Recently, a Bachata DJ came forward with a post lamenting the use of they/them pronouns, followed by an extensive (and since deleted) posting about his deeper feelings. The initial post read as follows:
Pronouns… It was either “he” or “she.” That’s how easy it was. Why is it not that simple anymore?
In one sense – and only one sense – he is right: it was easier. It was easier to make assumptions about people, and sort them visually into categories. It was easier because it was the language we were educated in. It was easier because there was never a confusion between singular and plural.
But, in my view, that is where the rightness stops.
Several years ago, I resisted it too; I didn’t understand the impact of pronoun choices and they/them as a singular known was uncomfortable (I’m glad I do better now). I still find switching my brain into they/them mode to be not fluent. It takes me a few seconds to realize that a person is talking about a singular they/them and not a plural or unknown. I have accidentally misgendered people; I am working on assuming genders, too.
My non-fluency with pronouns is my problem to fix. It is my problem to fix because I want them to feel comfortable. I want them to feel safe. I want them to feel included. The 5-30 seconds my brain takes to switch over is my responsibility as I work on being a person who is devoted to an inclusive and safe community – and as a person who values kindness and respect. Rewiring my brain to not get confused when someone says “they” in conversation is something I can fix over time and with repetition.
A Small Gesture; A Big Impact
Pronouns are a small gesture. They simply are calling someone by what they wish to be called. It doesn’t matter what I think they look like – it matters what they feel like. It doesn’t matter that I don’t “understand” how someone can identify as non-binary; it matters that they identify that way. It hurts no one to refer to someone with their pronouns – but it sure as heck ostracizes and hurts a person to have their identity dismissed.
It’s not the same as me calling myself a flying walrus or an Avenger. It’s not calling oneself a different species or an inanimate object. It’s a pronoun. It’s just a sub-in for a noun. It’s such a small thing to do to accommodate someone that makes them feel validated and seen.
Why would we not give that courtesy to someone? Even if a person has “conservative values”, is giving respect to someone by simply referring to them they way they wish to be referred to that big a deal? Is it worth making someone feel small and unheard just because one person “doesn’t agree” with their personal identity?
Minimizing Harm; Growing Community
Ultimately, we need to lift our communities up and create a healthier, happier community. We have enough problems within dance, spanning from racism to sexism to exclusionary behaviour. All of these problems are complex, difficult, and far-reaching.
But, when it comes to pronouns, it feels like a tiny thing we can do that makes a big difference. It’s a step away from homophobia and transphobia, and even if we don’t get it right all the time, we can try. If it makes just one person feel safer and happier, I think it will be worth it.
Don’t you think so, too?