My name is Abby and I use she/her/hers pronouns.
This is the way I introduce myself to a new group of people. A lot of the times I get somewhat strange looks, as if people are wondering why I chose to diverge these facts about myself. The answer is because pronouns matter. In fact pronouns matter a ton.
Before I continue on with this article I do want to write a small disclaimer: I am a cis woman. I have never had to deal first hand with the terrible experience of being misgendered, and I probably never will. I am writing this article as an ally, not as someone with personal experience. Please do not hesitate to contact me if something I say is misinformed or offensive in any way. I do not have all the answers.
Why is it important for people to introduce themselves with their pronouns? It opens up a safe and inviting space for anyone to share their pronouns. If the whole group is asked to introduce themselves with their correct gender pronouns it means that you aren’t forcing someone to create a space for themselves where they might feel unsafe. There is no harm in asking everyone to introduce their pronouns, but by not doing so you may be creating an unsafe environment for someone without even knowing it. Language is powerful and by introducing pronouns to a group it lets the members know that you respect their realities and their identities.
If you haven’t already noticed, I have not used the phrase “preferred pronouns” anywhere in this article, and other than right now I don’t plan on it. Saying that your pronouns are “preferred” is like saying that using someone’s correct pronouns is optional, which it isn’t. Pronouns may change over the course of someone’s life but at any given moment in time their identity is just as real and valid as it ever is. Changing pronouns doesn’t mean that they preferred something and now they prefer something else, it means that they’re gender identity is changing and that’s a personal journey and something no one else has claim over.
When you use the incorrect pronoun to refer to someone, it can have really terrible consequences. Misgendering someone is essentially erasing that part of their identity, or telling them that you know them better than they know themselves. I know that sometimes it can be difficult and I have personally slipped up, but that doesn’t make it ok. In order to be an ally, or even just a friend to someone you need to be constantly vigilant, even if it doesn’t “roll off your tongue”. Other people’s pronouns aren’t for your comfort.
Some of you may have never encountered non-binary pronouns and that’s ok! Since this is pronoun 101 I’ll give you some examples (this is by no means a complete list, in fact there are some trans people who have their own personal pronouns!).
For reference the binary refers to the idea that gender can only be male or female. So the binary pronouns are he/him/his and she/her/hers. Now we know that the binary idea of gender is outdated and wrong, gender is many things but it is not binary. I like to think of gender as cosmic, because it’s always expanding and there are so many things we don’t understand about it.
Non-binary pronouns are used by people who don’t identify within the gender binary. They can also be referred to as gender-neutral pronouns, which does not mean someone doesn’t have a gender, although that’s up to them. Some of the more common ones are they/them/theirs (and no, this isn’t plural, and yes you can use it to refer to one person), ze/zyr/zem (alternatively spelled xe/xyr/xem), and ey/er/eim (this is actually the first documented gender neutral pronoun and it’s easy to remember if you think about just removing the th from they/them/their).
You can use non-binary pronouns just like you would use binary pronouns! That’s the fun thing; they are all valid and legitimate options for someone to use.
As far as picking your own pronouns…
Before, in my disclaimer, I said that I was cis, which means I’ve never had to deal with feeling like my pronouns didn’t fit me. So I cannot give personal advice about picking pronouns. The only advice I have to give is that you need to go with what feels right to you, and don’t worry about the outside forces.
Gender is a complicated subject and I’m not breaching a lot of it here. I wanted to focus on pronouns because I think they are really interesting and important.
Pronouns are about respecting the other person’s identity and validating their experience. Pronouns are important. Speak up when you hear misgendering. Ask for someone’s pronouns respectfully if you’re unsure, don’t leave it up to them to be constantly correcting you.
Here’s a fun comic about some do’s and don’t’s when it comes to non-binary pronouns: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/pronoun-etiquette/
I hope that you all learned something, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions/concerns/undying devotion.