In January of 2020, I was at a workshop in a conference in Iowa that began with the host asking everyone gathered in the small room to introduce himself or herself. The instructions were for each attendee in the classroom-sized room to give his or her name, where they were from and their pronoun.
It’s a good thing that the first few people to respond were young, progressive types who knew exactly what she meant: In this age of gender fluidity, she wanted to know which gender you identified with. By the time it came to some older attendees sitting a few rows back, they had caught on.
But that didn’t mean they were happy. One gentleman, who I would guess was in his 60s, gave his name, where he was from and ended with. “The last time I checked, I was a man.”
He wasn’t angry, exactly; more like bemused at what he seemed to consider a silly request.
I teach a communications class, and one of the principles I stress is that we should refer to people in the way they want to be referred to. It can be confusing. I’m old enough when it changed from Negro to Black to African-American. (I’m not quite old enough for Colored.). Not every Black person agreed; it was a generational thing. My grandparents considered themselves Negroes.
Now, I have children, and they consider themselves BIPOCS. (Google it, if you’re not current.)
I am glad to call people whatever they want to be called – and I think they have a right to demand that. And it’s still confusing – truth be told, I’m not 100 percent sure when LGBT is OK and when we should add the Q. I’ve seen it both ways. Perhaps that also depends on the person.
But many people – like that man at the workshop in Iowa – are not very interested in keeping up with changing terminology when it refers to themselves. I can understand why someone who has lived all his or her life referring to himself or herself in one way may not be happy to arrive at a point, late in life, when he or she must choose pronouns and define himself or herself as cisgender.
I think the more progressive types among us should allow such people to remain where they are without considering that being anti-progress.
The thing is, respect is a two-way street. We have to be careful to allow people to remain in their own spaces if it doesn’t hurt us.
One thing to remember is that we could be alienating allies in whatever movement we are involved in if we do not extend mutual respect.
Happily, in that conference in Iowa, no one challenged the older gentleman’s somewhat sarcastic response to the host’s instructions. Despite the rocky beginning, the man enthusiastically participated in the workshop. And maybe he learned something.
Dan Holly is executive editor of Diversity MBA Magazine. Her is the author of, “Come on, People: A pea for Moderation and a Plan for Christians to Lead the Way.”