The “bathroom bill,” is a law requiring transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth sex. This piece of legislation passed in North Carolina in 2016 but was repealed in 2017 after several companies refused to expand into the state if the legislature moved forward on such a bill.
The bill was thus partially repealed to remove provisions regulating individuals’ bathroom use, but left neither side happy. It includes elements that specifically discriminate against the transgender community.
This particular legislation is part of a long and usually unmentioned history of explicit discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming communities. Only in recent memory has that responsibility become apparent to cisgender individuals—those who fit into normative standards of gender identity.
Despite the reality of physical, mental, sexual and emotional violence transgender people face every day, the vast majority of cisgender people will only ever be tasked with the most limited and palatable portion of this experience: gender-inclusive pronouns.
Gender pronouns are what we as a society use to address each other according to how we fit into the spectrum of gender identity. For most, this is limited to the binary of masculine or feminine pronouns, he/him/his or she/her/hers, but for those who do not fit into this false dichotomy alternative pronouns are used, most notably they/them/theirs.
Before I go on, it is important to point out I identify as a cisgender male and the concepts of gender fluidity and inclusive pronouns are something I have learned recently. It is important to recognize the learning process was difficult, and took a lot of internal processing and being corrected on something I had previously thought was cut and dry. I did not understand and sometimes wanted to push back at the idea of being called out on something new to me.
From my perspective, using gender-inclusive pronouns was a matter of semantics and didn’t matter in the larger scheme of things, as long as I wasn’t a bad or judgmental person.
Eventually, I realized it is okay to not understand and sometimes be wrong because it ultimately had nothing to do with me.
Gender-inclusive pronouns are not something you use when describing a situation or getting someone’s attention—they are an indicator of respect and reflect whether or not you pose a serious potential threat to someone’s safety.
It is okay to be confused and occasionally corrected while making an active effort to understand people. Learning someone’s preferred pronouns is considered respectful and comes at no risk to the asker.
However, there is a huge, statistically verifiable risk for trans people who have taken steps to identify and present their truth to a wider audience, even just in passing.
According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, “ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job… 19% reported having been refused a home or apartment… fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation… 57% experienced significant family rejection…”
Taking time to recognize someone’s safety and livelihood deserve more attention than momentary discomfort is not only a decent human thing to do, but the bare minimum someone facing a world of difficulties could ever ask of you. Frankly, you should take it upon yourself to do more.
-Tafari Robertson is a public relations senior