Getting my gender and pronouns right: Why it matters


Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

There have been many places where I have been misgendered, but sitting at a restaurant with my brother is not where I expected it to happen, yet again.

About two years ago, I decided to cut my long hair after conforming to what people had expected from me as a woman my whole life. It became a monumental moment because of the power I felt in expressing who I truly was.

Instead of everyone seeing me as the powerful woman I see in myself, they switched their lens to see a masculine-presenting person.

Growing up, my gender was always a sensitive topic for me, as my Mexican culture is predominantly patriarchal. I was constantly judged for not sticking to the strict feminine expressions and I always felt like I fit nowhere.

Through all the gender roles thrust upon me, there was a point when I hated who I was because I didn’t fit what was considered “normal”.

Let’s get one thing straight — since cutting my hair, I’ve never said anything about a change in gender. It feels like the whole world has, instead, decided for me.

When I was exploring my gender expression while I was younger, I was always confused by society’s defined line between masculinity only belonging to men and femininity only belonging to women. If you were in-between the spectrum, or presented yourself as another gender “too much”, or landed somewhere not represented in the binary spectrum, by societal standards you were thrown into a label whether you liked it or not.

I use “she” and “her” pronouns, but I never expect anyone to get them right. Since cutting my hair and not conforming to femininity, not one person has asked me what my pronouns are, instead they always assume that I must only identify with the masculine parts of myself.

Some people present themselves more like one gender and conform to those pronouns and identity, but I’m not one of them. Why are we expecting the same thing out of every person when we are all, obviously, vastly different individuals?

It was frustrating that day at the restaurant, when I was with my brother, wearing casual clothing, and was referred to as “sir” by an employee. Since when do t-shirts and jeans belong to just one gender?

This hasn’t been the first or last time this has happened to me. It’s something I deal with daily.

I know these acts toward me aren’t done with malicious intent, but it’s something that I’ve had to learn to brush off. But why do I have to learn to brush it off? Why can’t society break this binary view?

It’s okay to ask for a person’s pronouns or how they would like to be addressed. Or, you can simply ask for their name and refer to the person as such, especially when it is not the right place or time to ask that question.

But, the only wrong thing you can do is assume.

Gender-neutral people, like myself, are more hurt when you assume rather than ask.

In a society that is learning to be more progressive, we still have a long way to go when it comes to being more aware of gender identity.

Lucero Del Rayo-Nava can be reached at [email protected] or @del_rayo98 on Twitter.