In honor of International Pronouns Day, one writer details their relationship with gender pronouns, why hearing “they” means so much to them, and the importance of using inclusive language, always.
When I came out as non-binary nearly eight years ago, my pronouns felt like The Biggest Deal Ever. I was depressed and confused about my body and my place in the world, and ensuring those around me used the correct language gave me an immense sense of security and validation.
In a time of chaos and bad haircuts, language felt like the only thing I could control. If others could see me the way I saw myself, maybe I’d feel less scared. If the world echoed my identity back to me, maybe I’d start to really believe it. But that wasn’t happening.
I remember getting angry and correcting people. Yelling at bartenders and cashiers for using the wrong pronouns. Crying in the bathroom of the restaurant I worked at after getting “she/her’d” by customers. Fighting on holidays with my family about misgendering.
I felt angry that no one understood me. I was resentful that I was someone — or something — that was so different and complex, I had to be “understood” in the first place.
This content is imported from embed-name. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Hearing someone “they” me, though, felt like I was doing something right. It felt like I looked the part, and finally everyone was in on it. It felt like, for the first time, I didn’t have to be explaining or defending myself.
It took years of finding community, going to therapy, checking my own privileges, and learning about the whitewashed history of queerness to alleviate the pain I once felt. But little by little, my anger turned into a sense of compassion and better understanding of where other people are coming from.
So many factors like class, race, native language, education, and access to queer spaces and studies inform someone’s vocabulary and conception of gender. And while there’s no shortage of transphobic monsters that actively want to harm trans people (especially Black transwomen), I’ve learned there are lots of people who don’t intend to harm me, they just don’t know my pronouns. Probably because they didn’t know to ask.
Looking back, much of my queer growth has been in learning to be my own source of validation. I no longer expect every random human I encounter to address me with “they” pronouns, and I’ve stopped telling myself that if I only looked “non-binary” enough, everyone suddenly would.
This isn’t to say I think pronouns aren’t important—because they 110 percent are. But, for me, at this moment, pronouns aren’t the definition or extent of my identity.
There are plenty of people who went to overpriced, progressive-seeming colleges where they were trained to ask for pronouns, yet still harbor internalized misogyny and transphobia. (I’ve even dated a bunch of them.) And there are lots of kind, open minded, and forward-thinking people who want to validate me and my experiences, yet may not have the education or background knowledge to use “they.”
I feel that sharing my pronouns is very much like being asked for my name. There’s no way I can expect someone to know them without asking me, and unless I’m being asked, I’m not sure I need to share it.
When I’m riding the subway or picking up takeout, I’m not sure I need everyone around me at a given moment to know. I’m not sure I need to correct a well meaning public transit worker or cashier that I’m probably never going to see ever again. I don’t need to always be “seen” as a non-binary person. Sometimes just knowing that I am one is enough.
My trans identity is a lot more than the words other people use for me. Especially when those words are coming from someone with a different background than I have, and aren’t meant to cause me harm.
But this is why we should normalize the practice of asking for pronouns, not make gender-based assumptions, and try to use more inclusive language like, “you all” or “friend” when addressing groups or strangers. Because you don’t know the words someone uses until they tell you, and you hopefully don’t want to harm someone by mistake.
So, on International Pronouns Day and always, let’s give people the space to us tell who they are—before trying to define them. Because when you listen before you assume and think before you react, you can validate someone with your words and actions.
Lead illustration by emulsify.art
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io