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How do I convince my husband that calling everyone they/them is misgendering?

Q: Hi, we’re a queer family - husband is bi, the kids are gay, trans and non-binary. I’m the only straight cis gender person in the family. So my husband has taken to using they/them pronouns for everyone. He thinks the world would be better if we all used they / them. So he does - he’s using they / them for all - including when people say oh actually I go by he / him or she / her. I’ve pointed out that this is overriding people’s choice of pronouns and he agrees! I have said I use she/her and don’t want to be they’d - any more than our NB kid wants to be she/ her’d or our trans kid wants to be he/himmed - but it’s not going in. He can’t see that this is misgendering. I have no idea why he thinks this is ok - we seem to have hit a fundamental point of disagreement. He’s normally really good on this stuff. Eek. Help!

S: Well...all I can really do here is confirm that yes, this is misgendering and isn't okay. If he refuses to comprehend that, then he's determined to put his own idea of how the world should work (which is, for the record, wrong) above the harm he's doing by knowingly(!) using the wrong pronouns for people, and that is frankly horrible.

To basically reiterate what you've already said: Using they/them as a default is fine, and I think actually good practice, when you don't know someone's pronouns. It is not misgendering or mispronouning to do that. In that case, they/them is acting as a generic pronoun--just like when you're talking about a person but don't know who they are, you're using they/them because it's a neutral placeholder that doesn't assume anything. But all that changes when you learn the pronouns that the person actually goes by. It doesn't matter what those are: using anything but what the person has told you to use in a given situation is incorrect. Calling someone who uses any other pronouns by they/them is mispronouning, regardless of the person's gender or whether you know it. It is just as offensive and dehumanizing as any other type of misgendering or mispronouning. In fact, using they/them for someone who goes by something else is a pretty classic way of denying the person's identity. It's super weird that your husband thinks doing this is actually helpful and not harmful. There is no situation in which it's okay to ignore the pronouns that someone has shared in favor of calling them what you prefer to say, no matter what your reasoning is.

For the record, your husband isn't correct that "the world would be better if we all used they / them." There's no universal "better" here. (And even if that weren't the case, it's appallingly self-centered to prioritize one's made-up idea of how things "should" be over basic respect and not doing harm in the world that currently exists.) Plenty of trans and gender diverse people feel strong connections between their pronouns and gender; we make the distinction between misgendering and mispronouning because that specificity is useful, but for many people the two are essentially synonymous. Has your husband considered that by insisting on using the pronouns that he personally thinks are appropriate for people and ignoring what they've told him to use, he is enacting a version of exactly the same sort of harm that happens when anyone incorrectly assigns language to anyone else? Why on earth is he trying to tell people what he thinks they should be called, and refusing them the basic respect of correctly using their pronouns?

So: yes, you're completely right and his behavior is wildly offensive. I hope he realizes that it's harming, not helping, trans and gender diverse people (and also cis people, who can be mispronouned and misgendered just as much as the rest of us). The only appropriate way to approach pronouns is to simply call people what they ask to be called.

If it helps to have a personal response, if I tell someone my pronouns and they insist on intentionally calling me they/them instead (which I do not go by and don't feel good to hear applied to me), I'm going to assume that they have no understanding or care for me or any other trans people, avoid them as much as possible, and let other people know that this person can't be trusted to treat us with basic respect. To be clear, this is not at all how I'd react to someone who is using the wrong pronouns accidentally; it's the fact that your husband is doing this intentionally, after having been told why it's harmful, that makes it especially horrible.

What your husband is doing is awful, and he needs to stop immediately and do some basic learning if he wants to consider himself any kind of supporter of trans and gender diverse people. Self-description is the most important element in how to talk about anyone, and any approach that ignores that is hugely offensive.

K: Agreed with everything said above. I'll try to not just repeat things. I feel like people who do this are trying to somehow achieve trans and gender diverse inclusive language through the least amount of work possible. It almost feels like a life hack-y or click bait-y "Here's one neat trick to show all trans and gender diverse people that you're an ally!" thing. I've known people to do this, and the way they describe their motivation is that they think it completely avoids the possibility of mispronouning or misgendering anyone. And yet, that's exactly what they're doing if they know the correct pronouns for someone and choose to keep using they/them anyway. Your husband sounds like he goes beyond this, however. I don't know if this is a helpful framing, but I would not say that he is "overriding people's choices of pronouns." Pronouns aren't really a preference or choice, it's more like, people are telling him what language respects who they are, and what language does not. People express their gender in a lot of different ways, and pronouns can be one of those ways. Refusing to use someone's pronouns when you know them can be, and often is, a form of misgendering. That's not up for debate.

Your husband needs to stop prioritizing his own feelings and comfort over the feelings and comfort of others. Pronouns are personal and individual, he cannot chose them for other people just because he thinks he's found a better way.

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