Once upon a time, there were those who snidely called women “Miss” no matter how often they were asked to use “Ms.”. The validation was that Ms. was madeup, wasn’t proper English and explanations ad nauseum. One of the more popular explanations was that Ms. would confuse people: was the woman married or was she not? Where men didn’t need to denote their marital status, women had to clarify it at all times. After all, how would we know if that woman was allowed to even be in public without a man or a respectable woman as escort?
Once upon a time, there were those who called women by their husband’s surname no matter how often the woman explained that she had kept her ‘own’. There was no reason for women to keep their own names they were told; think of how confusing it will be for the children! Are they yours? Are they not? Whose name will they use? Will you give them yours and then people will think they’re (hushed whisper) *illegitimate*? Why were women trying to convince people they weren’t married? Were they trying to attract other men?
There are endless examples I could give. When African-Americans decided that Black was a name that they preferred to use for their identity than Coloured. How many white people sneered and insisted that there was no reason for the change? Over and over, every version involves someone wanting their identity to be respected, to have that respect shown by being addressed by the label, name or pronoun that is theirs. And over and over, there are those who show their assumption of superior standing by refusing to grant that grace. Telling someone that you have decided for them that calling them by the incorrect pronoun does not hurt them or affect them. Because the need to control others, to feel power over them, is more important than acknowledging them as your equal.
Slowly, through time, through sheer stubbornness, various identity groups have worn people and social conventions down (in parts of the world). We live in a society where personal identity is all; where people have unique names, change their names to better reflect their sense of self, where people choose the surnames they and their partner will use for a family. And however much anyone might criticize those naming choices, we understand that no one else gets to decide. No one gets to call those people by a different name just because they don’t like the one chosen.
Someday, those of you who feel that being asked to use someone’s pronouns-of-choice will understand that you are being ridiculous and controlling. That you are insisting that what you want and what you are comfortable with is the only thing that matters. That the way you demonstrate your imagined superiority is by denying others the right to choose the names and pronouns for their identity. Think of that the next time you introduce yourself to someone… think of the name you use and why it is you think you are entitled to have someone use it to address you.