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I’m finding myself frustrated this week about pronouns. Or rather, the complete stubbornness around using they/them pronouns. My pronouns. It really seems like no one cares enough to just try and use them. So let’s do it. Lets talk pronouns.
What Are Pronouns?
Pronouns are the words that describe the participants you refer to in a discussion. Some common pronouns we use frequently are he, him, his and she, her, hers.
Another set of pronouns that are becoming more recognized are they, them, theirs, when speaking of a singular person. These are oftentimes considered “gender neutral pronouns.” These gender neutral pronouns are what I use for myself, and what I ask that others use when speaking of me.
I’ve noticed a lot of push back around using my pronouns. There’s a bunch of common arguments people will make against using them, either to my face, or among others when I’m no longer present. I have some thoughts about these arguments.
“Okay, but what are you, like, physically?”
Its so strange to me that people would actually ask this. And y’all really do ask it! Do you realize what you’re saying? To be really frank, you’re asking if I have a penis or a vagina. Do you ask that of every person you meet?
Think about it. Your boss says they’re hiring a new employee named Jo. You immediately ask, “Cool. Can’t wait to meet Jo. Also, does Jo have a penis or a vagina?” How would your boss react to that? They’d probably think you were wildly inappropriate and wonder why it mattered to you. I encourage you to ask yourself that question: why does it matter what genitalia someone has?
Because the truth is, that is what it boils down to! You want to know what parts they have between their legs! That’s kinda weird when you think about it that way, isn’t it?
There’s really only one example that I could think of where upon meeting me you might need to know what genitals I have. If you’re trying to hook up. Want to have sex? Okay, then it might matter what I’ve got going on. If not, I really can’t seem to justify your concern with my genitals.
“But that’s just not proper English!”
This seems to be one of the most common hang ups. Here’s the thing though, it is proper English. Refer to the section above. Do you see how I spoke about your boss? I used they/them pronouns. I did that, because I don’t know what gender your boss is. That’s exactly how I want you to refer to me. Without preconceived notions, ideas, or connotations about my gender.
Still can’t accept that prime example above? That’s okay. The great thing about language is that it does actually evolve. We come up with slang words all the time. Different words are used as common speak than we had hundreds of years ago. Definitions of words even change regularly.
It’s actually pretty natural for language to evolve along with how our culture grows and changes. It has to keep up with the amazing discoveries we find when we use science to study big ole concepts like gender and sexuality. I find it amazing. Maybe I should have gone into linguistics.
“I would have to change the whole sentence…”
It does get confusing. If you are talking about Tina and Mark, and Tina uses they/them pronouns, the conversation could get difficult to distinguish.
Tina met Mark for lunch. They had tea and cookies.
Who had tea and cookies? Maybe they both did. Maybe it was just Tina. A really great way to avoid this is to just use names for everyone. It might take a bit more work, but you are so incredibly capable. You can also try this:
Tina met Mark for lunch. They both had tea and cookies. Alternatively, you could say, Tina met Mark for lunch. They had tea and cookies, Mark did not.
This is not an overnight change! I don’t expect you to figure this all out right this moment. It takes a significant amount of thinking to rework sentences you’ve been using your whole life, especially when there are new rules involved. Take your time.
“I just don’t want to.”
This says to me that you care more about your shallow discomfort than helping to create an environment where I can feel truly seen. You do not care enough about me to help me to feel safe and loved. I’m protective of my energy and my time. I value folks who value me. Therefore, I can’t care enough to have you in my life.
To those uncomfortable or unsure about using gender neutral pronouns, I’d like you to consider this: Who does it hurt by using these pronouns? Even if you do not understand them, what harm does it do to try anyway? It may feel uncomfortable at first, I get that. Shit, sometimes even I mess up my friends pronouns!
What good does it do to use them?
It makes people like me feel safe. It makes us feel valued. We feel respected and cared for. Not only that! Did you know that using our correct pronouns even helps others around you? It creates a culture that is safer and kinder to one another. In a world that consistently makes queer people feel like outsiders, you have the ability to open your arms to us. You can take a stand against trans-phobic bullshit by being a strong ally and not assuming anyone’s gender. What a beautiful opportunity.
Lets be clear on what I’m asking of you here. I am not asking that you change your entire way of using language overnight. I’m not even asking you to never make mistakes. In fact, I’m asking that you do make mistakes. By trying. Fumble over your words for a bit. Notice when you use the wrong pronoun for me, correct yourself, and move forward.
Just, please, use my pronouns.