A Gender Pronoun Primer for the Uninitiated
by 26Health Staff
There’s so much to say on the subject of gender pronouns, and we can’t say it all here. But we are going to cover a lot of ground. Here’s what you’ll find in our story:
– Generational differences in nonbinary identity
– Pronouns and how to use them
– Neopronouns: more options
– Tips for engaging with nonbinary persons
Some might say that Generation Z has embraced complex pronoun usage. The fact is, diversification of gender pronouns has opened up the floodgates for people of all ages to use language in a way that is more supportive of their identities.
Generational Differences in Nonbinary Identity
Each generation contemplates and experiences gender differently, and it can also be said that every individual’s identity is unique as a fingerprint as well. Our founder Dr. David Hargrove, who is in his 50s and has been part of the LGBTQ+ community for decades, noticed an uptick in conversations about nonbinary identity about five or six years ago.
“I think it was probably about somewhere around 2018 that it just kind of hit me that, wow, I’m nonbinary. The irony is that I sat and talked with countless trans women as a therapist through the years … and only recently did I have an awakening about my own fluidity. If I had to describe my experience as being a non-binary person, I’m as close to female as I think you could get, but I’m not, and that seems to fit,” explains Baker-Hargrove. “An employee sent me a link to a website with neopronouns and I became attached to ve/ver/vis. It is the closest neopronoun that I saw that is related to the original feminine pronouns while still maintaining some neutrality.”
For some in the LGBTQ+ community, gender pronouns are cumbersome. Heather Shaw, a viral comedian based in Orlando, jokes that her pronouns — since she’s a funny gal — are hee/haw.
“I’m really having to get ahold of the whole pronoun situation … A lot of times I can’t get it right. For Gen Z, they don’t even have to think about it. They pick up on pronouns and can remember what everyone prefers,” the millenial was quoted saying in a recent issue of Watermark.
Social Media’s Influence
Social media has been the conduit for gender pronoun education amongst tweens and teens, so much so that many in our younger generation often believe that the pronoun-challenged among us are careless or willful, and not just clueless. 12-year-old Valen Kinbar-Clark has recognized that they have a role in educating those of us who may be less adept at using pronouns correctly.
“The discussion of pronouns is something that has been brought up a lot at home and in the community recently. I have realized that on social media it may seem like everyone is aware of pronouns, but not everyone knows much about them.”
That said, we could all benefit from a pronoun primer, and we asked Valen to break it down for us.
Gender Pronouns and How to Use Them
26Health: What are the pronouns of which you speak?
Valen: Pronouns are words like he and she that are used to refer to someone. Most people are only aware of people using he/him and she/her pronouns, but there are actually many more. There are different pronouns like they/them, it/its, neopronouns, and more.
26Health: What are the pronoun options currently in use?
Valen: There are a bunch, so let’s get into it.
People who use only they/them pronouns do not want to be referred to as she or he. We use these pronouns for people quite often but it usually refers to a group, however, they/them pronouns can also be used for an individual.
Example: “I saw my friend for the first time in a while today. I really missed them.”
When people use he/they pronouns that means that you can use both they/them and he/him pronouns for him. Some people may prefer you use one more than the other but often they would just like you to use both.
Example: “He is really fun to hang out with, I can’t wait to see them again.”
She/they pronouns are the same as he/they pronouns except you would say she instead of he.
Example: “My teacher is so nice. She gives us so little homework and they also let us work in groups during class!”
When someone uses only it/its pronouns, it doesn’t want to be called a she, he, or they. Just like with they/them pronouns we do use these a lot just not usually for one person, but if someone wants to be referred to as it then you should respect it.
Example: “It is saving up to buy a car with its own money.”
Neopronouns: More Options
Neopronouns are not as common, but are just as important! Some common neopronouns are xe/xem, fae/faer, ve/ver, ae/aer, zie/hir, and many more; there are also neopronouns that people create for themself. They’re a bit harder to understand and get used to, but if that’s what makes someone comfortable it would mean a lot to that person for you to use them. Here’s how neopronouns correspond: he/him/his/himself becomes ve/ver/vis/verself.
Everybody already uses he/him comfortably, but you don’t need to be a man to use these pronouns.
Just like he/him, these are already well-known and you do not need to be female to use these for yourself.
26Health: What about nor/mal pronouns?
Valen: When someone says they use nor/mal pronouns they are making a mockery of the usage of pronouns. A lot of people don’t realize that everyone has pronouns, even though it’s a part of grammar which is taught in school. Just because you’re a part of a majority doesn’t mean that you’re “normal” — it just means that the other group is the minority.
Tips for Engaging with Nonbinary Persons
26Health: How do you figure out which gender pronouns to use and when?
Valen: Pay attention to people’s preferences. Someone can use many different kinds of pronouns, for example: they/it/him. Most people will want you to refer to them as all of these, but some may have certain pronouns they want you to use more than others. Also, people have the right to change their minds about their pronouns. I know someone who started with she/her, moved to he/him, and landed on they/them. There is no need to question or poke fun at people whose understanding of their identity is shifting.
26Health: Are there other implications for people who use nonbinary pronouns?
Valen: When complimenting a feminine-appearing person, you’ll tend to describe them pretty and cute, and when speaking to someone masculine you might use handsome and manly. But what about people who are nonbinary? You should say things like amazing, nice, or cool.
Someone who is nonbinary can use any set of gender pronouns even if they don’t identify as female or male. Someone who is nonbinary is not always androgynous. They might look feminine or mascusline, but that doesn’t make them any less valid.