(Before we get started, I realize my swimsuit looks ridiculous under this dress. Hindsight is a wonderful thing😂)

Yesterday I received a DM from someone who was very upset about some language that I used. In a television interview, I referred to Correctional Officers as Prison Guards and they did NOT take kindly to this.

In their message, they compared it to misgendering a transperson… and I actually thought this was a great comparison!

Why?

Because in both cases, someone is making an assumption that someone’s words—not how they choose to use them—are inherently disrespectful.

I don’t accept that. Words are not inherently disrespectful.

… Here me out.

For my part, I can graciously accept the suggestion to change my language around Correctional Officers. I intend to do that because I have no reason to use a word that is no longer ‘industry standard’. I don’t want anyone to feel undignified in their work, and if a different word can support others in their own self-perception then I am more than happy to oblige.

But too often we’ve created rules of what ‘must’ or ‘must not’ be said, interpreting the realm of offensiveness based on whether particular words or combinations of words were uttered rather than what ‘meaning’ was most likely intended.

We’ve read offensiveness into particular passages that should never be uttered, rather than giving people the benefit of the doubt and looking deeper to understand what they are trying to convey.

That’s a bad thing because it creates a climate where people are afraid to speak. They know they might ‘make a mistake’ and get called out. It leads to social interactions where people are afraid to talk because they are worried they will mess up and be shamed.

… like saying the wrong thing to a transgender person, for example.

When it comes to ‘my pronouns’ (which I never declare), I have a pretty obvious preference and most people adhere to that. When I end up getting ‘he’, it’s almost always because a mistake or a genuine misunderstanding. I look past it to see the genuine intention of the speaker.

I have a few gender critical friends who insist on calling me ‘he’, but not out of spite. For them, it’s because of a deepset conviction they hold that pronouns must defer to biological imperatives and that being ‘biologically truthful’ is more important than displaying sensitivity to someone else’s preference.

I disagree with that principle, but I can also respect it. In those relationships (and by the context, it’s usually pretty clear that this isn’t about me at all.

I don’t take offence to this because it isn’t about me. They are not trying to hurt me, their pronoun usage is about them and their guiding principles.

And yes, occasionally someone will try to be inflammatory by calling me ‘he’ just for a reaction. It’s pretty obvious… it usually happens in circumstances where a pronoun was almost entirely unnecessary and yet they are littered all over the place as if to prove a point.

These people assholes. They are also pretty rare. Jumping to this conclusion would close off a lot of opportunities for friendship and make me feel pretty ‘offended’ in the process.

I can’t control someone else’s language. I ought not to try. Coming to realize this was one of the most empowering developments in my transition.

Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.

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Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.