Last year an actor Elliot Page came out as a transgender person and stated that the pronouns that should be applied to him are “he/they.” Last week, Demi Lovato, an actress and a singer, came out as non-binary, and their pronouns from now on are “they/them.” Also, besides the third-person pronouns, someone may ask you to use “ze/zir.” That’s pretty confusing, isn’t it?
We at Bright Side tried to figure out why these specific pronouns even matter and why all of us should be cautious when referring to another person.
To understand why specific gender-neutral pronouns are used, let’s first identify why the pronouns are even important. The tendency to use male pronouns, i.e., “he/him/his,” to identify operations of a non-specific gender, is rooted back in the 18th century, and it is still widely used. However, Dr. Emma Moore, a linguistics professor, says that people don’t actually treat “he/him/his” as gender-neutral pronouns, “they just think about men.” Hence, we ignore all the other gender variations that exist within society in our speech, including the female.
During the past several decades, with the rise of society’s awareness about non-binary and transgender people, the issue of gender-neutral pronouns is being discussed even more.
Non-binary people who do not identify themselves as either male or female feel the need to be called by specific, gender-neutral pronouns. Usually, it is a third-person pronoun, i.e., they/them/theirs. However, some other variants are also widely used, such as ze/zir/zirs.
Speaking about the importance of pronouns, Jamie Windust, a non-binary writer, public speaker, and model, says, “Some people struggle to understand why pronouns are so important. A great way to think of it is if you were with someone a lot of the time, and they continually got your name wrong.” Demi Lovato, an actress and a singer, who recently came out about her identity says, “I am proud to let you know that I identify as non-binary and will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them.”
Correct pronouns are important for the mental state of transgender and non-binary people. Scholars detect high rates of depression, lower self-esteem, and other psychological issues among transgender women because of the hate and oppression they face. Gender affirmative support, which the acceptance of one’s correct pronouns is a part of, tends to balance these negative effects.
Besides, it brings positive changes in terms of societal inclusivity. Studies show that the usage of gender-neutral pronouns reduces mental bias toward women and representatives of the LGBTQ+ community.
It is important to respect people’s rights to determine how they’d like to be referred to. One of the ways to support non-binary people is to start mentioning your own pronouns. Even if you are cisgender, i.e., your gender corresponds with your sex attached at birth, mentioning your she/her or he/him pronouns on social media will show the non-binary community that you won’t assume their gender by the way they look.
And in person, it is okay to ask what pronouns a person prefers to use. “I’d rather be asked politely what pronouns I use than for someone to presume my pronouns, and for them then to continually use the wrong one,” says Windust.
Do you ask people’s pronouns in communication? Do you specify your pronouns on your social media or emails?