Selma Ndasilohenda Iyambo
Just like you wouldn’t want people to call you a name that is not yours, don’t call others by the wrong pronoun. Simple!
We are living in the 21st century yet people still want to assume individuals’ genders based on their physical appearances. We were sitting in a restaurant at Johannesburg Airport with a colleague when a vibrant young woman decided to misgender my colleague.
“Good morning, madam! Welcome to O.R Tambo International Airport, what can I serve you?” I was shocked to hear her say this because she is a young person, so I expected her to be aware that someone’s gender does not have anything to do with their physical appearance.
Misgendering is defined as referring to someone by a pronoun that is not theirs. According to transgender detective Aio Areseb, featured in the “So Over The Rainbow- Young, Black, and Trans in Namibia” documentary, society doesn’t understand sex assigned at birth and the corresponding gender roles. They just look at trans people as gay and lesbian which is frustrating because most of the time, that is why they are being misgendered.
It can occur both intentionally while sometimes it’s a matter of ignorance. Etiher way, misgendering inflicts tremendous social and emotional violence on the person who is misgendered, hence the need to be conscious of how we address the next person.
I was sitting in class when my lecturer addressed one of my classmates by their gender assigned at birth since transitioning to their true gender. Ashley is a 23-year-old trans woman, (someone whose sex assigned at birth is male but whose gender identity is female.) Ashley was sitting at the back of the class when the lecturer called her name out and she didn’t hear him. After a few seconds, the lecturer asked “Where is he?” A classmate tapped her on the shoulder.
When Ashley realized that the lecturer was referring to her, she stood up and said “Good morning Prof! I’m Ashley. I apologize that I didn’t hear you when you called my name. Another thing that I would like to bring to your attention is that I do not identify with my sex assigned at birth. I would appreciate it if you address me with the pronouns she/her/hers rather than he/him/his.” He immediately extended his apology, and since that day the professor has taken note of Ashley’s gender and no longer misgenders her.
This is not a flippant example, but something with far-reaching consequences. Imagine being called a man when you know you are a woman. It can have a huge impact on your self-confidence and mental health, especially for those who recently came out as they are still adjusting to living life as their true selves. It could regress the progress they’ve made towards asserting the most genuine expression of who they are. It’s exhausting to constantly fight people to address you correctly. Misgendering may result in individuals not wanting to continue with their identity, or worse, it could contribute to the high suicide figures we see in the trans community.
When you meet or come into contact with an individual for the first time or after a while it is always good to ask the following question: “What are your pronouns/ how would you like to be addressed?” before you assume that they still identify with the same pronoun that you have known in the past or before assuming their pronouns based on their physical appearance.
This helps build a habit of addressing individuals using their correct name and pronouns even when they are not around. Using the right pronoun affirms that you see people for who they are, that you understand them, and that you accept them. This type of community support can save lives and give the people you share your world with, a sense of belonging. Remove the burden of trans people constantly needing to worry about when next they will be misgendered. You have that privilege, so use it. The alternative is not only hurtful and disrespectful but also very oppressive.
Selma Ndasilohenda Iyambo is a 20-year-old third-year Bachelors of Arts in Media Studies student at the University of Namibia who specializes in Journalism. She currently serves as the Her Voice Fund Ambassador to Namibia, as a contributor to Afterbreak Magazine, and as Programs Director at Social Enabled Education Namibia (SEE Namibia). Selma is also a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights activist who has been a volunteer for the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) for the past six years where she has served as the Youth Representative to the board.
Selma Ndasilohenda Iyambo is a 20-year-old Activist for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights born in the small village of Uukwalumbe. She volunteered at the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NAPPA) for the past six years and served as the National Chairperson for the Youth Action Movement and Youth Representative to the NAPPA board. Currently, she is the Ambassador of Her Voice Fund Namibia, a contributor to Afterbreak Magazine, and a Programs Director at Social Enabled Education Namibia (SEE Namibia). Selma, who is also a third-year journalism student at the University of Namibia, put her whole heart and soul into writing this piece for Sister Namibia.