I’ve been using the pronouns they/them/theirs for almost three years. The decision to switch my pronouns was scary. Even though I’d met several non-binary people who used pronouns other than he and she, I was still worried about what people would think if I did. Who would actually use them, and how hard would it be to make people respect them?
In the end, I made the change, because my pronouns made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. It was a difficult transition, however. No one but my closest friends made a serious effort to change the pronouns they used for me. I’m sure all of my other friends had good intentions, but it was really strange and hard for them to refer to me as they. Often they would just forget, and I would have to decide whether to correct them or let it slide.
It’s difficult for a lot of people to imagine the stress and anxiety this puts on the shoulders of a trans person. Imagine someone calling you he every single time they referred to you, when your pronoun is she. No matter how many times you corrected them, they immediately went back to he. You’d probably end the friendship at some point, right? Who would want to be friends with someone who disrespected you so much that they kept calling you by the wrong pronouns?
I understand that adding a new set of pronouns to one’s vocabulary involves a learning curve. When I first met someone who used they/them/theirs as pronouns, I was still identifying as cis and it was hard for me to figure out which one to use in a sentence. It felt unnatural to refer to one person as they. I messed up just about every sentence, and I had to correct myself every time a pronoun appeared in my words.
So I get it. I’ve been there. I know exactly how it feels to learn a new pronoun. I didn’t begin using they/them/their pronouns and immediately have them become integrated into my vocabulary. But I practiced, I remembered that a person’s pronouns were they/them/theirs, and every time I messed up, I corrected myself.
I want to be clear: The thing that hurts me most is not when someone messes up my pronouns. It’s when they know my real ones, but they don’t even try to correct themselves. They just let it sit there, and it’s on me to bring it up, again, that “It’s they, not she.”
It’s fine if it takes someone a while to get used to new pronouns. I promise, it really does get easier and more natural. They/them/theirs is so default for me now, because so many of my friends use them, that I no longer have to struggle. The same is true for ze/zir/zirs. That was a learning curve too, and although I am a little slow with them because I don’t get to use them in real life as much, I’m better at using them than when I started.
If someone you know uses different pronouns, please put in the effort. It makes a world of difference to that person. Here are a few resources to practice pronouns:
Pronoun Dressing Room
Learn and Practice New Pronouns
If you mess up (which happens, I still do it too), apologize, correct the pronoun, and move on. That’s all that’s needed. In the first year I began using “they,” every time someone used the wrong pronouns for me (and knew better), it felt like a literal punch to the gut. I’ve gotten more desensitized to it over the years, and although it’s better for my mental health, it’s also pretty sad. But it still sucks to be misgendered and makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I can’t really be close with someone if they won’t use the words I need to be comfortable.[Headline image: photo of a Black transmasculine person waiting outside at a bus stop. They have short hair and are wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a black leather jacket over a black hoodie. They have a serious expression on their face. Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection.]
You said it so well. Great post.
As much as I can from my own experience, I hear what you are saying, and I honor your spirit. It’s a crazy brave thing to define and admit one’s truth in a world not always welcoming.
I do wonder, though, about the persistent use of ‘race’ in an article so committed to being gender free (e.g. “West is a WHITE non-binary person…”). From my point of view, race is an even more artificial construct than gender, as laden with baggage as s/he, and even less valuable as a descriptor (e.g. “The photograph shows a person against a WHITE background. The bottom half of the person’s face is visible, along with the person’s neck, shoulders, and upper chest. The person is WHITE and wearing red lipstick…”). The person is hardly the same color as the background…I’d say [pronoun] is more of a Pantone 7020-C (http://jezebel.com/5925196/the-pantone-chart-of-every-human-skin-color).
Just something to consider. I’m not mad, I’m just saying. My two cents, for what it’s worth. 😉
Sonya Renee Taylor
Thank you for your comment. We use standards put forth in the disability community for how we caption images in our articles, which are designed to assist visually impaired users with descriptions that can be read in Screen Reader a service that reads computer content. Doing this per these standards includes denoting race, gender, size etc as is discernible in the image. Additionally, The Body is Not An Apology, while acknowledging the social construction of race, also honors the reality of racial identity in our lives and as is true of all elements of our bodies we celebrate those identities.
Founder, The Body is Not An Apology
I know how you feel, West 🙂 I use they/them/their, too. Sometimes a friend will keep messing up my pronouns and not correcting themselves, and I want to tell them “Go read a chapter of My Immortal and think about what you did!” so they know how it hurts/ makes you feel sick to get misgendered.
It might just be that I’m a pretty open person, but I’ll interrupt people if they get my pronouns wrong. Ex: “I was just telling her that-” “Them.”
One of my friends uses cï/cïr/cïm and I always have to stop and think about which to use in conversation. Ex: “We were talking about hair dye and … cï said that … cï uses Manic Panic and it comes out really well for… cïr.”