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They/Them, Easy Right?

Language. So important and yet, at times, so very tricky. When we try to build relationships we often try to understand or at least empathise with the other person. We are almost always coming from the right place, the heart and still we misstep. We offend people, we have trouble reaching the middle ground. Both sides need to listen. To reflect. To grow. To talk. One of us may have more knowledge or understanding and we are trying to ‘bring along’ another.

I am working on language, listening, reflecting and growing at home. My second child, D, assigned female at birth and non-binary identifying is figuring out who they are, and their siblings and I are being as supportive as we know how to be. And it is tricky. I am openly encouraging them to discuss any and all important issues in order to support and work through the thinking together where we need to so that when they encounter non-family members they are able to articulate their thoughts, ideas and beliefs from a position of confidence.

D and I have known, for many years that D was on their own path in life. They are an unbelievably talented artist, drawing and animating people and creatures that are insanely beautiful and creative. They are a selective mute and have learned to navigate the intricacies of social systems whilst maintaining their emotional safety. They are being infinitely true to who they are, living bravely and without fear of judgment. Proud would be an understatement.

We are struggling though with language and empathy. You see, D is very comfortable with their choice of pronouns, as are their siblings and I and yet, we are still learning. I will speak only for myself here. I am using they/them pronouns as often as I can but occasionally I forget. It isn’t intentional. Originally when I forgot, or messed up, D would come at me. Upset, offended and angry that I had gotten it wrong again. They could not understand ‘What was so hard!’ about using they/them. Did I not respect their decision? Was I being unsupportive? Did I not really accept their choice? Of course, none of the above was correct. I simply was not yet used to the switch. The language switch. We had to approach this like any learning situation – support and guidance as opposed to anger and resentment.

D and I had some long talks around how they had made their decision and I was onboard with that, 100%. But they had also had time to consider their position, their decision, their choice of pronouns, whereas for me, I was told and then expected to make the change. Immediately. We talked, at length, about how we would need to extend each other a grace period wherein we would support each other, they would remind me and I would make the correction. We made a decision that we would treat each other kindly and with love, we would hold our feelings of being frustrated, angry or offended and just deal with the language. Language should be such an easy thing to change. It isn’t. It matters. It is incredibly important but changing the language from that which we are used to, to something different takes time, support and forgiveness.

Support and forgiveness are key ingredients when we are each working on changing language, at home, at school, in the workplace or wherever.

When we begin to change our language we need to be aware of the times we get it right and take that as a win, a step in the right direction. And, when we get it wrong, make the correction, and move on without resentment, judgement or frustration, secure in the knowledge that a correction is another step in the right direction. We can’t completely switch up our language on a dime but we can be cognizant of the choices we make and strive to make the right ones. We don’t make mistakes intentionally but with some intentionality we can make the language changes we need.

*Written and shared with permission.

Check out other articles Cassie has written here.