Addy's blog: What's in a word
Last week I was privileged to be invited to a “What’s the T in LGBT+” event which aimed to “look to amplify the voices of the trans community and its allies so people learn from lived experiences and understand what it means to be trans in 2021”. It was a really powerful evening, and I was privileged to join such a wonderful group of people who made me feel so welcome. The event provided a safe space for people to discuss their stories, ask questions and learn.
Words carry meaning and power and the way we refer to individuals and groups of people is evidence of the respect we have for them. This got me thinking of the old saying “Sticks and stones” which I looked up and found this poem by Ruby Redfort – it is particularly poignant on this subject.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me.
Pain from words has left its' scar, on mind and hear that's tender.
Cuts and bruises have not healed, it's words that I remember.
Is the pen then mightier than the sword? In a word – yes.
I was bullied at school for being different. It depended on who was doing the bullying as to the reason they picked but it was either due to being smart, having scars on my legs from a childhood burn injury or for being overweight (even when I lost weight, I was still the “fat girl”. The scars of that have never really left me and even now at the age of 43 it still affects me.
I look at my two children now and I just want to wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from all the nasty games, playground politics and derogatory comments that come their way. But I can’t, and I shouldn’t have to. Life is life, right? Wrong! Children are a representation of their school and their parents. If a child is being un-inclusive at this age I have to look to their parents and believe that they are a reflection of what they hear at home. The school my kids go to are very strict about behaviour and language, it’s one of their mottos and is embedded in their golden rules, but it ultimately won’t change what they grow up with at home.
If we educate our children, in a broad, inclusive way that we are all the same, but uniquely different, then every generation will have a slightly easier path to total inclusivity and diversity. A world where everyone is equal; no matter what their gender, gender identity, colour of the skin, the people they chose to love, how their mind works, neuro diversity, where their (dis)ability is irrelevant. If this sound utopic, then it shouldn’t be. If this sounds like it’s impossible then it will be - if we don’t all try to change things. I get stuff wrong all the time, and I’m not ashamed of it, I say sorry and move on. The people who I’m stumbling over my words speaking to don’t take offense as they know I’m doing my best to say the right thing, in an unoffensive way.
I’m a proud supporter of a young trans woman, and I still stumble and call her by the wrong name/pronoun and she just rolls with it, as she knows I’m doing my best. I’ve mentored her through work experience, as well as CV writing and interview prep. But mentorship is about what the mentee needs, so I’ve also promised shopping trips and make up lessons if she wants them.
I called her and asked what the one thing I that could do that would make a difference to her, she said add my pronouns to my email signature. They aren’t a big deal for me, but for someone who it’s really important to, it makes it such a huge difference to be called by the right term. As to anyone that is gender non-conforming (Trans, non-binary or gender-fluid), mis-gendering can be hurtful and including these or taking the time to ask someone about their pronouns, shows respect for them, their identity and means the world. The power of one word again.
I’ll admit I'm a little apprehensive for her. Life’s path is windy, at times scary, but it’s even harder when you are different. Intersectionality adds a layer of complexity that as a cis woman I will never fully understand. But I can empathise, I can be a friend and a supporter, and I can use my voice for good by telling people it’s ok to ask questions and it’s ok to get things wrong. If you are not sure how to address someone ask them. They will be pleased you have, rather than annoyed.
There are excellent resources available at Stonewall, Mermaids and Diversity Role Models and the earlier we start educating our children the more open and inclusive the world will be.
So be open, be kind, be empathetic, use inclusive language, be inquisitive, be a friend, be an ally – humility is a powerful thing.
I am proud to be a trans ally, and I invite you to join me; and as I once said – be the change you want to see in the world.
Addy works in Risk & Compliance in the city, has a 6-year-old trainee F1 driver, a 5-year-old aspiring space doctor, a lovely hands-on husband and two mad rescue cats.