An Open Letter to Cisgender People

Content Warning: mentions of genitals, dysphoria, misgendering

Celeste Sandstrom is a transfeminine non-binary queer second-year student. She is studying a flexible double degree in Science and Arts, with majors in Mathematics and Gender, Sexuality & Culture. When not studying, she spends most of her time either playing 500 or other card and board games.

Dear cis people,

What part of me wearing a skirt, a crop top and heels screams ‘I’m a guy’ to you?

Is it that I have a ‘male’ face shape? Is it that I don’t have a chest to speak of? Is it that if you stare inappropriately, you’ll notice a slight bulge that I just couldn’t manage to hide?

I was ‘assigned male at birth’, and I have a penis, but I’m sure you know about transgender people. So why is ‘a guy wearing girl’s clothes’ the conclusion you jump to? Why do you make any assumption about what my gender is at all? Unless you’re my partner, it bears no significance on your life.

You can ask for my pronouns, and I’ll tell you, even though I may not say exactly how I identify. It is not a rude question; in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s as polite as you can be.

Celeste’s Quick Guide On How To Respectfully Ask For Pronouns:

Me: Hi, I’m Celeste.

You: Hi Celeste, nice to meet you. What are your pronouns? Mine are he/him.

Me: I use she/her.

Ta da! Using this process, you have successfully respected the autonomy of everyone’s identity, and not misgendered anyone.

For argument’s sake, however, let’s say you absolutely must refer to me as either ‘she’ or ‘he’, without asking for my pronouns. The way a person presents themselves – the clothes they choose, the way they speak, or the mannerisms they use – is often, but not always, done as an expression of their internal gender identity. Considering my presentation, the safest of those two options would be to call me ‘she’. This is because misgendering a cis man ‘dressing up as a girl’ does not have the same detrimental effect as misgendering me as a trans woman and thereby feeding into the dysphoria I already struggle with. Many trans people struggle to correct people who use incorrect pronouns, so if you must assume, base it on presentation.

But even as I offer this view, I disagree with it.

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can and should use ‘they’. ‘They’ and ‘them’ are the safest pronouns you can use for someone whose pronouns you don’t know since they are gender-neutral. Often non-binary people who don’t identify within the gender binary use they/them as opposed to any gendered pronouns. It is not grammatically incorrect to use they/them in a singular form and, in fact, you probably already do it subconsciously.

It all comes down to a simple notion: don’t assume that everyone experiences gender the same way you do.

All my love,

Celeste xoxoxo

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.