Cisgenders—Please Do Not Misgender
William Strunk, Jr. would not recognize much of the English language in use today. He most surely would cringe at the misuse, misspelling, and mispronunciation of everyday vernacular. No doubt he might want to edit his original 1918 book, The Elements of Style, to reflect the myriad ways in which our common tongue has changed.
One of the more heated issues regarding the use of language today is that of proper use of pronouns. This does not refer to using plural pronouns when referring to more than one person. The focus of proper use of pronouns today is in reference to those who have changed their gender identity.
Let’s have a brief vocabulary discussion. Cisgender refers to any person whose gender identity conforms to the gender to which that person was born. If you were born female, and identify as female now, you are cisgender. And the same is true for being born male and now identifying as such. Transgender, of course, refers to any person whose current gender identity is opposite, or different from the gender to which that person was born.
The terms AMAB and AFAB are in current use in the transgender community. They mean Assigned Male At Birth or Assigned Female At Birth. They are used as shorthand to help others understand which side of the gender binary the person was or is at a particular time. While it is quite difficult to imagine a delivering physician declaring, “It’s an AMAB,” there are appropriate times to invoke binary language and times to revoke it. The goal for everyone is to know when it is time for which approach.
Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy and religion professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio, chose the wrong time and the wrong method. He was directed in 2018 by university officials to cease addressing a female transgender student as he, sir, and other male terms. Meriwether claimed that abiding by this directive was in contradiction to his closely-held religious beliefs; that changing one’s gender identity from birth gender is in opposition to the Bible. He filed a lawsuit for discrimination, claiming that both his First Amendment and religious rights were being violated.
Taking up the cause for this professor was the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). This ultra-conservative legal firm is well known for their defense of the bakers who denied a gay couple a wedding cake, along with siding with Hobby Lobby in their birth control benefit case. Thus far, Meriwether and the ADF are on the losing side of the law. We may assume that ADF will advance their case through legal channels, positioning for a favorable Supreme Court ruling.
Another person making the news for misgendering is the newcomer to the Democratic Presidential campaign, Michael Bloomberg. As review continues into his business interests, and more past “sins” are uncovered, this one comes as not only a surprise, but a deep disappointment. Allyson Chiu of the Washington Post reported that shortly after Bloomberg released an ad touting his support for the LGBTQ community, a video from 2019 was uncovered that completely undermines that claim.
According to Chiu, “Bloomberg had been trying to explain why certain social issues, such as transgender rights, could pose challenges for presidential candidates hoping to appeal to a majority of the American public. ‘If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people.’” These comments, not surprisingly, have drawn significant criticism and demands for clarification.
It is important that the cisgender halt the misgender that is all too prevalent today. There is one simple rule to which the public should adhere: Use the preferred pronouns of the person to whom you are talking or referring! Let the person who is the object of your conversation, discussion, or diatribe determine which pronouns are acceptable. Does that person prefer “he/him/his,” “she/her/hers,” or perhaps even the now-common “they/them/theirs”? It is important that we not define others, but allow others to define themselves.
One set of parents who have made headlines for the unconditional support of their transgender daughter is Dwayne Wade, now retired from the NBA, and his wife, Gabrielle Union. Their 12-year-old child recently transitioned and her parents couldn’t be more supportive.
In an interview with CNN, Wade related, “Zion, born as a boy, came home and said, ‘Hey, so I want to talk to you guys. I think going forward I am ready to live my truth. I want to be referenced as she and her. I would love for you guys to call me Zaya.’” The family shared a video of Dwayne and Zaya talking together. Zaya tells her father, “You gotta just push through, I mean it’s worth it, I feel like it’s very worth it, when you reach that point of like, yourself.” How about we all try to “push through”! ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter.