on honoring another person's truth
The other day a friend of mine who works in a large tech company asked my opinion about something. They recently implemented a policy for people to always say their pronouns when they do a presentation or run a meeting. Obviously, many were relieved and glad that the company introduced this policy. “But” my friend said “some people are struggling because, for whatever reason, they don’t feel comfortable sharing their pronouns. Some people I think because they’re not comfortable with the concept, and that’s a problem, but some I think because they may be not quite ready to share their true pronouns with their workplace. Is it fair to ask people to out themselves or lie about their pronouns for the sake of company policy? Maybe we can send out some refreshers about why pronouns are important? What do you think?”
I thought for a minute. This is the tricky thing of our time. The balance of holding space for everyone and every way they come to the table, and where they are in their own journeys. There is no blanket fix for how to make institutions equitable spaces, no matter how many consultants you bring in. It’s messy as fuck. Unlearning and relearning and rebuilding anew is not a pretty process.
“I think” I said slowly with my head tilted and my eyes on something far off, a thought I was trying to form, “that a helpful way to think about it is that it’s never a mandate for you to share parts of yourself you don’t want to share, especially before you’re ready, but the mandate is that you see, hear, and honor what someone else shares with you about themself. It’s about taking in what someone is telling you about themself as the truth.” She smiled, and I smiled, and we took a breath, and she said “yeaaaaah.”
We as humans struggle with the idea that we could see a person one way and they could see themself a completely different way and that we don't get to decide which one is true. But the thing is, how someone sees their own personhood will always be more real than how you interpret them. This doesn't mean we don't take responsibility for how we present and how we move through the world, it just means that our identities are ours.
Here’s to patience and diligence as we figure out how to accept and take in everyone’s truth.
And if you’re in the camp of not wanting to say your pronouns because you’re uncomfortable with the concept; lean forward, jump in.
Come on in, the water’s amazing, I promise.