The More You Know… The More You Won’t Misgender Your Friends

By Sierra Voorhies

When I started at UMKC, I had taken Women’s Studies in Junior College, and thought I was at least minorly educated in the gender issues of the day. Boy, was I wrong. (Trigger warning: misgendering.)

In my first semester or two at UMKC, I made a small group of friends that included a non-binary person. We had some classes together, and after one class, they told me they were irritated: a professor had discussed differences in brain and behavior in the brains of men and women, but hadn’t bothered to do any research about where non-binary or transgender brains might differ or how they are affected. Later in the semester, they were having some turmoil about how to tell professors to address them by their pronouns (they/them). I asked them, “how is someone supposed to know someone uses they/them pronouns when they present as masculine or feminine?” They replied that non-binary people don’t all dress one way, there’s no androgynous dress code of monochromatic-oversized-Jaden-Smithian wardrobe for identifying as nonbinary. 

 That friend helped me learn a lot about identifying as non-binary, stuff that we should all know. People who identify as non-binary, women, or men don’t have to dress a certain way to present their gender because you literally cannot tell someone’s gender by looking at them. This is very different than every subliminal message I have received about performing gender for my whole life, like, I thought it was radical for women to have shaved heads, because they weren’t performing their gender. But guess what? No one, no matter their pronouns or gender, has to look any certain way.

So, that was a big wake up call for me; I have been making assumptions about people and misgendering them, and I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong. Looking at a person with a soft face shape and long hair, I would refer to them using she/her pronouns without asking or thinking. Then I took a Psychology of Gender class and learned that gender, like sexual orientation, is not a binary. And just like there is a spectrum of sexuality (pansexual, gay, asexual, straight, queer, etc.), there is a spectrum of gender. The options aren’t A) Boy or B) Girl; they include non-binary, genderfluid, cisgender, transgender, and more. 

In the future, I hope to share more of my follies in learning about gender and to explore topics like gender congruence, the different sub-categories of non-binary identities, the history of gender, gender dysphoria, pronouns, and more. I have made mistakes in understanding and applying gender and sexuality to myself and the people around me. Even though it’s embarrassing and I am ashamed that I might have hurt some of my friends, it’s ok for people to make mistakes. What’s important is that we are compassionate towards others and try our best to educate ourselves on gender and sexuality.