Displaying pronouns

By Linda-May Ballard (Rev Dr) CEO: Focus: The Identity Trust


Let me start by saying I’m not transgender. I’m the mother of a (now adult) transgender child. I have the privilege of advocating for and representing transgender and intersex individuals because our organisation (Focus: the Identity Trust) provides support for these individuals themselves and for their family members. I’d be hard put were I to be asked to state the benefit organisational support has been to me for many years.

In return, I am now in a position of trust, permitted to speak on behalf of the cohort we represent. As I have not transitioned myself, I often state that, in this position, I frequently feel a bit as if I am in the old situation of ‘Does he take sugar?’.  But the fact is that individuals who have transitioned are often very reluctant to speak, never mind speak out, for themselves.

Why? Quite simply because they do not want to draw attention to the fact that they have undergone the process of transition. A large part of this is because they simply wish to be ‘a part of society, not apart from society’. They want to be recognised in their so called ‘acquired’ (ie transitioned) gender and to have this taken for granted.

Acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate, with the associated commitment to confidentiality that this provides, should enable them to do exactly this. If you haven’t transitioned, ask yourself this: how ready would you be to reveal something essential to your identity if this was likely, even guaranteed, to result in you being completely misunderstood and consequently reviled by the rest of society?

As I am not transgender or intersex, I like to think I am aware, even hyper aware, of the need to ensure that any opinions or ideas I express on behalf of our cohort of society are actual and accurate reflections of the views of that cohort.

However, I have realised that I am prone to assumptions that, were I to act on them without checking, would lead me in directions that are the direct opposite of the ones I should take. As an example of this, a few years ago now, I noticed that in some circumstances, people had begun ‘displaying’ their pronouns. ‘What a great idea’, I thought. ‘What a good way of expressing a sense of inclusion and solidarity’. Thank goodness, I stopped short of going ahead and taking action before checking back with our organisation. My assumption was that this would be immediately agreed and that I should put it into practice, but I could not have been more wrong. I quickly discovered that, for our cohort, to be asked to ‘display’ pronouns is in fact not an expression of solidarity or inclusion, but a means of total humiliation.

Why? Well, for our transgender cohort, the fact is that they want their gender to be taken for granted without having to make a statement. Should they be asked next to wear pronoun badges when out in public, to prevent them being misgendered in verbal rather than written communication?

For our intersex cohort, they have yet to be given legal recognition even of their right to exist, a fairly fundamental challenge to their sense of personal identity at a level rather more fundamental than grammar. One last point must also be clear from this – our organisation was never at any time consulted before the practice of displaying pronouns began.

How’s that for inclusion and solidarity. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?