In The Spotlight, Opinion

Transgender and Misgendered: A Personal Take on the Power of Pronouns


“I just need more time. You look so feminine and I need to get used to calling you ‘he.’” This isn’t a quote from any one person, but a summary of what I’ve been told by people over and over again.

I am transgender. I was assigned female at birth, but through time, I’ve learned that I’m actually a guy. I go by he, him and his pronouns.

Those who call me by my correct pronouns and acknowledges me as male are the biggest supports in my life; those that don’t make my life harder.

People who are the gender they were assigned at birth are called cisgender and those who aren’t are transgender. Nonbinary is an umbrella term for trans people who don’t identify as a man or woman.

As per Clark’s non-discrimination policy, people at Clark must call you by the name and pronouns you go by, and failure to do so is called misgendering. Misgendering someone is considered sexual harassment, because it intentionally causes harm to the person you are misgendering.

“Sexual harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender,” according to Clark’s non-discrimination policy.

I experience adamant misgendering from my cisgender peers, even when instructors explicitly state my pronouns. I’ve had teachers use gender-confirming language such as “sir,” but other students still don’t understand.

A lot of cisgender students seem to be disengaged around me, perhaps because they don’t know how to act around a transgender person. This is not the case with other trans students, who I communicate better with in classes.

Asher Pennick is an agender student who goes by they, them and their pronouns. Pennick said they feel most comfortable when people use their correct name and pronouns.

Pennick said they mostly interact with cisgender people each day, and it can feel alienating if a majority of people don’t support them.  Essentially, they feel like they can’t be themself.

“I’m scared that people will discriminate against me,” Pennick said. “I’m misgendered all the time or not taken seriously if I come out.”

Most of the people Pennick is afraid of experiencing discrimination from at Clark are students, not teachers or staff,  Pennick said. “Exposure is the biggest thing and that’s why I try to be out as loud as possible about being trans. I know not everyone has that luxury.”

Marylynne Diggs is a cisgender English professor who teaches a Queer Studies class each Spring quarter, as well as Queer Literature classes.

“I love working with transgender students,” Diggs said. “Working with transgender students is a wonderful thing.”

Diggs said transgender students don’t have the same level of support that other students do, but she hopes transgender students feel safe and validated in all of her classes. “I try to use my position of privilege to advocate for them when I have the opportunities to do so. Every student on this campus deserves to be supported,” Diggs said.

My relationship with instructors as a trans person are more intimate than an average cisgender student’s might be. At the beginning of the quarter, I email all my professors telling them the name and pronouns I go by.

Instructors never forget my name or face because we already have that communication, so I have a inherently closer relationship with them. Not all trans people do this and there are many reasons why someone wouldn’t, including privacy and safety.

Since I have a good relationship with my teachers, I feel more confident in referring to myself as a guy or my pronouns during class. I know if a student does say anything negative about my gender, I have the instructor’s support.

Still, being constantly misgendered is distracting and gets in the way of my learning. It’s hard to focus on tough subjects when you know the people around you don’t accept you.

Diggs said cisgender students can support transgender students by using their name and pronouns, not asking questions about their bodies and their surgical or hormone status and granting trans students the same privacy given to cisgender students.

“College is a place where you meet people different from those you may have grown up with,” Diggs said. “That’s part of what college is; it’s learning how to become a part of that difference instead of assuming you’re at the center of everything as the norm.”


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