In terms of being a transgender ally, language is one of the most difficult battles that I have had to conquer. I, as well as other allies, have had trouble switching over to different pronouns or using names rather than pronouns all together. I know it seems silly to complain about language when there are much larger issues such as violence and discrimination. However, language is difficult because parts of it are automatic. Though we are told to “think before we speak,” certain parts of our language flow automatically with little to no thought at all.
As humans, our cognition revolves around schemata. Schemata are essentially groupings in our mind. Our minds create various schemata based on the world we have experienced. If you haven’t had much experience with transgender people up until now, it is unlikely that your schemata incorporate transgender language. Because of those schemata, we quickly place people into categories. The language we acquired throughout our childhoods exists within these schemata, as well.
It is these cognitive processes that make it difficult to alter language. With that being said, however, schemata and language are not set in stone. They can, in fact, be altered with time and practice. It just requires a bit of patience.
There are other communities under the LGBTQ umbrella that exemplify the concept of altering out schemata and language. It wasn’t too long ago that people felt the need the need to clarify “My friend is coming over and this friend is gay so he will be bringing his partner/boyfriend,” rather than simply saying “My friend and his partner/boyfriend are coming over.” Today, I know I would use the simple “and his partner” but my grandparents might still feel the need to clarify why they are using the term partner or the term boyfriend in regards to another male.
An interesting aspect of language is that its sole intention is to convey meaning. Yet, here we are faced with a confliction because the appropriate language may not serve to clarify our meaning if we are speaking to the wrong audience. For example, if you use “ze” as a pronoun and the person you are speaking to is unfamiliar with what that means, the message gets lost in translation.
Right now people may feel the need to clarify why they are using “ze” as their pronoun choice by explaining the person they are referring to is transgender. I do strongly believe, however, that eventually we will be able to switch back and forth between pronouns, using everyone’s preferred pronoun choice, and it will be understood what we are saying and why we are saying it.
Language is difficult because it’s automatic but just as people probably thought they would never adjust to talking about a man and his boyfriend, people will adjust to this too.
About the Author: Lauren Rabin is the social media manager for We Exist. Aside from being engulfed in social media madness, Lauren works as the president of Autism Family Center and enjoys drinking red wine while freeing up space on the DVR.