Personal pronouns are becoming increasingly relevant and important in today’s society. You may have received an email or heard someone introduce themselves using pronouns. For example, “Hi my name is Maddie, I use she/her/hers pronouns.”
This all stems from LGBTQ and specifically transgender rights becoming stronger and more prevalent.
As a privileged, cisgender person who identifies as the same gender they were assigned at birth, it is easy to dismiss this and think pronouns in the grand scheme of things do not matter very much. However, to a large community, they are very important.
“[Pronouns] get at the very core of who we are and what we want and how we know humanity, belonging and validation,” said Emily Ambrose, the assistant director of the Pride Resource Center. “They are at the crux of the human condition.”
Using the correct pronouns towards someone is a sign of respect and allyship. It shows that we are a safe space to those in the trans and non-binary, those who do not identify as male or female, community. Not only that, but it is a part of human decency.
“[When someone uses the wrong pronouns] you feel really invisible, like they’re not seeing you as you are which can be very alienating especially among people you consider friends and classmates,” said Andy Auer, who uses they/them/theirs pronouns.
New responsibilities fall onto cisgender people. This ultimately includes educating yourself, accepting others and learning how to apologize.
“As someone who is cisgendered, it’s up to me and my responsibility to educate myself and to understand better and as much as I can via experience of and the empathy that come with wanting to represent others how they want to be it would be a few,” Ambrose said.
As far as educating oneself, use all your resources offered to us in the 21st century. Ambrose cites Google as a powerful tool for this. Similarly, practicing is a very important thing and is what will normalize this concept.
“I know we are most uncomfortable with unfamiliarity, so the more familiarity that can come with using they/them/theirs as a singular term, the more practice the more fluid the more natural it can become,” Ambrose said.
It is also important to recognize that mistakes will be made but the embarrassment that comes from using incorrect pronouns should not shy one away from using them and interacting with non-cisgender people.
“If and when there is a misstep or a mess up apologize and move on it’s not something that needs to be focused on,” Ambrose said. “To engage upon differences means that mess ups will happen but it’s a commitment to knowing better and doing better in the next time.”
It can be a little nerve racking if one does use the wrong pronouns because ultimately we do not want to offend others but through practicing this and breaking old habits, mistakes are bound to happen.
“I think the biggest thing though is that a lot of cis[gender] people get really scared if they mess up,” Kai Wagner said, who uses he/him/his pronouns. “If you catch yourself and correct yourself it’s fine.”
“Odds are we aren’t pissed at you just ‘hey that’s not quite right, try again,’” Auer said.
There is so much we can do as allies and community members to make all community members feel included.
“It’s kinda a new concept for a lot of people of like ‘what do you mean I can’t assume people’s gender by looking at them,’” Auer said.
Auer even goes on to cite their own experience with people using incorrect pronouns towards them.
“I get a lot of ‘if I just looked at you I’d assume you were a girl’ and I’m like ‘I know and that’s kinda the problem because that’s not who I am’ so it just kinda don’t make assumptions about people’s identities,” Auer said.
Making assumptions about one’s gender and pronouns are at the root of the problem but is also one of the hardest things to overcome. For example, we traditionally associate beards with men and lipstick with women. But that is not always what happens and it should not be assumed.
“Trying to change the way you conceptualize strangers [is important]. Which is both easy and hard,” Auer said. “Easy in that it’s nothing out loud that you ever have to do but hard in that changing your thought patterns is one of the most difficult things, especially if it’s someone you know who is changing their name or changing their pronoun or trying out new pronouns. It’s changing that habitual thought pattern.”