by Claire Golden
I was strolling through downtown Portland last week when I saw a cute dog. Naturally, I squealed and darted over to say hello. “She’s adorable!” I told the owner. “May I please pet her?” She nodded, and as I crouched down to lavish attention on the dog, said, “His name is Chewy.” Realizing the dog was not female like I had initially thought, I corrected myself and said, “He’s the cutest thing ever!” Although I could have cuddled with Chewy all day, all good things must end, and he and I parted ways.
This encounter reminded me of a Tumblr post I once saw about how people are quick to correct themselves when they mistake an animal’s gender, but not so much when it’s a person. My brain decided that “fluffy dog” meant “girl.” When I discovered I was wrong, I quickly switched to calling the dog “he” instead.
This happens all the time with people’s pets and babies, and nobody makes a big deal out of it. But when it comes to people’s pronouns, suddenly it becomes a big deal to society. That’s a lot of fuss for a little word like he, she, or they.
Dogs don’t care about pronouns, but people do. So why do we apologize when we misgender someone’s dog, but not when we misgender a person? My intention is not to compare people with pets. My encounter with Chewy simply made me think about how important gender identity is for people, and how important it is to respect people’s pronouns.