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Bre Calma: What is a pronoun? Why does it matter? And what to do if you make a mistake.

In the English language, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, ad transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and cause stress and anxiety.

Bre Calma (they/them) is a non-binary queer. They have an extensive education background, and they were most insightful when they thoughtfully captured why pronouns matter in a gender debate. Bre lays out how pronouns play a crucial role in respecting and affirming individuals’ identities, reducing discrimination and stigma, supporting mental health and well-being, and promoting inclusivity and understanding.

Bre included a deep and rich list of books and social connectors to learn, understand and introduce pronouns to our everyday conversation.

Episode Transcript

Stuart Murray 0:00

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One Territory, their traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and the Dene peoples and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

Amanda Logan (Voiceover) 0:19

This is Humans On Rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray.

Stuart Murray 0:30

What's a pronoun? Why They Matter? And what to do if you make a mistake? Sounds simple enough. But there are numerous important very important levels to this conversation. So let's dive in. I'm very, very pleased today to welcome to Humans On Rights, Bre Calma. Bre Calma, Bree's pronouns are they/them is a non binary queer. They graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Winnipeg, and hold a graduate certificate in sexual health education from the University of Alberta. Bre has extensive experience in classroom teaching, as well as facilitating workshops for workplaces, companies, nonprofit organizations, health care facilities and universities. And today, she has taken time to jump onto this podcast called Humans On Rights. Bre, welcome to Humans On Rights.

Bre Calma 1:36

And Stuart, like you told me to correct you, they are jumping on.

Stuart Murray 1:41

They are jumping on, thank you so much. I appreciate it right off the top Bre thank you very, very much. So Bre before we get into the opportunity to talk about pronouns, let's talk a little bit about Bre Calma and and and where they are from and your background.

Bre Calma 1:59

Absolutely. Thank you, Stuart. So, like you said, my name is Bre. My pronouns are they/them and I actually grew up in Winkler, Manitoba, I grew up in a very religious household, a very religious Mennonite community. And for folks who are familiar with some of those parts of southern Manitoba, we don't necessarily associate them with the most progressive to LGBTQ+ rights and rhetoric. And that was definitely my experience growing up as well. I did not know that gay people existed until I went to university when until I moved out of Winkler. It just was not something that was talked about. And, you know, I grew up in a relatively progressive family and I actually have a cousin who's a trans woman. So these are things that exist, but I never could see myself in them, I never saw it as an option for myself, which meant that when I was discovering my queerness, discovering how I fit into these concepts of gender and attraction, I was doing so kind of from a disadvantage, in a sense. By the time I realized I was queer, I was already married, I was married to a man, I was, you know, living life as a good Menonite wife, and discovered that that was not where I fit. That was not the experiences that made sense for me. And so in that process, I kind of did some diving into my own self, my own identity, how those pieces fell into place for me. And in that process, I also got into this field of education, around 2SLGBTQ+ identities. So I often tell folks as well, that if you are joining, and you're learning about these things for the very first time, there's nothing wrong with that. I had no clue that this 2SLGBTQ+ community existed until I was into my 20s. I had no idea and yet here I am educating about it right? So there's always room to grow. There's always room to dive in and learn more and expand your understanding of human experience.

Stuart Murray 4:03

When you were going to school in Winkler when was when you were younger, and you're in high school, at some point, and again, using language. Would you be at that point thinking about your gender identity? Is that the correct word at that point?

Bre Calma 4:18

Yeah, absolutely. And really, I think it's more kind of this idea. In hindsight, I realized I see all the signs that I didn't notice at the time. But I definitely was questioning things in the sense that, you know, going to primary school, we would be separated by both boys and girls, right. And I knew that I was supposed to go on the girls side, right? I knew that that's where I was supposed to fit. That's what I had been told, but I didn't really understand why I didn't really understand why there was a distinction. I mean, at that point in my life, I didn't know necessarily all the details about differences in biology and genitalia, right. Those are things we don't know necessarily teach to kids. And I certainly wasn't taught about them. But if you don't even have that as a basis to go off of, I was confused by the separation of girls and boys, right? And it would kind of be like, well, I'm also wearing pants, you know, or that girl has short hair, like, what difference does it make? How do we make these categories? And so in hindsight, I recognize how I pushed back against that, and I questioned it, even though I knew where I was supposed to fit. But I found throughout growing up that the term girl was okay for me, I think maybe because we have this kind of innocence associated with it. And there's a little bit of like a separation from womanhood, in a sense. But when folks use the term girl, for me, it was okay. It wasn't great. I sometimes describe it as being like, a t shirt. That's one size too small, like it does the trick. It's okay. It's a bit uncomfortable, but it wasn't horrific. But I mostly found that especially after leaving high school, when folks would call me a lady or a woman, that then what was once just like a T shirt one size too small was now like itchiest wool sweater three sizes too small that you couldn't get out of. And so for me, that's where I really started questioning it was when people started saying like, oh, you're such a lovely young woman or okay, ladies, what can I get for you? And I was like, oh, what does that mean? Like, I don't feel like that is my experience. I don't feel like I fit within that and so really, that's where I drastically started questioning things. But in hindsight, I do recognize that I had these questions or experiences as a child, but I didn't even know how to talk about them. I didn't know how to put words to it. Until you get language that fits better, right? It's kind of hard to be like, do you also feel like a weird woman? Right, like, how do you answer that, right? But when I learned terms like non binary, well, then I can say, hey, like, are you also non binary? Right? Or do you share that experience? And having that language can be so helpful.

Stuart Murray 7:09

For sure. So Bre, is it, you know, again, just so interested in your life journey, you are married, did you at one point feel that by getting married, it might make you feel more or identify more do with gender identity at that point, even through your request?

Bre Calma 7:33

Yeah, and I think that I mean, this is also where the complexities of culture and religion also come in. Because for me, there was this idea, I saw everyone around me getting married. And for anyone who's familiar with Mennonite culture, a lot of the time you get married pretty young, I was I had just turned 20 when I got married, I mean, my mom was married at 19. My older sister got married at 20, or 21, right? Like, it's just part of that, what you do in a sense, and I saw my friends around me getting married. And I think that it just was like, well, I guess this is the next step for me, even though it doesn't necessarily feel quite right. Even though I've got these questions, and I don't know how to express them or, you know, explore those questions. It kind of just felt like, well, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. But I do remember, I came out as bisexual, I had already been married. I was currently married at the time when I came out as bisexual. And I remember very specifically, more than one person asking me like, well, what's the point of talking about this? You're already married? Why does it matter? Like, why does it matter that, you know, you're not straight if you're basically in a straight relationship? And I mean, that's harmful in general, right to somebody, well, why does it matter who you are because of the relationship you're in? But there was that idea, right of like, while you're already locked in, why are you even questioning these things? Why are you even digging into it? I'm very glad I did. I'm very glad to be where I'm at now. And I'm married to a wonderful non binary queer person, and we have, you know, a lovely queer relationship, and I'm very happy with it. But yeah, there definitely was an interesting journey to get me to where I'm at now. And this kind of understanding of where I am and what I want for myself and how I want to show up in the world.

Yeah, and, and thank you for sharing that I, you know, really appreciate the, you know, how you discovered just, you know, kind of, I want to go back and you know, because I'm trying to learn these terms, the difference between gender and gender identity, just understanding who you are inside and what it is that you believe and how you want to live your life. Was that a shock to people when you decided to talk to people about who Bre Calma really is from a gender identity perspective?

In a lot of ways, yes, I kind of came out in a bit of an unconventional way. I have social anxiety, I'm autistic, I did not want to do like a formal coming out and having an in person conversation and being like, okay, you know, you need to sit down and let's talk about this. That's not really how I wanted to do it. So really, I actually just changed my pronouns on Instagram, I took a screenshot of it, I shared it to my story. And I said, just so you know, these are my pronouns now and I kind of just did, I didn't even come out to my parents first, my family, I just was like, nope, everybody can find out at once. This is how you talk about me now. And I kind of for me, it didn't feel like that big of a deal. It was like, well, this is just a bit of a change in language, you know, people have different nicknames, or, you know, people get married and change their last name, and everyone adjusts to that just fine. And so for me, I kind of was like, nope, you can kind of get used to it, right? These are my pronouns, learn them get better at them. And I do remember the kind of one, not pushback, but the one response I remember was from my mom, who is lovely and she is she truly tries to be a very supportive, affirming parent. But I do remember her response kind of saying, like, well, just don't get mad at me if I get it wrong, you know, I'm not gonna get it right always, but don't get mad at me. And I remember having to kind of explain to her saying like, no, of course, I'm not going to instantly get mad at you. But if you're still screwing it up, like five years later, 10 years later, consistently, well, I might get upset, right. And it's okay, as well, for folks who get upset when you get their identity wrong. That is upsetting and so I kind of remember that as well. Because often, that is how folks feel right to have, like, I'll try but don't get mad at me if I get it wrong. But I think it is sometimes helpful to remember that people might get mad people might be hurt or upset or respond in a way that you don't necessarily like. But that does happen when folks get you know, misgendered and their identity isn't seen.

Stuart Murray 12:11

Yeah, so Bre, as I said at the outset, you are a non binary queer. And you talk about your pronouns being a them. Did you have pronouns prior to that, that you used?

Bre Calma 12:25

Yeah. So prior to switching my pronouns to they/ them I was using she/her pronouns. They were the ones that were given to me when I was born, as I would say, most people experience. And this is where, you know, these concepts of sex assigned at birth and gender identity and pronouns and gender expression, it becomes this big, complicated mess, in a sense for a lot of folks. Because so often, based off a baby's sex assigned at birth, we label them either girl or boy, for the most part, right? And really, that's usually based off external genitalia, right? They kind of look between the legs, they say, okay, this is what we see, you're a girl or you're a boy. And so that's how a lot of people grow up, right. And then when you're labeled as a girl, you're raised as a girl, and you're referred to as a girl and so I always grew up with folks using the term girl using she her pronouns for me. And it ended up being something that I had to unlearn for myself. Because, you know, I had over 20 years of that being the only way people referred to me, and I had to unlearn it for myself as well. But yeah, that was the language that I used prior to switching to they/then pronouns.

Stuart Murray 13:42

Okay, thank you for that. Bre, let's just kind of start basic, and talk about what is a pronoun? And let's talk about why it matters.

Bre Calma 13:53

Absolutely. I think it's really key to keep in mind that pronouns are not an inherently 2SLGBTQ+ topic. We definitely hear folks say things like, oh, I'm not one of those pronouns, people. But, I mean, if you're saying I am not one of those pronouns, people, I as a pronoun, right, pronouns are just a part of language. It's one of the parts of speech and this is where me being a junior high English teacher comes in as well, right? But we have nouns and verbs and adjectives and pronouns are part of that. And really, a pronoun is just a word used to replace the subject of the sentence, right? So instead of saying, you know, Bree likes chocolate, I would say I like chocolate right? I is replacing my own name, right? And so we use pronouns all the time. But where it relates to the 2SLGBTQ+ community is that in English, we have gendered pronouns, and of course, in many other languages as well, for the most part, it's mainly European languages that use gendered pronouns the she, her and he,him and then of course variations and other languages. But those gendered pronouns can be limiting for folks. Because if you were to say, you know, we're doing a podcast episode, and she is going to be speaking about, there's an assumption that that person is a woman, right? If you say we're doing a podcast episode, and he is going to be speaking about, we assume that person's a man. And we're assuming a big part of a person's identity based off of a two or three letter word, right? It's a really tiny word sentence, but yet, we're assuming kind of what a person is going to look like, what they're going to act like, how they identify, just based off that. And so because English has these gendered pronouns that we've been taught to default to, and we've been taught to sort all people into these two categories, some folks opt to use gender neutral pronouns, myself included. So they then would be the most commonly used set of gender neutral pronouns. And that really is just because we're already familiar with it in the English language, we use it on a regular basis. Definitely, I hear folks say, ah, but it's a plural, I don't know how to get my head out of the fact that it's a plural. And absolutely, that is true. We use it as a plural, right? If I'm talking about a choir performance, I might say, oh, they were great, right, because you're talking about multiple people. But we do use the them as a singular all the time, right? If you hear a knock at the door, you might say, oh, someone knocked, but they were gone before I got there. Right, that's a gender neutral singular, or someone leaves an umbrella on the bus, you'd say shoot, someone forgot their umbrella right? We wouldn't say someone forgot his or her umbrella. That's not typically how we speak. And so really, folks have started using the them as a singular gender neutral pronoun, as a way to kind of fill this gap in her language that is so based off, like, if you don't fit into these two categories of gender, there's no language for us to speak about you. And so that's where they them has come in. And there are other gender neutral pronouns as well, which I'm sure we can dive into. They're often called Neo pronouns, right? New pronouns. But they're actually not as new as some people think. Many of them have been around for hundreds of years. But it's just finding different ways to refer to people in a way that feels good for them.

Stuart Murray 17:22

Yeah, I mean, I, that's a great explanation. Bre, thank you so much. I, I think the importance when we look at the English language, and we are talking about English, I mean, I think, you know, you look at other like French is a very specific, gender based language. And a friend of mine was telling me that, that they're also they're looking at creating a new word around that. And so, you know, I mean, I think one of the things just to put it in perspective, Bree, you know, language changes. You know, I think people change, hopefully, people understand that, that that's why we're in this world. I mean, change is a good thing. It's tough for some people, there's no question about it, but change is a good thing. And so I'd like to get your perspective on, it seems, it seems to me and I may be wrong. And please correct me if I am, that a lot of the conversation around pronouns has come forward around the discussion of because there's an issue of people being self identified as transgendered. Is that am I, Is that a fair comment or am I missing something? And, you know, please explain if I am correct on that. Please give your background as to why you think that that has started to shape this conversation.

Bre Calma 18:37

Yeah, absolutely. So there is this piece of transgender folks, gender diverse folks, non binary folks wanting to create changes around pronouns and wanting to be more intentional with it. Because a lot of the time how most of us I would say have been raised is that we're not very intentional with the language we use, we look at a person. And we kind of decide if we think they're male or female, decide if we think they look like a man or a woman. And a lot of that's almost happening subconsciously. But yet, we put a term to them, right? We, you know, see the server at the restaurant, and we'll say, Oh, she's going to be right back with our drinks. We don't know what language or what pronouns that person uses for themselves. But we look at them and we assume, but that's not a very intentional way of speaking to each other. It's not a very intentional way of making sure we affirm other human beings and their experiences. And so yeah, a lot of this talk of conversations has come from folks who are changing their pronouns or who are saying, hey, this language that was assumed for me from infancy, doesn't actually fit for how I want to show up in the world. Because really, it is just that it's an assumption, right parents, or medical professionals or whoever it may be, they look at the genitalia and they just assume all these other pieces and so folks are really trying to move towards a space of being more intentional with the language we use for each other and truly saying, okay, I can see what you look like, I know what society would assume your pronouns are. But rather than assuming I'm going to be intentional, and I'm going to ask you, what language feels good for you what language you use for yourself, because I want to affirm you intentionally, not, you know, make assumptions and potentially cause harm.

Stuart Murray 20:28

Yeah. So Bree, if I were to meet you, you know, we were just sort of chatting away, and I were to meet you. And I said, Oh, hi, Bree. My name is Stuart, would you at what point would you suggest in a conversation that somebody might say, oh, by the way, just so you know, my pronouns are?

Bre Calma 20:49

Typically my suggestion is that if you're sharing your name, share your pronouns, especially for the first time. And it really can be as simple as saying, Hi, my name is Bre, my pronouns are they/them, it's great to meet you. It doesn't have to be a big conversation, but it just normalizes it, right? And then people know and I think if everybody does that, it makes it easier for people to share as well, right? Because if I were to say, Hey, my name is Bree, my pronouns are they then it likely opens a door for you to also say, Hi, my name Stuart, my pronouns are, right. And it creates that space where folks recognize that, that's part of how we introduce ourselves. And kind of along that line as well, I typically suggest that anywhere, you might be sharing your name for the first time, or someone might be seeing your name for the first time, include your pronouns. So if it's things like your email signature, if you're filling out, you know, like a name tag for a conference, or something like that, I also will do it, if I'm, you know, see seeing another coworker, where I'll say, our communication, education manager, Craig, he/him will be reaching out to you next week. It just normalizes that, we don't know a person's pronouns until we're told. And if we can kind of create this space, where we're making a habit of just sharing what our pronouns are, it makes it safer for other folks to do the same.

Stuart Murray 22:11

Yeah. And so, if, because I, you know, I don't have on my, my email signature, I don't have my pronouns. I mean, as I was saying to before we, we started the recording, I had never heard of the term cisgender probably until a year ago, we just, it was never part of kind of our conversation. And, you know, it's it, what fascinates me is how, you know, language is starting to become so incredibly important. And, I mean, the one thing really, that I always sort of felt, and I to this day, I still feel very passionate about is that the one thing that people have is their name and so it's important that you get their name. Right and, and the same thing now, I believe, is starting to happen around pronouns.

Bre Calma 23:05


Stuart Murray 23:06

And so, you know, that's part of, and it comes down to sort of this notion about, you know, respecting human beings and but, you know, you having lived this and being a facilitator and talking to, you know, as we said, you know, in your bio, that you talk to nonprofits, you talk to universities, you talk to workplaces, share some of the experiences that you've had, during that, that have reminded you the importance of why it is that you're doing what you do.

Bre Calma 23:40

That's such a great question. I think that, for me, some of the biggest pieces is that a lot of the time cisgender, folks, and for anyone who's not familiar with the term cisgender, in a sense that at its simplest, it means someone who isn't transgender, right? If your experience is not being trans, chances are you're cisgender. And cisgender really just refers to someone were the sex they were assigned at birth, and, you know, the gender that was assumed for them fits for who they are. But for a lot of cisgender, folks, they haven't been given the opportunity to even reflect on their identities, right? They haven't been given the opportunity to go okay, well, what does it mean to be a man? Like, truly, how do we define it? What does it mean for me to be a man? Or what does it mean for me to be a woman? How do I define it for myself? And for me, I find that that's the most impactful parts of the workshops I get to do. Is people really going, Yeah, what do these even mean, right? We've been taught that there are these two big categories of man and woman. But at its core, we don't even have, you know, a definition for what it means. And certainly, there would be no two men on earth, that experience being a man the exact same way or define it the exact same way. And so I think that it creates these spaces where folks start realizing yeah, yeah, there are so many diverse experiences, and every single woman you meet is going to have a different experience of being a woman, right? Every single man you meet is gonna have a different experience of being a man. So it makes sense that there would be people who have experiences that fall outside of those categories altogether right? If they include so many diverse experiences, we can recognize that there might also be people whose experiences fall outside of that. But it makes for really good conversations as well, where we can start recognizing that yeah, you know, what we make a lot of assumptions, we have been taught to make a lot of assumptions about people, but nobody likes when things are assumed about them. Nobody does. You know, people like being seen for who they are, they like feeling validated and affirmed with their identity and who they exist as not based off stereotypes or assumptions that are placed upon them. And so really, the same goes for these conversations around gender and pronouns is just recognizing that, if it's as simple as asking a quick question, such as, Hi, Stuart, what are your pronouns? Right? It doesn't have to be a huge deal. But if it means that people feel affirmed, and they feel seen, and they feel validated, it's worth the effort. And it's really lovely. Seeing folks kind of come to that realization of yeah, this isn't as hard as it seems to be. It's not as intimidating as it seems to be. It is really just about seeing people as the individual, they are not within some category that we sort them into.

Stuart Murray 26:36

Yeah. And I would say, that is such a beautiful explanation, Bre, because I think the change that we're experiencing through the important use of pronouns is one that I think, you know, there's a lot of people that are super uptight, and to the way that you just explained that I think is such a such a beautiful way of just trying to get people comfortable to know that it's not a matter of right or wrong, or it's not a matter that somebody is different. And I mean, yes, we are all different. But I mean by putting a pronoun doesn't make you more different than what your name is. It just is who you self identify as, and that's how you want others to let you know that and I guess that's where the the element of safety and respect, I think in this conversation takes place.

Bre Calma 27:25

Yeah and you know, that makes me think to a story I often share with folks, is that number of years ago, now, I was trying to find a new chiropractor, and I am a socially anxious person. And so I don't, I don't enjoy that kind of interaction of like, having to tell people what my pronouns are, it can be awkward. But I worked up the nerve, and I asked this person because I wanted to, you know, put my money where my mouth is, that's the same. And really, I just was like, okay, no, I tell other people, they need to ask someone their pronouns, well Bre, you've got to do the same. And so I asked this person I just said, like, just wondering, what are your pronouns? And he said, oh, I'm just normal. I use he/him. And, you know, it's like, okay, well, now, how do I tell you that I'm not normal? Right? How do I tell you that I'm one of the weird people that doesn't use she/her or he/him pronouns? And it's that idea, too, right? That we have this mindset that she/her or he/him is normal, right? That that's what most people are that that's preferred. That's, you know, the average pronoun. And sure, statistically speaking, the majority of folks, would you see her or he him pronouns, but it doesn't make it any more normal, right? The majority of folks have brown eyes, but it doesn't mean blue eyes are abnormal, right. And so kind of seeing it in that way of there is human diversity, we don't only have two categories, and people will fall outside of, you know, experiences that you might have. And for me, I have no idea what it feels like to be a man. I don't know what that experience is, like. I don't know how it feels to show up in the world as a man. It's just not my experience, but I can't say that men don't exist, just because I don't understand the experience, right. And when we do it that way, it sounds ridiculous to say, oh, yeah, just because I'm not a man. Men don't exist. But people totally do the same thing for trans folks or non binary folks where they'll say, Well, I just don't believe in it, or you're either a man or a woman. And it's like, well, just because you don't know what it feels like, doesn't mean people don't exist. And I think that that's just a helpful reframe of being like, No, this is all normal, diverse, human experiences are normal. And it would be less normal if we did actually all fit into two categories like robots, right? That's not the human experience.

Stuart Murray 29:54

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. So real wanna just, you know, share with you that When I was working with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, got into a number of conversations with members of the queer community. And that word in itself, you know, has been, you know, used in derogatory ways previously, and now is, is used by community wants to embrace it. And I have this conversation with this person. And I just said, Look, I appreciate you explaining that to me, that you want to be called a member of the queer community, because and you want to embrace that, and you want me to recognize that that's a great thing for you. And you feel that way. And that's important. Because I, as I said, I, you know, I was raised in a time where if you wanted to make fun of somebody or use a derogatory term against somebody, you would call them all year, but you're, you're clearly queer. And so, you know, again, you recognize yourself as non binary queer. Tell me about how you embrace that and or did you have any issues or challenges to embrace it? Or did it just come more natural to you?

Bre Calma 31:10

Great question. I personally love the term queer. I love that it embraces so many different experiences. Just you know, an hour ago, I was talking with my spouse about the fact that there isn't one general term for folks who are, you know, gay, lesbian, bisexual, we don't really have just a singular term for that. And so I love that queer can kind of incorporate all of these very diverse experiences that relate to gender and attraction. There absolutely is a history of harm, and especially if we think of when homosexuality was a crime. And in Canada, homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1969. Which, pretty long ago compared to a lot of other places, but I mean, almost 1970s, right. Like, that's really not that long ago in the grand scheme of things that it was illegal to be gay. And so a term like queer, which really, it's synonyms are weird, strange, abnormal, it was definitely used to not only isolate folks, right, and to say, oh, you're weird, you're not normal. But also, it was a way to directly put folks in harm's way, right, because to call somebody weird or queer, puts almost a spotlight on them saying, No, this person is different. And especially when it was illegal to be that kind of different. If people pointed out, it's really putting you in the direct path of violence, potentially being arrested. So it makes sense that for a lot of folks, that term is not one that feels good for them. Because if it was used against them, it's a lot harder to reclaim something that has a lot of trauma associated with it. For me, I love the term, it has never been used against me, it's not really kind of it's more of a generational thing I would say. And so it's never been used against me, which makes it a lot easier to reclaim it for myself. For me, I would say, yeah, I'm proud to be queer, I'm proud to be weird, I'm proud to be abnormal. And because in my opinion, these norms that society has created this idea of what they think normal is, it causes harm to people, right? And so why wouldn't I be proud to exist outside of that? But absolutely, there are some folks where, especially if it was used violently against them, it, it's, of course, more difficult to reclaim it and to feel comfortable with it. And like we were saying, with that generational piece, there's a lot of folks kind of around my age, you know, like the millennial kind of age range that have a hard time with the term gay, because I grew up when things were oh, that's so gay, or, you know, don't run that way you look gay, right? That was the term that I heard is kind of the negative. So we see that there are these differences in what folks are comfortable with, and the language that affirms them, versus the language that potentially feels insulting or isolating.

Stuart Murray 34:06

Yeah. So I know that there was just recently a conversation or a note that was put out by the Canadian government that reminded people who are members of the gay community, that traveling to Florida is something they should be mindful of simply because of what's happening in that particular state and maybe others. But, you know, Bre, I look at that, and, you know, the, you know, the conversations around gays and lesbians had been happening for a long, long time. Now we're getting pronouns. And I look at that and say, you know, how do you know how do you see the world unfolding as we started getting get more involved in pronouns and what that may or may not mean for some kind of international travel, where there are people or countries that are so incredibly backward and back Word is probably a mild word mean, they can cause death to people. And so you know it you have a sort of a view. I mean, I know, I know how you would like it to be. And I respect that. But you know where we're at now and how it might impact you personally as we speak in 2023.

Bre Calma 35:17

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, really, just this past week, I was supposed to be well, I was on vacation until yesterday, and my spouse and I were planning to road trip to Chicago, to see some of their family and to go there for anniversary. But because the government of Canada put out a travel advisory, we were like, okay, you know, Chicago should be fine. But we have to drive through North Dakota, South Dakota, right. Like, that's a little bit more challenging. And especially for folks who are visibly trans for myself, I have the privilege of, you know, being able to go into a women's bathroom. And I fit into those kind of ideas of what a woman looks like. And so it's easier for me, but for folks, such as my spouse who have had, you know, hormone replacement therapy, who have had surgeries, even things like going into a gas station bathroom can be life threatening. And so, you know, it's something that even on a small scale, we were like, okay, well, I guess we're just celebrating our first anniversary at home, because we're scared to drive through certain states. It's always been my dream, I would say, kind of on my travel bucket list, I've always wanted to go to Egypt and Morocco, because I think I'm a history nerd. They're beautiful. But you know, we looked it up recently, and it kind of was like a nope, if you are to 2SLGBTQ plus, either, like if you're gonna go there, you can't indicate in any way, you know, like no holding hands, etc. But I mean, it's even more complicated for trans folks, right? Like, my spouse, and I haven't done finished the process yet. But once our passports have an x as a sex designation, well, there's no hiding from that, right? Like, now, anytime you visit somewhere, they look at your passport, and they know that you're 2S LGBTQ+. And while in many ways that's affirming, so people don't miss gender you, it also is limiting, like, there is a reality that I would say most places in the world, I will never be safe to travel to my spouse will never be safe to travel to in our lifetime. And that's sad that, you know, I think it's something that folks don't always realize and I mean, travel aside to travel is a privilege. But there are queer folks who live in those places, right. queerness exists everywhere. And so, yeah, it's a heavy thing, I think to recognize, you know, that there are people who have to flee for their lives have to flee as refugees because of who they are because of who they want relationships with. And that is a reality that we're surrounded with. I'm very grateful to live and exist in a country that is, as progressive is as accepting, as it is certainly not perfect. But, you know, we're making huge progress in that kind of area of human rights. But, you know, there still is definitely work to do, and I think, work to do on a global scale, as well as it's not acceptable to just have, you know, 10 countries around the world that are safer 2SLGBTQ+, folks. And if you want to live as yourself, you have to choose one of those countries. I mean, that's, that's harmful on a global scale as well. So yeah, it's a very complex piece.

Stuart Murray 38:33

Ya know, it for sure. And I mean, it's still, in some extent, very, you know, sort of young in terms of the conversation as we're starting to grow into it and understand it and respect it and becoming more educated about it, and so and respectful about it. Bre, you are, you're an educator. So, you know, I wanted to just get your thoughts on the issue of in schools, with children having the ability to self identify. And I guess the question I would ask is, has there been research that would sort of show at, I guess, part of it as I struggle is, what is their age, you know, what's, what age are you able to sort of introduce some of these conversations, and I'll just share this with you, Bre that, you know, my wife and I, you know, we have two girls and the girls were going to a girl school and they were quite young, and came home and said that they were having a conversation at school around AIDS. And, you know, I mean, first and foremost, I think we were sort of taken a bit of back not because that we didn't want them to have the conversation they should and it's important, but you know, at some point, I guess I looked at and I thought wow, you know, when you're young like you know live, youngster and be be inquisitive. and have fun and don't sort of all of a sudden realize while there's there's some clouds that are starting to form in this world. And I'm so she'd be aware of them at us at that age. So I'm not sure if I'm doing a good job of explaining Bre, but I just wondered if you had a thought about when, if there is a when that the children should have the ability to start self identifying?

Bre Calma 40:23

Absolutely, I mean, for me, I would say as young as possible. The research typically shows that it's around the age of three, that a child first starts recognizing gender. That's not to say they have it all figured out. And they know exactly what their gender identity is. But they start noticing things like, well, why is she allowed to paint her nails, but I'm not allowed to right and then they're told, well, you're a boy. So you're not allowed to prepare an answer, right? And they're like, oh, okay, boys don't paint their nails, they make that connection, right? Or, why does he get to wear pants, but I have to wear a dress? Well, you're a girl, right? So you were addressed to the family gathering or whatever it is. And so it is around that age, when they start having language, they start noticing patterns. Children are way smarter than we give them credit for. They're way more aware than we give them credit for. And, I mean, the reality is, there are children, you know, who already going into kindergarten know that they are not the gender that was assumed for them, right? Where they'll say, you know, well, when do I get to be a boy, right? It's like, well, no, you're a girl, right? But they're like, no, but when do when does it happen for me? When do I get to change? Right? Or? No, I only want to play with the girls because I'm a girl, right? And we see that language already coming up. And so really, I guess my short answer would be if they are old enough for us to call them a girl or to use she her pronouns for them, they're already likely old enough to also have these concepts of gender diversity included, right and to say things like, okay, you know, what we use the word girl for you. And we use the terms she her for you. Because this is kind of what is assumed for you, based off you know, your body or however you want to describe it. But you can change it if you want to, you can explore other options if you want to. And the earlier you do that, the less there is to unlearn right? I had to unlearn almost 25 years of being a girl or being a woman, because that was all I had ever been told. But if I had been told, like, yeah, you know what, some people will change their gender, some people will use different language or choose a different name. Well, it also gives you the freedom to do that as well. And I think too, you know, we, we have this idea that queer identities, whether it's gender diverse, or attraction, sexuality, there is this kind of idea that queer identities are almost inherently more mature or kind of inappropriate for young ages. And we hear people you know, ask like, well, at what age do I tell my kids about gay people? And to me, I'm like, well, at what age f=did you tell them about straight people? At what age did you let them see Mom and Dad kiss each other, because if they can handle seeing mom and dad kiss, well, they can handle seeing, you know, their two uncles kiss or whatever, it's the same concept, just with different genders involved. But there is this idea that one is more mature or needs a certain age range. And, of course, I mean, this is not me saying, you have to get into the details of you know, how AIDS is transmitted or anything like that. You don't need to get into those details any more than you would when you're talking about straight relationships. But certainly, to at least include those experiences as possibilities and have as realities that people can choose or they can exist within, and that they aren't limited.

Stuart Murray 43:48

And I think, you know, one of the elements that when this becomes sort of politicized, it really takes away from the ability to learn and have open conversation. And, you know, I mean, part of it is, is this notion of parental rights, that really is a misnomer. But parental knowledge would be something really that I would be very interested in exploring as a conversation, simply because, you know, and I think part of it too, is really understanding that there are some families where they're not going to accept the gender identity or a transgendered individual and I mean, I don't want to sound like I, you know, would or wouldn't I because I didn't have to in in my family to date. But you know, that is such a tough, tough situation and, and I know that some of the some of the reading I did, there are some transgendered youth, the young People who commit suicide and you know, that conversation doesn't really seem to find its way into the bigger conversation. And, you know, we need to, we need to look at that. And I guess I just for you as an educator, what what are some of the some of the lessons are some of the opportunities that you see to try to sort of get that conversation more in the everyday conversation?

Bre Calma 45:26

Yeah, I think that it is such a huge topic of conversation, it is statistically proven that 2SLGBTQ + folks experience higher rates of mental illness, especially anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, higher rates of self harm, higher rates of suicide, because existing within a world that has systemic discrimination, where you know, you're not accepted in different areas, that can be hard, and it can feel like this is never going to get better. But that is exactly where this conversation of, you know, parental rights is so important, because a lot of the time it is this idea that parents should know, they have to know they must know if their child is using different pronouns or a different name at school. And we see that, you know, this is what is taking place in Saskatchewan now. And I think different variations, yes, yeah, absolutely. But I think that it's important for folks to be aware that this is going to increase 2SLGBTQ plus children and youth suicide, it is just factually speaking, going to take place. Because there are like you were saying, families that are not accepting and in fact, families that are violent families that are abusive, we don't like thinking about those experiences as families and of parents. But it is just the reality. A statistic that we often share with folks is that if a 2SLGBTQ plus youth has even one supporting affirming adult in their life, their risk of suicide goes down by 40%. That's having even just one person, but when we're talking about taking away their rights in schools, and that's really what this kind of idea of parental rights is, is it's taking the rights away from that child, and giving it to somebody who may not actually have their best interest at heart, unfortunately, but for children who can't be themselves children and youth who can't be themselves at home, right, they can't out to their parents, they can't use their pronouns or dress how they want at home. If we now also take that opportunity away from them from schools. Well, now where can they explore that? Right? Where can they figure out who they are, and feel that they find a space, because for most children and youth, they spend like the vast majority of their time either at school or at home. And if home isn't safe, we really have to make sure that schools are safe, we really have to make sure that that is a place where they can truly be themselves. They can explore these pieces of who they are and how they want to show up in the world. And know that they can do so with hoped worrying that their parents are going to find out. I went to actually my old high school there wasn't a GSA, which, for folks who are unaware of GSA, typically in the past was known as a gay straight alliance. And now they've changed it to gender sexuality alliance. So folks who are within 2SLGBT plus community.

Stuart Murray 48:30

The GSA acronym.

Bre Calma 48:31

Yeah but switched it up, they got lucky, but there certainly wasn't a GSA at my high school when I was there over 10 years ago. But there was now and I had the opportunity to hang out with some of the kids during their GSA. And I remember one kid in particular, had said, you know, said, this is the name and pronouns I use while I'm here, and it was more of a feminine name and use she her pronouns, well, I'm here. But if you see me in the hall, or if you see me, like, out around anywhere, you have to use kind of my boy name and he him pronouns. But this idea that they had one kind of 40 minute GSA meeting a week, and that's the only 40 minutes in their entire week, that they actually can be themselves and actually can be seen as who they are. And that's sad to me, right? It's sad that you get 40 minutes of freedom, and then just hope that nobody likes you elsewhere. Right and those are the realities that we're talking about, and that I think anybody can understand how isolating and how scary that would feel. And that's really like those are the kids that we're fighting for, right? That they can talk to their teacher and say, you know what, like, I feel actively, like, I don't want to exist as a boy. Can you please use these terms for me so that I just want to live? I mean, that's what we're really fighting for.

Stuart Murray 50:04

Yeah, yeah. No, I It's, I really, really appreciate the way that you approach these. I mean, 30 you are must be a tremendous facilitator. When you get to these places that you, you know, that you have workshops at. I love your approach. I love how you explain it. And I the other thing, too, Bre is that I know that you have provided a series of books that people can read. And I'm going to make sure that they go into the podcast episode notes. So if people want references if they want to see where they can find more information, or they can get a better sense of what we're talking about, or what your expertise is all about. Thank you for those references and I'll make sure they're in the notes. I have two last last questions. One is what happens it's a bit of a simple one. But what happens if you make a mistake? What's your advice to somebody like me, as you did off the top of the show? Thank you so much. As a reminder, if you make a mistake.

Bre Calma 51:07

I think the first thing to keep in mind is that you will make mistakes. That is just a reality. I know people don't want to they don't want to hurt people. But you will I sometimes accidentally miss gender myself. I mean, I always talk in third person to my pets, right. So I'll be like, okay, Bre is gonna be right back she's just gonna go grab your food. And I'm like, dang it. It's been however many years, but it is it's so ingrained in us, right? It's so socialized into us. It's all we see around us. Is she her he him. And we've been taught to make those assumptions. It's a lot of work to unlearn it. So I think that first piece is just being kind to yourself. Because if you get defensive, you'll make it worse. So kind of my typical four steps, in a sense to simplify it is, okay, you've made a mistake. Step one, listen, listen, if somebody corrects you, right, you don't have to defend yourself, you don't have to explain, you can really just listen, and also listening for your own mistakes. Because if you can catch it before somebody has to correct you, it means your brains kind of like almost leveling up, in a sense, right? That you're noticing it before other people even notice it. So that's your first step is just to listen, then number two, correct yourself, you made a mistake, correct it and just like you did, right, you restated that sentence with the correct pronoun at the beginning of the show. Right. And it is as simple as that, because you're recognizing that you made a mistake, and you want to get it right. So make it right, and then move on. Third, step two, is just continue the conversation, just keep going. And a lot of the time people feel this need to really defend themselves or to explain or to kind of try to make sure that the person knows they're one of the good people, you know, and I've heard probably every excuse at this point, right? Where it's like, oh, my gosh, like, I'm still so new to this. And I'm trying so hard. And I didn't mean to and like I've known you for this long with these pronouns, whatever the reason may be, but I can promise you that that reason is not going to make the other person feel any better. And in fact, what it does is it centers yourself, right? Because the now the person you just misgendered has to go, it's okay, I know you didn't need to, you'll get it right next time. Just keep practicing, don't worry about it, right. And they have to make it smaller in order to make that other person feel better. So instead, correct yourself, keep going. And then the final step is act differently, right, like just do better, essentially be more intentional, it is okay, to go slow. It is okay to stumble over your words, you are going to have to practice that is just the reality of it. I still have to practice I still make mistakes. Even just previously, I was talking about a friend that uses they them pronouns. And I accidentally use the wrong pronouns, but you correct it and keep going right? We all make mistakes. So don't try to put yourself on a pedestal of being perfect all the time. Because in fact, that can cause more harm when you're so defensive, right? And so, you know, you don't even want to take the correction, because you wish you hadn't made the mistake, right, of course, but just correct it and keep going. You know, I made the joke the other day that people really want to try to, like I said, position themselves as being one of the good people, you know, of like, oh, no, I believe in pronouns. I didn't mean to get it wrong. But if you correct yourself, you're already showing that you are one of the quote unquote, good people, right? Because I mean, somebody who was at that, you know, the protests we saw a couple weeks ago, the 1 million march for kids kind of a thing. If that person were to say, you know, like, she's terrible. And if I say oh, actually my pronouns are they them, they're not gonna say, oh, they're terrible, right? They don't believe in pronouns. They're not going to We'll make that adjustment, right. So if you do if you make that correction, that's already enough to show that you believe that person, right, you believe their language you believe in affirming them. Yeah, that's enough. That's enough.

Stuart Murray 55:14

Yeah, perfect. Okay, Bre, thank you very much. That was question number one have to the second question, excuse me is really more you know, as you've been a facilitator, you've been out in the world, you've been talking to people. Is there one question that you would like me to ask you that I haven't asked you yet?

Bre Calma 55:37

Oh, wow. That's a good question. Maybe that's a good question. Um.

Stuart Murray 55:46

And I don't mean to put you on the spot, just when you're teaching, you know, sometimes you say, you know, you see some similarities, you see something, and, you know, I've tried to cover off some ground. But, you know, always, you know, when you say goodbye, thank you very much. You say, oh, gosh, I wish you would ask me about or I wish I had a chance to explain about or something.

Bre Calma 56:06

Yeah, you know, I guess the the one piece that we didn't really get into as much is that there are hundreds of sets of pronouns. In English alone, people create new ones. And kind of like you were talking about before, too, that there's this desire to come up with singular gender neutral pronouns, other than they them right for the clarity and avoid confusion, things like that. So there are hundreds of sets of pronouns. So if you meet somebody who uses Z hear pronouns, or Fe, Fer pronouns, or dem or bonbons, like really, there are so so many. It's okay, if you don't understand. I think that's the big piece is it is okay, if you don't get it, but if you start from a place of care, if you start from a place of just wanting that person to feel seen, and cared for and loved and valued, it's not going to matter that you don't understand, right? Often we come from this place of I need to understand first so that I can respect it, or I need to understand so that I can affirm this person's identity, but I first need to understand it. But I think we need to flip that to say like, okay, I need to care about this person, I need to affirm who they are, I need to, you know, love this person for who they are as an individual. And often from that care and that love, you will develop a better understanding. But that I think that flip is really important that you don't have to get it, it's okay, if you don't, we're not trying to ask everybody to know what it feels like to be trans or to know what it feels like to be gay. You don't have to, but you got to put in the work, to show that care to show that respect, and to affirm people who have experiences that don't line up with yours.

Stuart Murray 57:56

Perfect. Yeah. Listen, Bre Calma, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. To suffice to say I learned a lot and it's why I was looking so forward to having this conversation. So I do hope at one of the Rainbow Resource Center events that I get a chance to meet you in person, I would look forward to that. But thank you for taking the time and for being so open about explaining your personal experience and the importance of the conversation that we need to have more of around the use of pronouns. So thank you very, very much.

Bre Calma 58:37

Well, thank you so much for having me. And what a great opportunity for folks to realize that, you know, we are just people our pronouns may not be the same as yours, but we're just people and we just want to interact in the world the same way everyone else does. So, thank you so much for having

Matt Cundill 58:53

Thanks for listening to Humans On Rights. A transcript of this episode is available by clicking the link in the show notes of this episode. Humans On Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray. Social media marketing by Buffy Davey. Music by Doug Edmund. For more go to

Tara Sands (Voiceover) 59:14

Produced and distributed by the Sound Off Media Company.


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