Andre and Ben's story
As a young boy, André grew up surrounded by prejudice towards LGBTIQ+ people. “I grew up in the Caribbean at a time where homophobia was very common. Unfortunately I used to hold views like that.”
During his teenage years, however, André remembers having a life-changing moment inspired by his own mother.
“Back then, my mum used to hang with a lot of queer folk – they would go to the gym and on hikes together. It was a very bold thing to do. I really look up to my mum, and that led me to challenge my own thinking, start questioning things, and do more reading on history.”
Decades later, while living in Melbourne, André joined a social club of like-minded people who’d frequent festivals and cultural events together. Among the group was Ben – a non-binary person around André’s age.
“For me, being non-binary means acknowledging that I’ve never felt like a man, and I’ve been trying to fit into ideals or expectations of masculinity that I can’t really relate to,” Ben reflects.
“It’s hard to describe, but it’s a personal experience, and acknowledging that for myself was extremely challenging, and still is.”
The pair became friends, and over time André began to notice when Ben was misgendered, or disrespected for their gender identity. One day, André decided to speak out.
“We were at a bar and Ben introduced themselves and said their pronouns were they/them,” says André. “Somebody kept saying ‘he’ and ‘that guy’ about Ben, so I spoke up. I said, Hey, if someone is saying their pronouns, you should respect them. The person got a bit belligerent, and continued to claim that Ben was a man and there should be no problem.”
Although the situation was getting heated, André’s approach was to bring in education, rather than confrontation. “I made a concerted effort to be calm, collected, and to get across a point: that at a minimum, it is a basic sign of respect to address somebody by their correct pronouns,” André remembers.
“André was really good,” Ben says. “He stepped in and basically made me feel that I had someone in my corner that would back me on who I was.”
Ben says this scenario is unfortunately not uncommon.
“This kind of stuff happens all the time. The assumption is that there’s only men and women out in public. Day by day, what makes this easier for me is being surrounded by people who see and understand me on a level greater than what I look like, or actually listen to me when I explain my experience. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people like André.”
André says he understands that people make mistakes. “No-one’s perfect. I sometimes misstep, but I correct myself as much as I can, and apologise to make sure everything’s OK.”
André believes respecting pronouns can be the difference between having a positive or negative impact on another human.
“If you’re not sure, you can use gender-neutral language. It’s really not hard, it costs you nothing, and the person on the other end is going to feel welcome and respected and valued.”