he) or female (she). But what do we use when someone’s gender is unknown by our own preconceptions of gender? Or when addressing someone who is genderqueer or transgender, who don’t necessarily feel comfortable being identified or addressed as male or female? It is incumbent on me to help others become more aware of their privilege and use gender pronouns appropriately.

When someone is referred to by their incorrect gender pronoun, they can feel invalidated, disrespected, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric — or all of these together. If you identify as a cis-gendered person (or person whose gender identity matches their outward appearance and personal identity) then you generally do not have to worry, and have a high level of privilege (like I do) as my gender is the same as it is perceived. As a cis-gendered woman I must be aware of that privilege and be respectful of others whose gender identity may not match up with cultural expectations.

In these kinds of cases, we should look for options, and there are many — the most common today is “they” (they, them, theirs). Newer gender neutral pronouns that are coming into common use are ne/nem/nir, ze/zir/zirs, and xe/xem/xyrs. While these may take some getting used to if you don’t use them in everyday language, you should be aware of them should you meet someone who tells you “my pronouns are ze, zir, and zirs”. The way you might refer to zir is to say, “I called zir”, “Ze laughed at my joke”, and “That is zirs book”. There are a couple of other pronouns floating around out there, so don’t be taken aback if someone presents you with something new — just ask, “how would you like to be addressed? I’m not familiar with that set of pronouns.” Trust me, they will appreciate it more if you ask rather than assume and address them incorrectly.

Finally, what is my point? Respect in this world will get us farther than hate or anger. While we may disagree, we can respect one another and be polite in the process. No one wants to be invalidated in their life or personhood. Our Transgender brothers and sisters have no agenda other than to have a life that fits their body and mind together. For us (myself and Johann) here at Horizons, we have decided that we want to support those who feel invalidated, are struggling with their identity, or simply need support. One very simple way to do this is to let others know what our gender pronouns are that we use. We have both recently changed our email signatures to include that information.

Let’s normalize conscious pronoun usage by all using them more frequently in everyday language. And if you feel empowered enough, in your next meeting, introduce yourself like this: “Hello, my name is Kimberly Griego-Kiel, my pronouns are she/her/hers”. And move on. Make it an everyday part of being human.


— PS: Do you have comments / concerns / questions about this? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at —

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