Pronouns: languages change, so should we

Lauren Willson

 

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Ad

Those who use non-binary gender pronouns (i.e. neither male nor female) encounter misidentification on a regular basis. Correcting this is important not just for genderqueer persons, but binary identifying individuals as well.

Why pronouns matter for all students

In recent decades, an increasing number of people have begun to identify themselves with non-binary gender identities. Millennials in particular are leading the way in this trend. A 2017 survey conducted by GLAAD found that 12% of the generation identify as “transgender or gender non-conforming.”

According to these general percentages, there could be an estimated 2815 students in the Colorado StateU niversity 2017 undergraduate classwho do not identify within binary gender categories. That’s not even including graduate students or faculty.

With such a large portion of our students identifying outside traditional gender categories, it is imperative that we acknowledge and respect the growing diversity of gender pronouns. Some progress has already been made, as seen in the all-gender restrooms on campus.

Beyond that, as members of CSU, we have the responsibility to follow its Principles of Community, which include Integrity, Respect, and Inclusion.

Even if you are not a college student, failure to respect the diversity of the gender spectrum is no less acceptable than failure to respect differences of race or sexual orientation.

If we hope to create a more equal, peaceful society, it begins with paying attention to the way we speak to and about one another.  

What is a gender pronoun?

Gender pronouns are the words used to refer to someone—not the speaker or listener—in the third person. They may be singular or plural. Traditionally, singular gender pronouns have either been masculine (he/him/his), feminine (she/her/hers), or less commonly, neutral (they/them/theirs).

Ad

As more people identify with nontraditional gender identities, options for referring to oneself have become diversified as well. While there is not a specific number of known pronouns, rest assured there are a lot (e.g. ze/hir/hirs). But don’t be intimidated, you do not need to learn them all.

Approaching pronouns is easy

If you are not sure which pronouns someone prefers, you have two main options:

  1. Ask someone which pronouns they prefer. Chances are they will not be offended, and appreciate that you cared enough to ask.
  2. Use the singular “they.” This is a common and widely accepted gender-neutral pronoun. In fact, “they” was named as the word of the year by the American Dialect Society in 2015.

If you ever make a mistake, don’t worry. Just apologize with sincerity and move on.

It’s about more than words

Stressing the use of proper pronouns is not a symptom of Special Snowflake Syndrome. It is a way of conveying one’s belief in equality, in respect of the inherent value that each person possesses.

If you believe that everyone has a unique personality and an individualized manner of perception, it makes sense also to consider the idea that humanity cannot be categorized into two classes.

The proliferation of personal pronouns demonstrates the beauty and adaptability of language. It demonstrates also the ability of humans to recognize distinctions of identity, a concept that receives far too little attention.

Once we accept the notion of infinite individualities, rather than stressing absolute conformity and classification, perhaps we can focus on integration and coexistence. By evolving the way we speak to one another, we can achieve a simultaneous state of diversity and harmony.

For more information and/or support, please reach out to CSU’s Pride Resource Center.

Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @LaurenKealani