Pronouns are powerful. And comfort is overrated. In this episode, Sarah chats with Chuck Bernsohn, advocate for LGBTQ+ and chronic illness communities, about the profound – and provoking – conversations taking place around descriptive language norms and how word choice has the power to heal long-standing systems of oppression.
As a non-binary queer person, Chuck knows firsthand how gendered language is used to reinforce institutional and personal biases. As a trans-affirming gender equity trainer, they work with both management teams and staff to create workplaces that are inclusive of all genders.
“We’re all impacted by gender roles,” says Chuck. Even those who identify as cis-gendered. By examining our gender blindspots, we can break free of standard-issue boxes and move toward true authenticity. “Language-shifting is a wonderful and beautiful thing.”
But Chuck is aware that inclusivity comes with growing pains. “Just getting people into that place and delving in, to really having a vulnerable and radically honest conversation about that fear…that’s not what our society is built on, right?”
If you’re a beginning ally worried about using gender-neutral language incorrectly (or forgetting to use it at all), don’t worry, you probably will at some point. And that’s okay! Fragility – in all its forms – needs to be shattered in order for healing to begin. Walk into difficult conversations. Listen as someone speaks their truth. Arm yourself with tools to retrain your brain.
Chuck recommends this graphic novel on gender-neutral pronoun usage and this simple exercise: every time you leave the house, silently acknowledge every person you pass with a they/them pronoun. Easy! “You have to take risks, right? You have to practice that language and you have to make mistakes and you have to get corrected.”
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