Did you know that 41% of genderqueer people attempt suicide at some point in their lives? That’s about nine times the rate for cisgender people, those who identify with their sex assigned at birth.
I got these statistics from a 2015 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA. Researchers have found several reasons for these suicidal tendencies, including feelings of rejection by friends and family, as well as actual experiences of discrimination. But underlying all of this is the feeling that you are not seen as the person you want to be seen.
If, for example, you change your pronouns and become the person you want to be, it’s often extremely frustrating – and downright disabling – to be gendered wrong. It’s like someone walks up to you and says, “You don’t sound androgynous enough or feminine enough or masculine enough to use the pronouns you want to use.”
Personally, I identify as non-binary and use the pronouns “they and them”. But at school and in everyday life, it’s rare for anyone outside of my family to use my correct pronouns. It affected my mental health in a negative way. For example, due to constant bad gender, I often feel like I will never be seen as I want to be, and this often worsens my pre-existing depression. Like many genderqueer people, I also deal with suicidal thoughts. When I’m repeatedly wrong or when I’m already feeling dysphoric, these dark thoughts can get worse.
A study 2018 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that when trans youth are called by their chosen name and the correct pronouns, their risk of suicide is cut in half. I believe that if you can reduce the risk of someone committing suicide by 50% – simply by calling them whatever they feel most comfortable with – then it’s 100% worth it.
Now you might be wondering, “How can I help gender non-conforming youth and adults feel safe and comfortable? Well, there’s a lot of things you can do.
One is to simply ask them what their pronouns are. If you see someone and you’re not sure what pronouns they’re using, just ask them.
Additionally, to help the general genderqueer community feel more comfortable, you can also ask some cisgender people about their pronouns. And why not? Some of them have already begun, with admirable sensitivity, to add “(he/her)” or “(she)” to their business cards, social media profiles and Zoom call IDs.
Additionally, you can try to avoid gendered language, like “ladies and gentlemen,” and maybe replace it with something a little more inclusive, like “everyone.” There are plenty of other gender-neutral ways to address a group of people, and all it really takes is a quick Google search.
Ultimately, I think we can all agree that helping our genderqueer friends, family, and colleagues is simple. Just think of someone’s pronouns to make sure you don’t confuse them. If you make a mistake, you can just apologize and move on, no long explanation needed!
Plus, you never know: that little validation pouch you give someone using their correct name and pronouns might just save a life.
Solana Lash-St. John is a member of the class of 2025 at Mount Greylock Regional High School.