Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Gender: a small word with big effects. Gender influences everything in our society, regardless of your gender identity. The place to start is with a definition of gender identity, which is your innermost concept of self as male, female, a combination of both or neither. You may have friends or family that go by they/them pronouns or xe/xer pronouns; you might go by these pronouns yourself. Hopefully, you respect requests for a gender-neutral pronoun, but some people do not.
Far too often, many of my transgender friends have said they've used they/them pronouns, or sometimes even he/him or she/her pronouns, because the people in their lives are not willing to respect this part of their identities. At the University of Toronto, students protested against a professor who claimed he does not "recognize another person's right to determine what pronouns I use to address them." There are individuals all over the world, the country and even this campus who refuse to acknowledge people's gender identities.
To them, I say this:
What does your name mean to you? As you grow older, your name holds your reputation and your experiences. It holds value with the people you've met and the people you will meet. Your name becomes a fundamental part of who you are: It is what you respond to and what makes you happy to hear. Even if your name is common, it's still your name.
What if your name was Justin, but some people called you only Jessica? No, they don't say it jokingly; they say it seriously because they simply don't care what your name is. Not only have they disrespected a part of you, they've essentially said your identity doesn't matter to them.
Take my name, for instance. If people told me Liyanga was too difficult to say just because they had never used it before, I would tell them to get used to it. My name is my name, and just because it is unfamiliar to you doesn't mean you get to call me something else. Failing to use someone's preferred gender pronouns is similar to this. Consider a situation without the use of gender neutral pronouns: If you identify with she/her, and someone consistently calls you he/him, how would you feel? It's disrespectful to your identity.
Our society has long expected us to fit into socially acceptable boxes, but most people don't. Our lives are full of microaggressions and stereotypes, and it is our generation's job to fight them and prove we are okay without boxes. Time and time again, we've broken out of prescribed categories, whether it be race, gender norms or religious stereotypes. While we have in no way won our fights against these boxes, we are not allowed to stop taking on new challenges.
So, to my friends who are transgender: I will always use the pronouns you prefer. If I forget or mess up, correct me, remind me and help me be better. I know not everyone will be willing to expend this small effort, but hopefully the majority of people in your life will respect your identity and give it the value it deserves.
Liyanga de Silva is a sophomore English major. She can be reached at email@example.com.