Sex, gender identity and pronouns

EYE ON ACTIVISM

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by Zara Zrudlo

Zara Zrudlo

Sex, gender identity and pronouns have recently been a very commonly discussed topic, but why are we talking about them so much, and why do they matter? And what can we do to be more supportive? 

In this ,I’ve put together a compilation of some basic information. Some definitions to start off: 

– Sex is what people are assigned at birth based on their external genitalia: male, female or intersex—people whose sex organs don’t fit into either of the binary genders. 

– Gender Identity is how people really feel on the inside, regardless of their sex. 

– Pronouns—he/him, she/her, they/them, ey/eir—are what people use when referring to themselves or others, depending on their gender identity. 

People often think of gender as one or the other, male or female. In reality, it is a spectrum! In that spectrum, there is a huge space between male and female, with many gender identities in that gap. Some examples include non-binary, where a person does not identify with being a man or a woman, and gender fluid, where a person’s gender identity fluctuates through the spectrum of male, female and the wide space between.

The variety in gender identities are supported by a research study done by Cambridge University.  They studied the brains of 10,000 people and found that 25% of brains were more typically female, 25% were male and 50% showed characteristics from different parts of the spectrum, some completely in the middle, some to either side. This may contribute to the multitude of gender identities, but not everyone who’s brain isn’t extremely male or extremely female identifies as non-binary.

Sometimes people’s gender inside is different from the gender they were assigned at birth—people like that are called trans or transgender. There is actual science showing that this isn’t just a mental construct, it is actually in our DNA and brains. For example, the brain of a person who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a female will exhibit more female characteristics than someone who was assigned male at birth and identifies as male inside as well—cis-gender. 

For hundreds of years, people’s pronouns—he/him, she/her, they/them, ey/eir— and sex have been determined by their genitalia. However, as I’ve described above, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and has been for as long as humans have existed. 

A common question is ‘Why would we even use pronouns other than she and he in the first place?’ Calling people by their pronouns is a matter of respect. It’s similar to remembering someone’s name, and calling them that, not just a name you think would fit them. It fosters inclusion and equity, and can make people feel welcome, instead of misunderstood and excluded.

The most common pronouns are she/her and he/him; however, there have been attempts to use gender neutral pronouns for people who don’t fit either of the binary genders since the 14th century, although that hasn’t really been accepted until now. Even now, however, 2SLGBTQ2IA+ people can face violence, murder, and discrimination. 

With such a spectrum of different identities that are scientifically proven but still receive so much hate and doubt, suicide rates for 2SLGBTQ2IA+ youth are five times higher than straight and cis-gender youth. In Canada, 2SLGBTQ2IA+ youth make up 25 to 40% percent of homeless youth, partly because a lot of families kick their children out if they find out that they are 2SLGBTQ2IA+. 

Assuming someone’s pronouns based on how they dress or look can be really hurtful, so just something as simple as introducing yourself with your pronouns and asking other people what theirs are can lower suicide rates and make people feel safe and welcome. An example sentence could be: “Hi! My name’s Zara. My pronouns are they/them, do you feel comfortable sharing yours?”

If you don’t have a chance to ask people what their pronouns are, don’t assume. Use they/them, which are gender neutral pronouns, until you know! It may take a little time to get used to it, considering it hasn’t been considered grammatically correct until recently. However, grammar is less important than someone’s life, so if people tell you what their pronouns are, respect is of the utmost importance. 

Zara Zrudlo is a homeschooled, fourteen year old resident of Kemtpville. They love writing, art, acting, reading and anything to do with music. Ever since they were little, they’ve cared a lot about activism and social justice, and hoped to make a difference in the world. Zara has written two and a half novels, and ran a newspaper for their friends and family for three years. They love hanging out with their dogs and chickens and spending time imagining having dinner with various book characters.

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