Erica Hudson is a journalism junior and Mustang News guest contributor. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or editorial coverage of Mustang News editorial.
Not only is Cal Poly predominantly white (58.7 percent of undergraduate students), but it’s also incredibly straight. There is a very limited window for queer, gender-nonconforming students to feel comfortable. It’s basically a school rampant with “allies” that don’t understand why we need gender-neutral housing or bathrooms one minute, and then once a little visibility is shown, they praise Cal Poly for being the most progressive institution around. These are the people that hear they/them/their pronouns and say, “Wait, but like … That’s not grammatically correct.”
Now, I can spend all the time in the world ranting about the ignorance I’ve experienced here. From being pansexual to being genderqueer, I’ve had my fair share of moments where I had to explain to oblivious people what my identity meant, as well as the importance of things other than keeping fraternities alive and line dancing. However, it would be a better use of my time and yours, to address the root of this ignorance and how it can be combatted.
Why isn’t there more visibility for different identities?
I can count on one hand the number of people I met my freshman year that even knew what the word “cisgender” meant. If you’re not familiar, to be cisgender is to have a gender identity that corresponds with your sex assigned at birth. This is the only time gender and in-utero sex are synonymous. Cisgender expression often coincides with a traditional, heteronormative notion of femininity and masculinity.
For myself, there’s a lot of societal expectations that come along with being a woman that just don’t resonate with me. However, the same goes for cisgender male expectations. So I’m somewhere in between. That’s what makes me genderqueer. But it isn’t always a spectrum. That would imply being on a scale that ultimately is held by the standards of being more or less masculine and/or feminine. Some people don’t feel masculine or feminine at all, and that is perfectly normal. There is no right or wrong gender identity, and for some people, there isn’t even a gender identity represented that fits their feelings.
Gender expression, or lack thereof, is purely a social construct that each individual should have the freedom to determine for themselves. And that’s where pronouns come in.
Gendering People: Don’t Do It
It’s really easy to see someone in passing and say something like, “Wow! That girl looks really good.” However, just because someone presents themselves in a way that may seem feminine doesn’t make them a girl. Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to judge someone based on their appearance? Don’t gender them either. That perpetuates the idea of gender being a universal identity for which each person has the same prescription. What does it even mean to “look like a girl?” That’s an extremely limiting concept.
If you don’t know someone, it’s really easy to use they/them/their pronouns when referring to them. If everyone made a conscious effort to use gender-neutral pronouns, then gender nonconforming, transgender or gender fluid individuals not only would stop being treated as a rarity, but it would be a safer environment for everyone, reducing privilege and violence against noncisgender people. It is not an insult to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns. It is an insult to misgender someone. If you do it by mistake, it happens. Apologize, and proceed to use their correct pronouns.
With awareness comes the opportunity for acceptance. We shouldn’t allow modern society to chastise the ‘abnormal’ simply because of a lack of visibility. Different gender identities are not some new fad, they’ve been around for long time.
Introducing yourself with your pronouns is another way you can bring visibility to noncisgender expression. Even if you’re cisgender, clarify your pronouns. If I haven’t made it clear, you cannot assume someone’s gender just by looking at them. If cisgender people introduced themselves as, “Hi, my name is ______. My pronouns are she/her/hers, what are yours?” not only would it be perceived as normal to include pronouns, but it eliminates the possibility of being misgendered while letting noncisgender individuals claim their identity for themselves.