Solana Lash-St. John: Want to save lives? Stop misgendering | Columnists

Did you know that 41 percent of genderqueer individuals attempt suicide at some point in their lives? That’s about nine times the rate for cisgender people, those who identify with their assigned gender at birth.

I got these statistics from a 2015 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and UCLA’s Williams Institute. The researchers found several reasons for such suicidal tendencies, including feelings of rejection by friends and family, as well as actual experiences of discrimination. But them underlying all is a sense that you are not being perceived as the person you wish to be perceived as.

If, for example, you change your pronouns and transition into the person you want to be, it is often extremely frustrating — and downright invalidating — to be misgendered. It’s as if someone walks up to you and says, “You don’t look androgynous enough or feminine enough or masculine enough to use the pronouns you wish to use.”

Personally, I identify as nonbinary and use the pronouns “they and them.” But in school and everyday life, it is rare that someone outside my family will use my correct pronouns. This has affected my mental health in a negative way. For instance, due to constant misgendering, I often feel as if I’ll never be perceived the way I want to be, and this often worsens my preexisting depression. Like many genderqueer individuals, I also deal with suicidal thoughts. When I get misgendered repeatedly or when I am already feeling dysphoric, these dark musics can worsen.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that when trans youth are called by their chosen name and correct pronouns, their risk of suicide is reduced by as much as half. I believe that if you can lessen the chance of someone taking their life by 50 percent — just by calling them what makes them feel most comfortable — then it is 100 percent worth it.

Now, you might be wondering: “How can I help gender-nonconforming youth and adults feel safe and comfortable?” Well, there are many things you can do.

One is simply to ask them what their pronouns are. If you see someone and aren’t sure which pronouns they use, just ask.

In addition, to help the genderqueer community in general feel more comfortable, you could ask some cisgender people their pronouns, too. And why not? Some of them have already begun, with admirable sensitivity, to add “(he/his)” or “(she/her)” to their business cards, social media profiles and Zoom call identifiers.

In addition, you could try to avoid gendered language, such as “ladies and gentlemen,” and maybe swap it out for something a bit more inclusive, like “everyone.” There are many other gender-neutral ways to address a group of people, and all it really takes is a quick Google search.

In the end, I think we can all agree that helping our genderqueer friends, family and colleagues is simple. Just think about someone’s pronouns to make sure you aren’t misgendering them. If you slip up, you can simply apologize and move on, no long explanation needed!

Besides, you never know: That small pouch of validation you give to someone by using their correct name and pronouns might just save a life.

Solana Lash-St. John is a member of the Class of 2025 at Mount Graylock Regional High School.


Leave a Comment