Referring to a Person as “It” is Never O.K. Obviously.

16 Jun

So, something unfortunate happened last week that I have been trying to decide how to write about. One of my coworkers came out of a room with a client wearing a very confused and slightly shocked look on his face. I approached him assuming the client had been unruly or said something upsetting.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I don’t know what it was.”

“You don’t know what?”

“I don’t know if it was a chick or a dude.”

I stared at him for a long moment at a loss for words.

“You don’t know whether they were a man or a woman?”

“Oh excuse me! They

He responded to me with an irritated tone, as if he had been the one offended by my comment, no matter how much his comment may have offended the person in the room.

The thing is I really like this coworker, he is a progressive thinker in general and a pretty decent guy all around- but it’s hard for me to forget this comment.

I have no idea whether the person in the room was transgendered or gender nonconformist. I have no idea what the correct pronoun would be to address them with because I did not meet or speak to them, but I can’t believe that anyone would think it was acceptable.

I think, at least from my very small worldview, many people are never really taught about appropriate uses of pronouns for people who are not cisgendered. Something that has been made abundantly clear with the shoddy reporting on R.Kelly’s child. I don’t think the thought that this person may or may not identify with the gender identity they were prescribed at birth ever even crossed my coworker’s mind. And sometimes I wonder how to go about educating people on this topic, when they don’t really have any desire to learn. It’s frustrating when something that doesn’t seem like a complicated issue to grasp is met with such ambivalence.

I understand we all have different backgrounds, education, and familiarity with transgendered people and issues, I myself don’t feel especially educated enough to even write about the topic in any great depth, but I would expect any lay person to understand that no one enjoys being referred to as an it.

I tried to use this incident as a teaching moment as best I could without appearing superior, which I feel I sometimes fail at. The thing is I was offended by his remark, which made it difficult to attempt to explain gender pronouns in a levelheaded manner. I did my best.

Thoughts?

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3 Responses to “Referring to a Person as “It” is Never O.K. Obviously.”

  1. Darla J. Landry June 17, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    You did the best thing possible in your situation: you reminded them that they are talking about a real person with feelings, not an object for them to classify.

  2. Rebecca Griffin June 17, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Good for you for speaking up. It’s not always easy to do, but the best outcome in this kind of situation is to make it a learning experience. Even if it doesn’t sink in the first time, it can be part of a process of self-examination.

  3. Diana June 17, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    Gracious. People are surprising on a daily basis, and not always in positive way. I like the way you delve into the psychology of this though, as I think you’re right about the ambivalence.

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