The Radish Society is an entirely inclusive community so I wanted to touch on a subject that is incredibly relevant but yet seriously under-discussed. Prior to becoming more involved in the sex ed community (via a different platform), I didn’t fully understand what gender-neutral pronouns were. Of course I had heard of them, but none of my close friends went by anything other than ‘she/her’ or ‘he/him’. I wasn’t totally sure how to use gender-neutral pronouns and I was a bit embarrassed by that. Instead of judging something I didn’t totally understand, I educated myself instead. Now, I make conscious efforts to keep my vocabulary as inclusive and non-assuming as possible.
I want to share a little bit of info with you because I personally believe that respecting pronouns is essential. If you’re not sure what gender-neutral pronouns are – that is totally okay! That’s hopefully why you’re reading this article and you’ll come away from it learning something new.
Some people don’t feel like traditional gender pronouns (she/her, he/him) fit their gender identities. People who may identify as transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, bi-gender or a-gender might choose different pronouns for themselves, alternating pronouns, or no pronouns at all. She/her is conventionally used to describe females and he/him is conventionally used to describe males. That doesn’t really work for a lot of people and thankfully our vocabulary has grown!
A popular pronoun is the singular ‘they/them’. I have a lot of friends that go by this pronoun. If my friend Jessica preferred to use ‘they/them’ pronouns, then I would simply just change it in my sentence. “I’m giving my extra ticket to Jessica because they really love that band.”
Some people prefer to use other pronouns and there are a lot of options available including (but not limited to): ze, zie, sie, hir, ey, per. The most important thing about pronouns is that they are decided by the person that they refer to. It is not up to someone else to decide what pronouns to use. Some people might even prefer not to use any pronouns and only use their preferred name (“I’m giving my extra ticket to Jessica because Jessica really loves that band”). It is totally up to the person!
So what do you do with this information?
First, you should never assume someone’s pronouns. Appearance and gender expression might be totally different than someone’s gender identity. If you’re in a comfortable space you can ask things like:
-“What pronouns do you use?”
-“How would you like me to refer to you?”
– You can always introduce yourself first: “Hi, my name is Rebecca and my pronouns are she/her. What about you?”
Do you need to know?
It is important to think about why you need to know someone’s pronouns. If you’re in a small interaction with someone, then do you really need to know? If you’re presenting at a conference with them, then it might be important.
By asking someone their pronouns, you’re asking them to reveal an important part about themselves so you need to make sure you do it in a respectful way that doesn’t cause anyone to feel ‘outed’. If you’re in a small interaction and you don’t need to know their pronouns, then consider using neutral terms as a default. Instead of “that guy over there”, why not say ”that person over there”. Instead of saying “she was gorgeous” why not say “they were gorgeous”. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to change your vocabulary and it will make a huge difference for the people you are talking to and referring to. If you’re not sure which pronouns to use and you don’t want to ask, the safest bet is to use the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’.
If you make a mistake, it is okay.
Most people appreciate a quick apology and a language correction. It can be done in the moment, or you can take someone aside after and apologize to them more personally.
Spread the knowledge and love!
If you know someone is mislabeling or misgendering a person, then you can help spread the respect by correcting them. It doesn’t have to be done publicly, you can speak to them privately afterwards and say things like “I think Jessica likes to use singular ‘they’ pronouns”. Don’t attack them, and try not to embarrass the person they are referring to who might not appreciate a public spectacle.
Pronouns Can Change
It is very possible for someone to change the pronouns they use. You don’t need to question it – you just need to change how you refer to that particular person. The beauty of pronouns is that they are decided by the person they refer to.
The Radish Society
There is definitely a lot to learn about gender identity and this was just a very quick overview to start. I want everyone at The Radish Society to feel included, so please let me know what pronouns you use!
I’ll go first: My name is Rebecca and my pronouns are she/her and I am also okay with they/them. My partner’s pronouns are he/him and he is also okay with they/them. What about you?