I understand why many people find many gender pronouns as “ grammatical errors,” especially for using ‘they’ to describe one person. But time is changing. Even Mirriam-Webster updates their definition of ‘they’ to include a singular person whose gender is not revealed or nonbinary.
Like all changes, it will often create resistance because the world gets comfortable with what they knew. But you know what? We cannot deny that the world is constantly changing. We cannot stay in the past when revolutions and expressions keep growing. As an analogy, think about it as a business. If a corporation becomes lazy and insists on doing what they always do instead of listening to what the market needs and innovate, they tend to die out. So why does pronoun matter to encourage an inclusive environment?
What is a pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that refers to a participant in an action or describes a person when they are not present. Gender pronouns, however, “specifically refer to people you are talking about,” according to UW Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center. Both pronoun and gender pronouns can become an object or a subject. At the same time, they can show possessiveness or reflexively describe someone.
Types of pronouns
Outside of the common he/she pronoun that describes a male and female person, the Queer community has developed more gender pronouns for the English language. It is because genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, and trans people realize that “he” and “she” does not suffice to describe who they are. Hence, gender pronouns like per, sie, they, ve, and zie become a more common replacement to the outdated two-gender social construct. But if you ask me how many are gender pronouns exist now, the answer varies. Wikipedia comes up with 14, while one non-binary community lists up hundreds of pronouns to use.
Reasons Why Pronoun is Important
Intentionally misgendering someone can be harmful. Imagine you are a male with long hair. One day, everyone starts calling you “madam” when you are a cis-gendered male. Despite you trying to tell everyone that you are a male, they merely shrug – showing they do not care about how you think and keep referring to you as a female.
How would that make you feel? Visualize how tiring it is to have to correct every individual to make sure you are seen. By not using the pronoun they are giving us, we rob unique individuals of their right to self-expression and their right to define who they are.
From the scenario above, we can learn something else. Assuming a person’s gender over their attributes like clothing, hairstyle, and gesture can make someone feels horrible – especially if you get it wrong. By creating a faulty assumption, we risk the chance of ripping someone’s sense of identity. If my writing does not convince you, believe the people who share their experiences on it at the very least.
What to do to avoid misgendering
Ask. Asking might seem obvious, but some people are uncomfortable with the idea of asking because they are afraid they might make a fool of themselves. Unfortunately, yours truly has made this mistake before – to one of his good friends, no less. I assumed what they are, and I made a fool out of myself by guessing. Then made it worse by stating what they are as a fact. Luckily, my friend corrected my mistake, and the event taught me not to make the same mistake again. From my experience, you can learn that if you are unsure of what pronoun to use when it is just you and your friend conversing: ask them. It shows that you respect their gender expression. However, there is a twist. You may ask, “How should I refer to you?” but if they do not feel comfortable sharing, accept it and refer to them using their name until they say otherwise. For most Queers, they prefer you ask than assuming things like their pronouns and sexual orientation.
Use their name until someone they know uses a specific pronoun. I see you shy people, so here is a tip: if you just met a genderfluid person, you can always use their name as a pronoun. For instance, “Oh yeah! I just met Damien yesterday” or “That pencil is Damien’s.” Keep on to it and pay attention when someone who knows your acquaintance uses a specific pronoun. If your acquaintance reacts well to the pronoun, it is your cue to follow suit and use the same pronoun when referring to your new friend.
They/them pronoun. This pronoun for non-binaries is a safer choice to use. It shows that you are not presumptuous or pushing binary social construct of genders onto non-gender conforming people.
Honestly, mistakes are bound to happen. When it happens, do not make things awkward by continuously apologizing. Just say sorry, promise not to repeat it, and continue the conversation using the correct pronoun. If you caught someone else using the wrong pronoun for a mutual friend, gently let them know of the person’s preferred pronoun.
In short, when we think someone should not fuss over something as ‘small’ as a pronoun, think again. It is excruciating not being able to be your true self. It is painful to be ignored and disrespected. It is even more unpleasant to feel like one is invisible and one’s existence is not valid. Make a more inclusive world by getting in the habit of exercising gender-inclusive practices and languages.