This year, I made the pronoun switch. When people envision changing pronouns, it’s hard to see the long and drawn-out process. It took me two years to come to terms with my gender identity, and then almost two more years to fully tell and correct my friends. When I told one friend, she replied, “You know this will be hard for me, right?” She was right––self-policing one’s language is hard. Coming out is much harder.
In making the full and active transition to using they/them pronouns, I discovered that students on this campus were not as willing to accept or struggle with my pronoun choice. Other students instantly made my decision about themselves and their own difficulty with my pronouns, instead of understanding that my pronouns are based on my own experienced gender identity—consequently failing to acknowledge the difficulty I faced when bringing it up in the first place.
The first time I used they/them pronouns was as a Barnard first-year. I was asked my pronouns countless times during NSOP and had to choose between coming out for the first time as nonbinary or constantly lying about who I am. Though I chose to mention my pronoun choice, asking to be referred to as “they/them, please,” I always followed it up with “I also use she/her,” in an effort to distance myself from my identity. After a full year of oscillating between she/her and they/them, my co-workers at my summer job consistently used my correct pronouns, further affirming my need to use they/them.
Discovering and solidifying my pronouns was a process. Deciding to tell others, correct others, and assert myself is a whole different process, one that takes place not inside my head but through my interactions with others. Trans students already face incredible obstacles in discovering their pronouns but face even more when asserting them. How can I correct a professor who barely knows my name when they misgender me in front of a hundred-person lecture? How can I pause and derail conversation with friends or in clubs whenever someone assumes that, because I go to Barnard, I identify as female?
People at Barnard and Columbia claim the idea of queer allyship and hold onto it for dear life. And while words like transphobia shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, many of my peers’ actions fall into that category.
After trying to get other members of a club that I belong to to use they/them pronouns, one person told me that because pronouns weren’t around when she was a first-year, she needed some time getting used to using they/them pronouns. This may not seem like a blatant example of transphobia, but actions like this perpetuate the attitude held by some that pronouns are a new and weird thing. They have actually been around for a long time, if you bother to look.
I get it, pronouns can be hard. People screw up and make mistakes all the time, but that doesn’t excuse a general lack of understanding and awareness about trans and nonbinary people—especially at a university that espouses an activist and inclusive agenda. It shouldn’t be my job to explain my basic humanity and existence to you when I ask for a pronoun. It shouldn’t be my job to educate you about what pronouns are––you should do that work for yourself. It takes time, and I understand that. But being a queer ally means you are educated, or willing to educate yourself, about gender. It means I don’t constantly have to explain basic gender politics.
Being at Barnard has not made this any easier. The College fails to acknowledge my existence by making me say that I actively identify as female when applying to this school—even when that might not actually be the case. But what has surprised me most is the way my peers have failed me by failing to use my pronouns. They fail to acknowledge that I am not actually a woman and do not experience gender in the same way they do. Though the supportive friends and queer spaces here are the reasons I was able to make my pronoun transition, all students at Barnard and Columbia need to step up their pronoun game.
I don’t need you to post on your Instagram story when it’s Transgender Awareness Week, I need you to use my pronouns consistently and correctly. I don’t need you to tokenize me by telling me everything you’ve seen recently that reminds you of my gender, I need you to advocate for me with professors, friends, and peers who misgender me.
Trans students on this campus aren’t new, and they aren’t going away—so be better, do better.
The author is a sophomore at Barnard College studying political science. They would rather be outside.
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