By now you have probably heard of someone or know someone who uses non-traditional pronouns, and no this is not a myth or something that is made up and has no social value.
In fact, there are more pronouns than you think there are and more people than you could imagine who use them, and they are all as equally valid as traditional pronouns such as She/her and He/him.
The singular “they” has become the word of the year according to the American Dialect Society. Singular they is a gender neutral pronoun used by folks who do not associate with the gender binary on various levels. Although you can still be cis identifying and wish to use They pronouns.
They is often thought to be a new trend and damaging to the English language, however, it has been used for a long time. But also the belief that the Queen’s English is the way to speak, and using dictionary definitions written by “pale male stales” is very damaging and not inclusive of diverse class and cultural backgrounds, let alone respecting marginalised folk’s language politics.
Singular They is not the only gender neutral and non-traditional pronoun used, some other gender neutral pronouns you might not have heard of include: Ze/Zie, Ve, Xe.
Check out the chart below:
Gender politics have found their way into the mainstream, with more celebrities confirming their gender identity as non-binary and opening up the conversation about gender
Such as Amandla Stenberg who came out on Tumblr as non-binary to her fans.
Gender is complicated, but respect is simple. Non-traditional Pronouns and gender identities need to be taken seriously and to do that we need to decolonise our mind.
Why do we speak in the way we do? And who makes up the rules? There’s never only one correct way to speak.
- It is also possible to have more than one pronoun, for example, I personally use both She/Her and They/Them pronouns.
- Another important point to remember is that pronouns are not just about preferences, but they are about what is right. For example asking : “what pronouns do you prefer?” can come across as offensive to some folk as it suggests that pronouns are about preference and choice and not very serious. The best way to word the question would be: “What pronouns do you use/ What are your pronouns?”
- You can ask! It’s perfectly polite and appropriate to ask people’s pronouns, it might be awkward to start with, but it is better to feel awkward to ask a question than misgendering someone.
Misgendering means referring to someone using a word/pronoun that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.
(If you ever misgender someone, just apologise and don’t make a big deal out of it because that might make the situation worse.)
- Asking people’s pronouns can be a good icebreaker when starting off a discussion or a meeting with a group of people who don’t know each other, you can always offer to do a round of names and pronouns so future mistakes are avoided but also everyone gets a better sense of who one another are.
My Pronoun Journey
The first time I heard someone use They pronouns was about a year ago, and at first I was confused, English not being my first language, and struggling with gender identity myself it slowly made sense to me.
There are many languages that are not gendered in the way most languages such as Arabic, English and French are.
For example in Farsi which is my mother tongue, a version of singular they is used to refer to everybody at all times. Gendered terms such as “lady” “sir” “darling” are still used but besides those, when talking about a person in Farsi, you are just talking about them as a person with certain attributes, and no need to bring gender into it.
A year down the line, I myself have started using They/Them pronouns, but there are various reasons for why people use certain pronouns. For me it doesn’t make sense to refer to someone’s gender when talking about them, especially living under patriarchy when being a woman/feminine and being referred to as she, is an insult most of the time. Although It does make a difference who refers to me with She pronouns, and if that person identifies with that pronouns and its characteristics or not. I do still identify as a woman and identify with femininity on most days, but my gender is more complicated than that, and being referred to with They/Them pronouns and using the title Mx instead of Miss, Ms, makes me feel more right in my body and about who I am.
So yes pronouns can be confusing and take some time to learn, but all you need to do is respect them and educate yourself about pronouns.
Here are some helpful links: