This month the team decided to answer a few different questions that have come our way relating to pronoun use and etiquette.
Why are pronouns important to people, and why should I use them?
In this context, pronouns are words such as he/she, him/her and his/hers that are used to identify people when not using their name. Pronouns affirm one's sense of self, and using someone's preferred pronouns is a sign of respect and recognition of their personal identity. Using someone's pronouns can also help make them feel validated and improve their own self image, especially for people whose pronouns may not be obvious at a glance.
What pronouns are there other than he/him or she/her?
We all know the pronouns he/him and she/her are commonly used to identify cisgender people, or people who identify with their gender assigned at birth. However, he/him and she/her are not exclusive to cisgender people, and can be used by anyone who feels they match their identity best, much like transgender people and anyone else on the gender spectrum. Outside of he/him and she/her there are also gender neutral pronouns for people who don't feel they fit into the gender binary. The most common gender neutral pronouns are they/them/their but there are many more. When using these words to refer to a gender diverse individual use them exactly as you would with their masculine and feminine counterparts; for example, he/she becomes they, him/her becomes them, and his/hers becomes theirs.
How can I know which pronouns to use with someone I just met?
The simplest thing to do is ask. It may feel awkward initially, but I guarantee they would rather you ask than to misgender them accidentally. If asking someone you just met what their pronouns are causes you anxiety, then perhaps try using neutral pronouns at first and ask them later.
I met someone who looks male/female but uses female/male pronouns. I don't understand.
As a society we need to work on separating the idea that one’s physical appearance represents their gender identity. One’s gender identity refers to that person’s own feelings about their gender. Like gender and sexuality, gender and physical presentation are not necessarily tied. A male bodied person may present themselves in a very feminine way and still consider themselves very much male, and that’s okay. The way one feels and the way one looks are two separate things.
I know about gender neutral pronouns but it feels unnatural to use them. What can I do about this?
Practice! Most people experience discomfort at first using they/them; even those well versed in pronoun etiquette have difficulty with it sometimes. The great thing is that most people also understand this. As long as you continue to try and you make it clear that you care about your loved one, friend, or acquaintance’s gender identity, they should understand. It’s a learning experience and we can’t expect everything to get things right 100% of the time. Eventually using someone’s preferred pronouns will become second nature.