When I first met my partner, I could not grasp their pronouns for the life of me. In all honesty, I had never made acquaintances with a non-binary person until I met Koy in college. On the way to visit them, I would repeat “they, them, they, them, they, them” out loud behind the steering wheel. Of course, Koy and their friends would politely correct me each time I slipped up. Hey, we all have to learn at some point. Because the fact of the matter is: not everyone is comfortable with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. With the rapid discourse on gender expression changing every day, it’s imperative that we learn. I learned, and so can you.
The fuss over LGBTQ+ pronouns is rampant in the media, usually pertaining to celebrities. Pop artist Sam Smith rings a bell, because they are a notable major celebrity to change their pronouns to they/them. It is no surprise that they received backlash from haters and fans alike. Makeup artist and influencer Jefree Starr can be accused of hating, claiming that pronouns were made up during the pandemic for fun. On a more positive note, the Merriam Webster Dictionary has defined they as a nonbinary pronoun. Though not prevalent just yet, neopronouns could be added in the near future. Some examples of these include xe/xem/xyr, or ze/hir/hirs. According to the Pew Research Center, younger people are most likely to know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. Overall, Americans are split on their comfortability with using gender-neutral pronouns.
It can be oh-so frustrating to get someone in the habit of changing their language, especially if it is someone who doesn’t want to understand. Bless my mother. After nearly a year of dating Koy she continues to refer to them with he/him pronouns. I correct her and she apologizes. That is the cycle. She doesn’t comprehend using them to refer to a singular person. She says it is completely against what she was taught in school. I have faith that she will come around eventually. So how do you even attempt to change someone’s mind about how they address someone? Think about it, we already use they when we are referring to someone we don’t know. It is just a small jump to carry it over to someone we do know. Explain to the confused person that transgender and gender nonconforming folks feel extremely insecure and hurt by your deliberate choice to address them by a pronoun they do not associate with. If you think it is rough for those who go by they/them pronouns, imagine how it feels for those who prefer to use pronouns that do not match with their assigned gender identity at birth. For example, a masculine person choosing to use she/her pronouns. Here’s some more food for thought: Transgender and gender noncomforming youth experience the highest amount of depression, self-harm, and suicide. Regardless of your views, a human life is always important and valued.
When in doubt, there is no harm in asking either. It is a bit awkward to adjust, but that’s okay. When you mess up, apologize and carry on. Trust me, lingering on it only makes it more unbearable for both parties involved. Most gender non-conforming people have the patience of a saint, anyway.
I’m no expert on this topic. I’m not even sure if I have the credibility to speak about this as a cisgender person. But what I do have is common decency and respect for human beings. The concept shouldn’t be that hard to grasp, but unfortunately a lot of people are making it that way. The goal of this shift in language is not to ostracize and make people feel uncomfortable, but to build more inclusive social settings with each other.
- Navigating Gender Non-conforming Pronouns – by Abigail Mann - March 25, 2023