The Importance of Pronouns

Something that has been bugging me recently is peoples reluctance to acknowledge and adjust to pronouns other than the binary and traditional ‘he/his’ and ‘she/her’. Respecting someone’s pronouns is so important and by deliberately choosing to ignore them you are invalidating that persons gender identity. I completely understand that having to re-adjust to new pronouns for a family member/close friend can be pretty difficult and hard to get used to, however, if that person has specifically requested that you use different pronouns then you should try your hardest to respect that. It’s fine if you slip up sometimes, as long as you apologise and correct yourself.

I cannot stress the importance of educating people and being open to answering their questions when it comes to the topics of gender identity and preferred pronouns. The chances are that the people you’re gearing yourself up to come out to or to ask to use different pronouns might not be completely informed about LGBTQA+/gender and gender identity. This is just an assumption of course and just because someone doesn’t have an understanding doesn’t mean they won’t do their best to be supportive of you.

It’d be cool if one day people didn’t make immediate assumptions about people’s gender identity upon meeting them and if they are unsure then the best thing to do would be to ask their name and preferred pronouns straight away. That way, you’re not making any assumptions and you’re not being rude either.

I’ve just started my second year at University and in the first seminar for a module I have taken the tutor went around immediately and asked for everyone’s name and preferred pronouns – this was unexpected and great. It seems almost ridiculous that I have to say that it was unexpected because I feel like it should be the norm or something done more often now, but it’s not. Anyway, he made it clear that he didn’t want to make any assumptions about anyone’s gender identity and I thought that was really great.

Not making the assumption that everyone around you identifies as male or female and accepting that actually people may have a range of gender variant identities (non-binary, genderqueer, agender, bigender etc) or not identify with a gender at all is so important. Taking a cissexual approach is simply a way of erasing trans and gender variant identities and enforcing the strict and oppressive gender binary that many people don’t actually identify with at all.

People pick up and learn new words and phrases every single day and I feel like picking up new pronouns should be just as easy, if not easier to do so than this – given you know and are told how important their use is to your significant other/friend/family member. Using pronouns other than ‘he/his’ and ‘she/her’ is still not a very talked about and common thing, so I can understand that people may struggle initially in remembering to use them. Especially as people are so caught up in the idea that your biological sex and gender are the same thing. Therefore if they’ve always known you as female and you have a biologically female body, then it is second nature for them to assume and use female pronouns. This is why education is key, because actually biological sex does not always match someones gender identity and so you should never assume someone’s pronouns based on your perception of what their gender is, or should be.

Asking people to use different pronouns is never easy. Those who choose to use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they/them’ or others such as ‘he/his/she/her’ are both I feel likely to experience reluctance at first. However, if you are still identifying with the pronoun of a binary gender (still difficult if you are trans), it may be easier for people to get used to and adjust to more quickly, perhaps people are even more likely to take it seriously. Gender neutral pronouns however, have a lack of representation and visibility in the mainstream and so a lot of the time, it’s completely unheard of by some and this shouldn’t be the case. Therefore, the initial reluctance may be continued or prolonged as people may attempt to ridicule or belittle any pronoun that is not in keeping with the binary, refusing even to use it at all.

In order to validate the identities of trans and gender variant people there needs to be much more awareness of and education about the use of different pronouns. Pronouns are a simple right and are crucial in a persons identity and feeling comfortable with themselves. It makes me mad that someone would go out of their way to deliberate use the wrong pronouns or refuse to use the correct ones despite knowing the importance of them within peoples lives.

If you are a cisgender person who has the day to day privilege of passing as your identified gender and having the correct pronouns used, try for a second to imagine how much it would get to you and invalidate your gender identity if someone chose to use the incorrect pronouns to address you all the time. Pronouns shouldn’t simply be ‘preferred’ they should be a given – and always respected.

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