I don’t use pronouns.”
When I heard a coworker make this odd announcement during an employer-assigned study group, I was at first confused. The English teacher in me wanted to stop the lesson and ask everyone to diagram my coworker’s sentence.
The employee who introduced himself next said almost the same thing. “I don’t have pronouns.”
The following employee agreed. “I don’t use any special pronouns, either.”
I finally understood the problem. People who asked others to use pronouns that didn’t coincide with the gender they presented were demanding special rights. Trans or non-binary folks were so different that these coworkers couldn’t even acknowledge they ever used pronouns themselves under any circumstances.
Pronouns like “I,” for instance
Wives clearly never referred to their husbands as “he.” Husbands never referred to their wives as “she.” Parents never referred to their children as “they.”
It wasn’t the ignorance my coworkers displayed about basic parts of speech that surprised me. I did teach college English for ten years, after all. And we’re all ignorant about something until we learn about it.
It was the disdain that surprised me. Because the mandatory study group was about equity and social justice.
We’ve all kept misgivings about new workplace policies to ourselves as a matter of self-preservation. We might complain bitterly to friends later or, if a supervisor directly asks for feedback during the meeting, a brave few might provide it.
But most of us are savvy enough not to go into a meeting about home mortgages, for instance, and say, “I don’t believe in special loans just so people can be housed.”
In our meeting on social justice, my coworkers and I began with a land acknowledgement. Our study group was being conducted on stolen land. That day we were to discuss colorism. At a previous meeting, we’d discussed misogynoir. Every employee in the organization had been assigned short articles and videos so we’d be better able to understand the basics of that week’s topic when we met in groups of ten to fifteen participants. I felt happy to be working for an organization that was at least making an effort.
I’d been called the N-word on public transit a few days earlier, though my skin was barely a shade darker than alabaster. When the bigot finally paid enough attention to realize his error, he began calling me a “fucking faggot” instead.
Nothing more than a crazy person on the bus?
But more and more, people across the country feel emboldened to “tell it like it is.” And the truths they reveal are a profound animosity toward LGBTQ folks, toward ethnic and religious minorities, toward women, toward people of color, and toward workers.
That’s a lot of people
Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills, attempts to deny women access to healthcare, and voter suppression laws have been proposed—or passed—just in the last few months. Many more are on the way.
Those in power, including everyday folks belonging to the dominant culture, use a divide and conquer strategy as one of their many weapons to keep everyone else “in their place.”
They use the strategy because it’s effective
While one group is fighting off attacks on bodily autonomy and reproductive choice, another is fighting off attacks on a trans woman’s access to public restrooms. Yet another is fighting for the right to unionize. Some folks are fighting for the right not to be killed during traffic stops. Others are fighting to stop the rape, trafficking, and murder of indigenous women.
There’s more than enough to keep any one of these groups fully occupied
But the only way to resist these attacks is to work together. The three white, cisgender men at my workplace who dislike LGBTQ folks so much they can’t even be bothered to learn what a pronoun is need LGBTQ folks to back labor laws. People of color need white folks with disabilities as allies. Women—or people with uteruses—need gay Latinos on their side.
If we allow our unconscious biases to be weaponized by our shared oppressors, we all suffer. This isn’t a zero-sum game where we can sacrifice trans folks to get gay rights, where we sacrifice black men to get better working conditions for Asian women.
You don’t like everyone in the various targeted groups?
You don’t need to.
When I was a missionary, I didn’t like every other missionary I met.
When I was in nursing school, I didn’t like every single one of my classmates.
In forty years, I’ve never worked a job where I liked all of my coworkers.
I don’t even like everyone in my own family.
This isn’t about liking everyone or approving of every choice other people make.
It’s about joining forces for our common welfare. If we want rights for ourselves, the only way to guarantee them is to make sure everyone else has rights, too.
That’s not a philosophy or ideal. It’s reality.
So let us commit to work together, no matter what you think of me or I think of you.
Because solidarity is the only way to survive this increasing onslaught of attacks on our lives.