The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
“I don’t have pronouns, you can just refer to me as (insert name).”
“I don’t have pronouns, I am a girl/boy.”
Those two phrases were something that I heard during my first week on campus, particularly when my professors asked their students to go around and share their respective names and pronouns. Most of the time, there would be no comment and people would move on. In one instance, however, I vaguely recall one of my professors calling attention to the third student who said one of the phrases.
He looked over at the student and said, “Yes, you do have pronouns.” When the student made the same statement, insisting that they prefer to be called by their first name rather than a pronoun, my professor respectfully pointed out that it would sound strange to always refer to someone by their first name. He proceeded to provide examples, claiming that constantly calling a person by their first name not only makes an awkward statement in the third person, but also prompts confusion as other students could have the same first name. The student proceeded to apologize for the confusion and thank the professor for his explanation of pronouns.
This interaction put my initial thoughts on pronouns into perspective. While gender identity is accepted in most environments, some people remain confused as to why they should refer to someone by their preferred pronouns.Rather than simply look at certain people as bigoted, I see these moments as opportunites for those who still remained confused to learn and expand their ideas in ways that would benefit all parties.
Gender identity in America is no new phenomenon, although it is something that newer generations appear to more openly accept now. Indigenous tribes that inhabited the United States long before colonizers recognized that gender was not limited to biological characteristics;rather, their respective languages celebrated and empowered people who opted to identify themselves by different pronouns. This idea, in addition to the other concepts of indigenous culture, was erased when colonizers began to push Christian ideals that had a limited perception of gender identity.
Ultimately, pronouns can be open-ended and people are within their right to change what they wish to use. It is understandable that someone raised without knowing the complexities of gender identity may be confused and seek to understand it; however, there is a way to respectively learn about a person’s preferred pronouns without appearing disruptive and rude. Asking questions such as “what are your pronouns?” and adhering to the answer can go a long way for those who wish to seek the acknowledgement of their identity.