Let us recall our second-grade grammar classes for a moment. We learned that pronouns refer to a person, thing, animal, or place instead of the proper noun itself. They are a crucial tool of our language and are used frequently in communication. However, when it comes to a person, the pronouns we use regarding them tend to reflect the gender identity of the individual.
The usage of pronouns was not given much thought before, but now, we live in a society evolving and revolving towards becoming a more inclusive one. Pronouns are the way a person identifies with the world.
Importance of Pronouns
Pronouns are as important as a name. Imagine someone mispronouncing your name or calling you by the wrong name. Annoying, right? Calling someone by the wrong pronoun carries the same impact, if not a more significant effect because it gives off the image that you assume one’s gender just by the way they look or talk. Usage of a person’s personal pronouns should be normal behavior. It is a way of showcasing your respect and, in turn, aids in creating an inclusive environment.
Being aware of one’s pronouns and choosing not to indicate them when you talk can sometimes be as offensive as calling someone petty names.
How Pronouns Function
It is always better to confirm your doubts. Ask a person what their preferred pronouns are. If they shy away from sharing, you can always use they/them as they’re considered gender-neutral pronouns. These days, you can find more and more people creating awareness using social media.
Personal pronouns are to a person’s choice. A person could be a male or female, or both or neither. Yet, they can share sets of pronouns as the correct ones to use for them, but which group they go by does not necessarily indicate their gender, even though there is a connection between the pronouns they go by for the majority to the gender they are.
Some people go by multiple sets of pronouns. If this is the case, then it is okay to address them by pronouns within their selected sets. However, sometimes there might be a mix and match, or varied pronouns within the same set. In this case, it is always better to ask for examples and information.
The key is never to “assume.” Clarify your doubts, and try to be mindful and helpful. If someone wishes to change their pronouns, be supportive and validating. Your aid can help break barriers and make the person feel comfortable. If they are okay with using their pronouns amongst other groups, help create awareness and correct others if they are using the wrong pronouns.
Neopronouns- The New Pronouns
Though not colloquial yet, it is beneficial. These are a set of gender-neutral pronouns which anyone can use. These are usually used as an alternative for they/them as these are not singular in nature. Here are a few examples: Ze/Hir (Ze is pronounced like Americans pronounce the letter “z” (zee) Hir is pronounced like “here,” and hirs is similar, but with an “s” in the end).
Do Your Part in Spreading the Message
A big chunk of people is still not aware of the role pronouns play in our language. Hence, you can take it up to yourself to play a small role and spread the message. Likewise, you can talk about pronouns and their importance with your family, friends, and subtly spread awareness.
A huge group of people goes by the pronouns sets “he/him” or “she/her.” A small but increasing number of people use “they/them” pronouns or other pronouns set. These people usually don’t want to use their pronouns in association with their gender. So while you introduce your name, you can introduce your pronouns as well. Then, put it up on your social media bios.
Similarly, when introductions are taking place, gently ask the people to mention their personal pronouns. This helps avoid confusion and creates a more welcoming atmosphere.
Educate yourselves further about pronouns
Here are some links for further references that help in understanding this pivotal evolution of personal pronouns:
Lastly, remember that you can be sure that you belong to one particular gender but still have different personal pronouns. Everything is a learning process. It is okay to make mistakes, but you can always do your best to learn and share.