Whenever attending community workshops, discussions and at times even small classes I experience an exercise that I always associated with creating a safe space. While introducing ourselves we would each express our desired pronouns thus creating a space in which uncomfortable and unsafe moments of incorrect pronouns would be avoided and accountability would be understood. By this I mean, we would each know right off the bat how every person there desired and expected to be addressed, in particular trans identities would be respected and defended. Until recently, I thought this introduction was key to building a safe space but I’ve begun to become more aware of cis-gender privilege seeping into these seemingly safe spaces. Cis-privilege is the privileging of those whose identify with the gender identity they were assigned at birth.
The situation often goes like this; introduction circle reaches a cis-gendered woman, “Hi. I’m Caitlin, you can use the pronoun ‘she’, or ‘he’, ‘they’... haha, I really don’t care.” While this may appear to be seemingly expressing comfort in fluidity of gender, in reality I think this de-values the gender identities of those who use this introduction activity as a time to confidently express a gender identity that is often denied. To me, this response indicates a misunderstanding in why safe space should include this introduction. This simple activity is not used for cis-individuals to acknowledge their understanding of gender fluidity and a cis person saying they don’t care what pro-noun is used for them is not supporting trans folks who do care. While I don’t deny the fluidity of gender, many trans individuals constantly struggle to find respect and acknowledgment for their gender identity. It is a privilege to suggest comfort in all pronouns, cis-gendered individuals are most often granted with this privilege because their gender identity will rarely be called into question.
While many cis folks participate in this introduction without realizing the implication and privilege associated with their words, I suggest to cis individuals who find themselves in this position, quietly and honestly express their desired pronoun and use the comfort they experience with their privilege for better use. For explain, Cis-folks can be allies by using gender neutral washrooms whenever available to encourage the need for these neutral washrooms in accessible spaces. All folks, cis and trans can use the pronoun ‘they’ until one indicates which pronoun they wish to be referred to with instead making an assumption based on ascetics. Finally, cis-individuals can take advantage of their privileges by defending trans rights and supporting all marginalized gender identities in our communities by educating ourselves and others.