|A name tag reading: "Hello My Name Is / My Identifiers Are"|
filled in with "Karol Ruth Silverstein" and "she / her / disabled"
I’m cis-gender, and in the early days of sharing pronouns, I worried that my specifying she/her might come off as a little pretentious, like I was saying, “Look how woke/progressive I am!” This concern stemmed from the idea that cisgender is the default – the one assumed when none is given – which is part of the collective issue gender non-conforming kids face and is a harmful construct enlightened folks are trying to dismantle and move beyond. (I realize some readers may be confused or confronted by this idea, and I’ll leave the arduous task of educating them to those with a lot more patience and personal experience than I possess.)
As most people now acknowledge, the value of cisgender people sharing their pronouns is about allyship. By sharing my pronouns, I’m letting trans, gender-fluid and nonbinary kids know it’s safe for them to be their authentic selves around me. But I realized that sharing pronouns isn’t solely about gender identity and/or allyship. It also serves the very practical function of letting others know the correct words to use when referring to us.
People often stumble over what word to use when talking about my disability. Some ask me mid-sentence; others guess. It’s never mean-spirited, but it can get awkward (particularly for the person who truly wants to “get it right”). Disability has harmful constructs a-plenty that are long overdue for dismantling. Most were created – and continue to be perpetuated – by able-bodied people looking to lessen the blow of the big, bad word disabled. (Search #saytheword to explore my community’s thoughts on disability euphemisms.)
Two-part Twitter thread from The Tweedy Mutant (@the_tweed). Text reads: I’d like to propose an end to the phrases ”people of all abilities” and “regardless of ability” in lieu of disability. If you’re talking about disability, say disability or disability status. Here’s why: First, institutions and nondisabled ppl go out of their way to avoid saying the word “disability”. Look, the Voldemort treatment doesn’t do disabled ppl any favors; on the contrary, it means that we have to put up with a never-ending stream of patronizing euphemisms.
I share my disabled identity alongside my pronouns whenever the opportunity arises. I worry that this may not be well-received by all, that some may feel it akin to cultural appropriation. (I’m open to discussing this!)
But just as gender-nonconforming people don’t have “preferred pronouns,” disabled isn’t my “preferred term” – it really is how I identify. Using she/her/disabled not only feels like the right thing to do but it also serves as a helpful way to ease conversation around my disability.
Of course, people will still get it wrong occasionally, and that’s okay. I slip up with people’s pronouns plenty. When I do, I apologize and do my best to get it right the next time. That’s all I ask of my able-bodied brethren when referring to me.
Here's to dismantling harmful constructs!
KAROL RUTH SILVERSTEIN (she/her/disabled) is a screenwriter and writer of various genres of children’s books. Originally from Philadelphia, Karol now lives in West Hollywood with her incredibly fluffy cats, Ninja and Boo.