Pro­nouns mat­ter to LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity

Mis­takes hap­pen but in­ten­tional mis­use harm­ful

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - GREG MCNEIL greg.mcneil@cb­post.com @cape­bre­ton­post

SYDNEY — Since the ten­der age of four, Veron­ica Mer­ry­field knew she was a lit­tle girl and not the first­born son her par­ents in­sisted on rais­ing.

She was born in­ter­sex, raised as a male, and was well into her 20s be­fore of­fi­cially re­veal­ing her­self to co-work­ers.

To cut any ten­sion re­lated to an in­cor­rect ref­er­ence to “she,” her proper pro­noun, she de­vised a clever take on the ‘swear jar’ con­cept and had co-work­ers do­nate to a lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ter when­ever the in­cor­rect pro­noun was mis­tak­enly used.

“When I had my tran­si­tion at work I knew it was go­ing to be a prob­lem be­cause I went home on the Fri­day night and came back Mon­day morn­ing,” she said dur­ing an in­ter­view as part of Pride Week cov­er­age with the Cape Bre­ton Post.

“The real rea­son for that is that it broke the ten­sion. When ev­ery­body did it at work, they knew it was wrong and it is very easy then to get very apolo­getic or up­set about it and cre­ate a ten­sion.”

At her work­place in Eng­land at the time, the in­cor­rect use of the pro­noun was un­in­ten­tional and that’s of­ten the case. With no jar in sight, she ad­vises oth­ers who make the same mis­take to just apol­o­gize and move on.

There are cases of in­ten­tional mis­use, how­ever, even re­cently in Cape Bre­ton when she was bluntly asked “what are you, a man or a woman or one of those trans­ves­tite things?”

Pro­nouns “gauge your iden­tity,” she said. In­cor­rect use can be trig­ger­ing and the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of that can be sui­cide, es­pe­cially among youth.

“That’s why pro­nouns mat­ter. The re­peated den­i­gra­tion of in­di­vid­u­als by us­ing the wrong pro­nouns is go­ing to head them down that road.”

Mer­ry­field is open about the frus­trat­ing and of­ten emo­tion­ally dev­as­tat­ing road she fol­lowed be­fore find­ing hap­pi­ness.

There’s a story of her mom tear­ing off a blue dress she caught her wear­ing when she was just five. Work at a hos­pi­tal af­ter univer­sity gave her ac­cess to proper med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and an MRI ma­chine that of­fered a re­veal­ing scan.

And some­thing not quite right about her birth records prompted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to in­for­ma­tion about sur­gi­cal changes when she was just a new­born.

Most of her re­al­iza­tions were on her own and dark thoughts came with them.

“I can kind of for­give (my par­ents) be­cause in the 60s there was this kind of flux over what to do with in­ter­sex,” she said.

“What I can’t for­give them for is that at eight years old I asked for med­i­cal help for it and they re­fused and gave me the lec­ture about God doesn’t make mis­takes. Now I know the truth.”

She men­tors LGBTQ+ youth these days — any and all — who wish to have her time so that they do not have to go through such things all on their own.

“If some­body were to find me through the men­tal health unit I’d be there in 20 min­utes. I’ve done that a few times in the last year,” she said.

“New peo­ple try­ing to find their feet, I’ll talk to them. Par­ents who have kids that are com­ing out, I do that too. I’m around, peo­ple know me, know where to find me. The more ex­po­sure I can get to that kind of thing, or ex­po­sure so peo­ple know I do that kind of thing the bet­ter.”

She also teaches gen­der and sex­u­al­ity to stu­dents in the nurs­ing pro­gram at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity, has spo­ken with so­cial work­ers and was re­cently con­tacted about ed­u­ca­tional out­reach for health­care work­ers.

Ad­vis­ing in­formed pol­icy to places like Tran­si­tion House and the El­iz­a­beth Fry So­ci­ety is also part of her up­com­ing agenda.

Dur­ing Pride Week, a Cape Bre­ton Part­ner­ship Zoom ses­sion on Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. will see her dis­cuss in­clu­sion in work­place train­ing, in­clud­ing pro­nouns and why they mat­ter. She’ll also host the Liv­ing Li­brary for the third con­sec­u­tive year.

Though much of Pride Week in Cape Bre­ton will be on­line in 2020 due to COVID-19 re­stric­tions, she said it still mat­ters that it is marked and com­mem­o­rated.

She said it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of ‘who we are’ and a re­minder of what has hap­pened in the past.

“It’s a bea­con of hope,” she added. “I see that on the Pride march it­self when you have peo­ple stand­ing at the side of the roads of­fer­ing free momma hugs, free dad hugs. That’s huge. There are still peo­ple around who don’t have parental sup­port, don’t have wider sup­port who need to know that’s around.”

Pride Week is also a re­minder that there is still work to do.

“The only thing we ask for is ac­cep­tance, to be able to live our lives. It’s still hard when you have pres­sure groups push­ing for things like not be­ing able to use the bath­rooms, for in­stance.”

CON­TRIB­UTED MIKE WHITE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Veron­ica Mer­ry­field is shown march­ing in last year’s Pride Cape Bre­ton pa­rade in Sydney.

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