January 28, 2022
Being misgendered is one of the most hurtful things that someone can experience.
There is now more education available for the public conversations about the genuine harm misgendering causes coming to the surface. Introducing yourself with your pronouns and including pronouns in email signatures are now the new normal. Schools like Atholton have made an effort to adapt to these changes in order to make students feel safe and comfortable.
“It’s ethically and morally reprehensible that a school should not feel safe to a student who is required to be here,” said Atholton teacher and Rainbow Representative Mrs. Dalrymple.
Everyone has pronouns, but trans and gender non-conforming people are much more likely to be misgendered. People often assume that an individual’s pronouns are based on what biological sex they appear closest to. Assumptions can lead to the disrespectful and hurtful action of misgendering, which is referring to someone using a term that doesn’t reflect their gender identity. Both Atholton students and scientific studies support the fact that using one’s correct pronouns benefits mental health.
Mari Bonilla, a sophomore at AHS, described feeling “insecure” after being misgendered. Bonilla is genderfluid and uses she/they/he pronouns. They added that being misgendered makes him question herself. Having one’s identity go unacknowledged or disrespected will harm that person’s wellbeing. However, using someone’s correct pronouns will have a positive effect on their mental health.
Ahtolton freshman Sitara Canada said being referred to by the correct pronouns makes them “feel really great inside!” Canada is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
The growing social awareness of the importance of pronouns is much more common among the younger generations. Teachers have explained their struggle with understanding those who use they/them pronouns or multiple sets of pronouns. Mrs. Dalrymple explained why this is difficult for older generations. “We have been taught and trained our entire lives that they/them are plural pronouns. It is hard to make that shift.” Luckily for them, the transition becomes easier with practice and time.
Teachers have expressed the most confusion with people who use multiple sets of pronouns. For example, Bonilla uses she/they/he pronouns. There is no objectively correct answer to how to use multiple pronouns because every person has a different preference. Bonilla uses she and they the most, but another person can prefer he the best. The best way to learn is to ask individual people how they want you to use their pronouns. Every person is different and pronouns are very personal. When in doubt, ask.
The US National Library of Medicine performed a study about how using one’s correct pronouns is a necessary part of gender affirmation. The study focused on transgender women of color with HIV and their experiences in the healthcare industry. “Positive experiences of social gender affirmation are critical to the health and well-being of transgender and gender diverse people,” the study concluded. The beneficial effect of correct use of pronouns is also known as gender affirmation. Gender affirmation is an umbrella term used to describe the validation of someone’s gender identity.
Howard County has taken notice of the detrimental effect misgendering has on LGBTQIA+ students. In response to this, HCPSS issued a staff presentation to help staff understand why correct pronoun usage is so important. The presentation was to be done by each school’s Rainbow Representative. Atholton’s Rainbow Representative, Mrs. Dalrymple, went above and beyond.
Mrs. Dalrymple felt that the presentation provided to her didn’t do an adequate job at explaining the nuances of gender identity and pronouns. She decided to make a new presentation that would include education about gender identity and Atholton student experiences with being misgendered.
“It’s so overdue but I’m glad that we’re working on it now,” said Mrs. Dalrymple. Staff members sang their praises about the presentation. Atholton teacher Mrs. Dalton described it as “very needed.” The obvious hard work that went into the presentation shows how seriously Mrs. Dalrymple takes her position as a Rainbow Representative. She described how important it is for her to make AHS a safe space for those in the LGBTQIA+ Community. The presentation given to staff was an amazing first step in the right direction.
The future of presentations given to staff or students is undecided for the time being. Atholton will make the necessary changes to make the community more comfortable and safe for all students, especially those who are transgender and/or gender non-conforming. Everyone of any gender identity deserves to feel safe and respected in their community.