This happened recently:
I’m standing in line with my partner at a bookstore in Minneapolis while they purchase a book. As the bookstore employee is putting our books into a bag, my partner asks if I gave the clerk our coupon, and I responded quickly with “I already gave it to her.”
I realized immediately that I made an assumption about this person’s pronouns and gender, so I quickly backtracked and corrected myself by using “them.”
But the situation was already awkward and I was flustered and embarrassed, so I quickly moved toward the door to leave.
This is a pretty innocuous example, but it speaks to how easily we can get tripped up in our language, especially if we aren’t being mindful.
Have you ever slowed down enough to notice the way you talk to or about other people?
If not, I encourage you to try it sometime.
It can be pretty revealing.
Language is extremely powerful, and we all have a habitual way of talking about the world, ourselves, and others.
And guess what? The language we use gives away how we really feel about the world, ourselves, and other people.
Language is used to create, and language is used to destroy.
Language as a form of violence can be used really overtly, like the recent example of how one Iowa newspaper described a trans woman of color who had been recently arrested:
Since Monday, Offender No. 995200 has been confined to cell M10 in the medical unit of Polk County Jail as officials have tried to figure out what to do with her. That’s not because she’s ill or violent or charged with some big crime; she is none of those things. It’s because she has breasts and a penis.
Meagan Taylor is not called by her name here; she is reduced to her body parts. Language has taken away her humanity and made her an object.
Language as a form of violence can also be really subtle, which can make it difficult to notice sometimes.
Have you ever walked away from a conversation and about an hour later—or even longer—you’re like, “hey, something about that conversation didn’t feel very good.”
That’s how violence through language worms its way in.
Someone once told me a story about when he was little and he told his mother—quite matter of factly and with pride one day—that he was a “tom-girl.”
And his mother instantly replied: “there’s no such thing as a tom-girl.”
Destroyed. Crushed. Erased.
When a friend of mine came out to their parents as queer, their parents said they would not tell anyone about my friend’s “issue.”
Which issue was that again?
The brother of a friend of mine said that he wouldn’t bring his children around my friend because he didn’t want to “expose” his children to my friend.
Expose them to what exactly? To someone living authentically? To a badass uncle?
I also hear people describe others as “like that,” as in: “she’s like that.”
Like what? Aren’t there better words to describe this individual?
I get that it’s difficult to talk about identities and experiences that are unknown to us, especially when we’re afraid of getting it wrong.
The beautiful thing about a habit formed is that it can also be re-formed. We learned how to talk one way, so we can also learn to talk differently.
Today I encourage you to slow down enough to notice how you talk about others, the world, and yourself.
One of my favorite teachers of mindfulness practice, Tara Brach, talks about “The Sacred Pause.” One reason it’s sacred is because it gives us a chance to react differently in a situation, including the language we use.
Does your language hold others up, allow them be as expansive as they truly are? Or does it reduce them to an object, body parts, an issue, or a thing to be kept hidden?
These are important differences.
I know you might be saying: okay, grey! I hear you. What should I be saying instead?
I’m so glad you asked.
This post is the first in a series on definitions, terminology, and concepts relevant to those who identify as trans* or gender nonconforming. So stay tuned.
And I always welcome your questions and input. Always.
Is there something I’ve said that’s unclear? Is there a topic you’d love to know more about? Let me know. I want to make sure you’re getting what you need.
Feel free to drop me a line via my contact form or in the comments section below with any questions.
Thanks for continuing to show up. I’ll see you soon.