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The Importance of Pronouns & Gender Identity

 Written By: Left of Str8 Intern Merry

Everyone has heard of pronouns, especially in the current times where it seems to be a bad word. So, what are they?

Well, to start with, everyone has pronouns. We either use impersonal pronouns, like “I” or “You”, or gendered pronouns such as “He”, “She”, or “They”. You don’t need to be transgender to have a “pronoun”, in fact it is guaranteed that you do have one.

So why are they important?

Take a moment and think about how many times you have been called by your name or your pronoun this week. The chances are this has happened countless times today alone. Now imagine just one of those people were using the wrong name, or the wrong pronoun. It can feel hurtful, upsetting, or even dehumanizing. It doesn’t seem like they’re talking about you, they’re talking about some other kind of entity.

Being misgendered, both from personal experience and the experiences of others, is both uncomfortable and hurtful. It makes you think that the person doesn’t care about you, that they won’t give you the respect that you deserve by using your correct pronouns.

I wanted to get a little personal, because I’m a big advocate of if you want people to understand you, you need to let them in a little bit. So let me take you on my gender journey (at least to where it currently is!)

Growing up, I knew that I wasn’t quite “a girl”. We can have a long conversation about gender norms and how they’re damaging to all of us, and let alone the LGBTQ+ community, but that’s not why we’re here today. I often wished I was born a boy, long before I even knew what transgender was.

Now, it’s important for you to know that I grew up during Section 28 in the UK, which is where you were not allowed to “promote homosexuality”, or in a practical sense, allow children to learn about LGBTQ+ lifestyles at all. Stonewall has a great right up about this if you wanted to learn more:

So I didn’t know what gay was, let alone what transgender people were. I didn’t know it was possible until I was in my late teens, which is where you would think I started to think about my gender identity?

Well, you would be wrong.

Because I only knew about the gender binary. And I knew that, although I didn’t feel like a woman, I definitely wasn’t a man either. And so I was stuck in a sort of limbo, not knowing quite who I was. But it was around this time that I started to move away from using my (incredibly feminine) birth name to using solely my surname.

And then I started to notice a trend in a lot of the media I was consuming to having characters who were non-binary, specifically those who used they/them pronouns. For those who were around in that era, I’m talking about Welcome to Nightvale, The Penumbra Podcast, and a slew of anime that had characters with unknown genders. And that was something that I honestly envied, but that was something that I couldn’t be, right?

Everything changed when I joined a LGBTQ+ friendly Dungeons and Dragons game, and decided that my character would be non-binary and use they/them pronouns (and watch out for another blog post from me talking about LGBTQ+ games soon). They were called T, they were a drow necromancer, and they are still one of my favorite characters I’ve made to this day.

Suddenly, an extension of me was being referred to with they/them pronouns. And occasionally people would refer to me as they/them as well.

And it felt… right.

So I asked a few close friends to refer to me with they/them pronouns, and everything fell into place. I felt like I was finally who I was supposed to be, finally felt confidence in expressing who I was as a person instead of trying to fit in some kind of mold of womanhood that I had been given my whole life. I felt more confident, more comfortable in my own skin, and really truly like a new person. People who I knew said I was happier, and that they could never see me as something other than a “they”, even those who had never heard of or considered people being non-binary before.

Now I’m six years into living my non-binary life, explaining and defending they/them pronouns. I moved across the world, I got married, became a parent to six cats, and started testosterone therapy. Throughout that time I’ve stuck with they/them, although on occasion I throw in a xey/xem (pronounced zay, zem) on occasion to more fully encapsulate my gender expression.

So how does that rant fit into the importance of pronouns?

For me, when someone doesn’t respect my pronouns, even when I’ve told them my pronouns, it’s a form of disrespect for me as a person. It tells me that they don’t care about me enough to do the bare minimum to make me feel comfortable. If I ever have a chance, then I stop associating with them completely.

So, now you’ve heard my story, what’s the best way to approach pronouns in your day to day life?

First of all, even if you’re cisgender, create opportunities for people to share their pronouns. When you introduce yourself, include your pronouns. For example, I introduce myself with “Hi! My name’s Merry and I use they/them pronouns.” Include your pronouns in your email bio (mine is alongside my name), or in your name field in online meetings.

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, then it’s okay to ask! Just simply ask “What pronouns do you use?” or “What pronouns do you go by?” and make sure to use them unless someone specifically asks you not to in certain situations. If you make a mistake, just apologize and move on! I promise you that us trans people know when it’s an honest mistake and when it’s malicious, and if it’s an honest mistake we forgive you!

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