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There is no denying that pronouns are a hot topic at the moment. There’s even an International Pronouns Day – for those who weren’t aware, it’s the third Wednesday in October. So what’s the big deal and why is everyone talking about them all of a sudden?

 

The basics

Let’s start with the basics. Pronouns are those little substitute words that we use to avoid the repetition of nouns. Examples include he, she, we, it, they etc. So instead of saying: Jack asked me out to dinner, so I went out with Jack, we’d say: Jack asked me out to dinner, so I went out with him (him being the pronoun in this instance).

The challenge comes in the fact that commonly used pronouns, such as he and she, have a gender implied. Because we often make assumptions about the gender of another person based on their appearance or name, it can lead us to draw the wrong conclusion.

 

According to MyPronouns.org

 

the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message – that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are, or are not.

 

As people’s presentation of their gender becomes more fluid and we see an increase in visibility of transgender and non binary individuals, the natural assumption that we will intuitively know what gender a person is, and therefore what pronouns we should use, no longer applies. As such, in line with these changes in our societal make up, it is important that we revisit our use of language to ensure it is inclusive and respectful.

 

Neo pronouns

Some non binary individuals, who feel neither male nor female but somewhere in between, prefer the use of they/ them/ their but we are also seeing the emergence of new (neo) pronouns. Some examples include: xe/ xem/ xyr, ze/ hir/ hirs, fae/ faer/ faers and ey/ em/ eir. These alternatives might be preferred because they express something about the person using them, or they may be chosen simply because the individual feels more comfortable using neo pronouns over any of the standard pronoun options.

 

Making assumptions

The pronouns we use naturally in our day to day language are a reflection of the way in which we see someone. Whether we are talking with them or about them, we are gendering them as part of the flow of the conversation.

If we use the wrong pronoun it feels strange and we are quick to correct it. Just think about how you might respond if you were talking about a cousin of yours called Alex, who is male, and the person you were talking to got the wrong end of the stick and assumed they were female. You would naturally step in and correct them, because the Alex you are picturing in your head, is very different to the Alex they are picturing and you would naturally want the two pictures to be aligned.

 

Many people are often surprised by the depth of feeling that some people can have in relation to being misgendered and there are a number of examples that I often use to help further understanding in this regard:

  1. The assumption that you are married (or not) by referring to you as Mrs or Miss – it would not be unusual to correct someone who wrongly categorised you.
  2. The misspelling of your name – an i where there should be a y – it’s easily done but feels uncomfortable and wrong, so we correct it.
  3. The use of a new nickname, which hasn’t been approved!

 

The important thing to remember is that we are all individuals, and all of our experiences are different. There are no hard and fast rules but in general, if the gender of the person talking to you is clear then use the pronouns associated with their gender. If the gender is not clear, ask the question. I appreciate that this can feel awkward but it is less awkward than getting someone’s pronouns wrong, which can leave them feeling invalidated.

 

There are a number of ways you can approach it:

  • Simply stick to using their name, and avoid the use of pronouns altogether.
  • Ask them the question directly: “what pronouns do you use?”.
  • Offer your pronouns and hope that they too will share theirs.
  • Wear a pronoun badge.

 

The truth is that if you ignore someone’s pronouns, or actively refuse to use them, you devalue them and the often difficult journey they have been on to get to where they are. While there will be those rare few who actively misgender trans and non binary individuals in a bid to be abusive, these are thankfully the minority and most people just want to get it right.

 

It’s a matter of respect

Being gender variant means you do not fit into the role you were assigned at birth. It means you have fought your entire life against a role that people have tried to push you into, a role which felt wrong and uncomfortable. It takes a huge amount of courage to push back. To say: STOP this isn’t who I am, I am not who you think I am. In recognising people’s pronouns, in taking the time to learn and to adapt, you are evolving your world view to be more inclusive, you are accepting that trans and non binary people not only exist but should be recognised and acknowledged, with the due respect. This is incredibly affirming and empowering for that individual who has struggled with acceptance all their life.

At GenderGP we are a fully inclusive and intersectional organisation and our team members are encouraged to state their pronouns should they wish to. Although GenderGP believes that the individual’s use of pronouns shows solidarity and inclusivity, stating pronouns is an individual choice.

 

We’d love to hear from you. What’s your position on pronouns? Do you feel that displaying them is useful? Is it more important for cis people to actively share them in a bid to normalise the practice for trans individuals? Tell us what you think in the comments below and we’ll share your feedback in a blog post.

 

Author:

Marianne Oakes Dip Couns, is a fully qualified lead counsellor and an integral part of the GenderGP Team.