“Preferred” prounouns? No. Pronouns.

This isn’t a geeky pop culture entry. I keep meaning to get one of those written, and I feel bad that I keep asking everyone to take rain checks. But in this case, I have some social justicey stuff to say to my fellow cis folks, and it beats out an analysis of fascism in Star Wars or a ramble on strong women characters for importance.

As of yesterday I’ve retired the phrase “preferred pronouns.” It had been falling out of my vocabulary for a while, and yesterday I gave it the chop. Can we talk about why? (Silly question. My blog, so of course we can!)

I’ve retired the word “preferred” because the pronouns a person identifies themselves with aren’t a choice. They’re a label for one of the most fundamental parts of a person’s identity. When we use the word “preferred,” what we’re saying (whether we mean to or not) is that that identity is a choice. That at some point, perhaps, permission could be revoked for them to identify themselves.

And that’s bullshit.

I’ve spent a really long time as a queer social justice nerd working on helping to create inclusive community, and so I’m going to admit that I feel kind of an ass for only now coming to this realization. Because I have the privilege of not ever having my pronoun challenged, it never occurred to me that I could be creating a space in which the identities of others were open to challenge.

And that’s the trick of it, isn’t it? As someone who’s cis, I want to be conscious of these things, but I exist in a space where sometimes I forget to interrogate the things I’m saying. Because of that, I know that a lot of times when other cis folks do these things that make space inhospitable, they’re not aware of it. I know we don’t want to make the space hostile, but privilege can be a messy thing…especially when we’re not aware of it.

It can be difficult, I think, when a phrase is embedded in the community around us as well. Using the word preferred has been the social norm, and in most cases, no one’s said, “Hey, you’re stepping on my toes.” When a phrase is embedded in our communities like that, if no one speaks up (even though, of course, it’s not actually anyone else’s job to speak up) we the people who we respect and who’ve taught us stuff using it and forget that we need to challenge ourselves.

So this is me challenging my fellow cis folks to hear that phrase, and to hear what it says and what kind of gatekeeping it implies. This is me challenging my friends, with love, to up their game. Drop the “preferred”…and ask your friends to do it to.

This is how we change the world.

[Writer’s Note: I didn’t write this for cookies or praise on what a great job I’m doing, but rather the opposite. This is a very public record of a thing I did that was wrong, and a chronicle of my growth. Because there is no perfect activist, and it’s important to recognize and remember that. It’s okay to fall down, you just have remember to try again.]

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