Trans People Weigh In On Whether Pronoun Pins Are a Good Idea
Pronouns might not seem like a big deal after you’ve covered them in sixth-grade English class. But for transgender and non-binary people, they can be a huge source of pain, confusion, and annoyance.
That’s why The University of Kansas started a new program offering students the opportunity to wear pins that display their preferred pronouns. As part of their “You Belong Here” campaign, the university libraries have started a voluntary system where students and employees can pick up the pins for free and wear them.
The pins are available in a variety of three where each may read, “He, Him, His,” “She, Her, Hers,” “They, Them, Theirs.”
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Signs are also being posted throughout the libraries explaining the new system, attempting to make all undergraduates feel as included and accepted as possible.
Although the system was created with good intentions, it received mixed reactions when I asked members of the LGBTQ+ community their feelings towards the program. While some appreciate the efforts of the school, they also fear that it could be potentially harmful to these particular students, making them a target to those who may not be as accepting.
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Micah, 20, is a gender-non-conforming student from St. Louis.
“I really love and admire the support behind the pin system, however I fear that it has potential to unintentionally make LGBTQ+ students a larger target to those who aren’t so open-minded,” they said. “I would definitely wear a pin at my university because I am fortunate enough to go to a very liberal school.
Still, as Micah points out, not everyone is so lucky.
“I firmly believe that this system is potentially dangerous, depending on the area of course,” they said. “My feelings about this pin-system [are] complicated because I love the idea and the support behind it but I also feel that this is a very hazardous/fragile time for the LGBTQ+ community.”
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Jack, 27, a transgender man from Long Island, agreed that the potential for abuse is there. Still, he feels the pins could be especially useful for people who are mid-transition or for those who don’t care about “passing” as one gender or the other, but still want their preferred pronouns to be used.
“Trans people may often appear confusing to cisgender and straight individuals and it will help the awkward position of the person transitioning,” he said.
Still, the process of transitioning “is extremely intimate,” he pointed out. “Think of your most vulnerable attribute or time in your life and having no choice but to have everyone around you, including strangers, know the most personal things about you.”
It’s true that some transgender and gender-non-conforming people might put the pins on thinking everyone will be open and accepting, but realize only after they’re already wearing them that some people aren’t so kind. Wearing the pin is essentially an act of coming out to everyone you meet, without knowing whether they will accept you ahead of time.
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Derrick, 28, also a transgender man, is completely against the idea.
“I don’t think it’s really a necessary thing,” he said. “Walking around wearing a label is ridiculous. How long is it before people start wearing bands or pins stating their sexual orientation so they aren’t automatically assumed to be straight?”
He also points out that most of the time, misgendering is not done in a malicious way.
“I’ve seen a bit of backlash online already and I’m sure in person this could bring unwanted attention or interactions alongside the intended purpose,” he said. “It could also just be a quick way to tell someone’s gender but it’s unnecessary, if you’re going to have an interaction with this person and you misgender them they can correct you right then and there.”
Everyone we interviewed pointed out that communication is the key to solving this issue, saying it’s better to speak with those around you rather than wearing a label.
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“(Being misgendered) doesn’t happen to me anymore, but in the past it was devastating,” Jack said, referring to times when he was mid-transition. “You feel utterly embarrassed.”
Still, he believes the best way to deal with this is to talk about it.
“I think a better alternative is to talk and to stop being afraid to approach things unknown to us,” he said. “Trans people that are offended by their peers who have no malice in their hearts are also the problem. We learn by communication. Do not make people uncomfortable to ask, it’s how we learn, so long as the dialogue is appropriate and respectful.”
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Micah also added that they have “mixed feelings when people mess up my pronouns.”
“I’d grown so used to it that I’d just started to accept people calling me ‘she/her’ or even ‘Mikayla’ instead of ‘Micah,'” they said. “It’s sad in a way, but I’ve just tried to make things easier for other people instead of myself.”
Micah agrees that talking is key.
“I don’t want to say a ‘better alternative,’ but I definitely think that a safer alternative would be for students to communicate with their teachers beforehand and let them know their pronouns before class begins, if that’s what they’re most comfortable doing.” they said. “ That being said, to those who are confident enough to participate in this system I say go for it! Rock those pins — be you!”