Wondering Which Pronouns to Use? Just Ask.
By, Aria Maryn
If you stop and look around at our world, the extent to which we gender things is astounding. It’s seemingly impossible to go for even one hour without having to use a gendered pronoun or word. Other languages have more options for gender-neutral pronouns, but English is lacking in this area. This makes things difficult for a lot of queer people, specifically those who are a part of the trans community, as well as those who identify in ways that do not conform to the gender binary.
Personally, I can say that I’ve experienced this issue a number of times. Being misgendered is a terrible experience, and it’s not even something that (most) people intend to do. It happens because one simple step is skipped – asking someone for their pronouns.
Even when someone’s gender expression seems “obvious” to you, you might not be correct. Your perception of what “he” and “she” looks like isn’t the same as mine. For many, trying to keep track of pronouns seems to be an impossible puzzle that makes their lives more difficult – but it’s really not. It shows respect to other people and builds respectful relationships.
Society has burned this idea of a gender binary into our brains. When you meet someone, your mind probably tries desperately to apply familiar labels to them (like gender), and that’s okay. However, you have the ability to change this way of thinking and help future generations escape this gender binary more easily.
Cisgender people aren’t the only ones who struggle with pronouns. Many people who identify as trans or gender non-conforming have problems with it as well. It’s not uncommon for someone to mess up their own pronouns sometimes – and we’re certainly not perfect at getting everyone else’s pronouns right 100% of the time. This is something that we all have to work on – but I believe that it’s worth it.
So, when you meet someone new, try not to “figure out” what their gender identity is. They know better than you do, so simply ask. It can be as easy as exchanging names. “What are your pronouns?” is not a hard question to ask, and it’s not inconvenient. It’s certainly not rude – I, and many other queer people I know, find it extremely polite to be asked about pronouns. If you don’t get a chance to ask, you can always use gender-neutral pronouns (they / theirs) until you’re able to ask the person what they prefer – and, sometimes, gender-neutral pronouns will be their preference. Making this effort is respectful, helpful, and crucial to building relationships between people of all gender identities.
When it comes to pronouns, it doesn’t have to be complicated – just ask.