What even are pronouns? Your guide to respecting people's preferred gender identities.

It’s the roaring 20s and the world is changing rapidly. New gender identities, sexual orientations, and individualities come forward every day. When the world changes rapidly, we can’t hide behind ignorance, especially when it comes to exploring the world of dating and even meeting new people. As humans, it becomes our duty to make ourselves aware of people’s identities and orientations, and humanising everyone as equals- whether we conform to their identity or not. 

Now, as cisgender people, it becomes even more important to stand for all identities and orientations because us allying with the LGBTQ+ community can help strengthen their voice and give them an even bigger platform. When people come together to support communities, beautiful things happen.

So, to take your woke self to the next level, here is a quick, effective guide on understanding preferred pronouns, the different pronouns that exist, and how to ask someone about their preferred gender identity.

What are preferred pronouns?

Preferred pronouns refer to a set of pronouns that an individual prefers to be addressed as. These pronouns are used to reflect the individual’s gender identity and may not be the same as their biological sex. People opt for different pronouns that they feel the most comfortable identifying with. These can be gender-based pronouns such as “he/him” or “she/her” or gender-neutral pronouns such as “they/them”. It becomes extremely important to respect people’s preferred pronouns, especially if they do not conform to genders or are non-binary. 

What happens when we don’t use people’s preferred pronouns?

When we disregard someone’s preferred pronouns, we are essentially dismissing their individuality and identity. This can not only be offensive, but it can also hurt people and show them that you are not a safe space to come forward to about their identity. Respecting people’s gender identity is extremely important and it is highly insensitive to disregard it. When someone tells us their gender identity through preferred pronouns, especially if they are nonconforming, it can be a hurtful thing to reduce them to what you think they should identify as, just because of their biological sex. This could result in people feeling isolated and threatened around you. Especially if your loved ones come out to you, it becomes even more important to be accepting and welcoming of their newfound identity.

Some commonly preferred pronouns

Here are some pronouns to be familiar with:

  1. She/her/hers: This preferred pronoun set is used by individuals that identify as women. It could be a cisgender female telling you about her preferred pronouns or a gender-nonconforming person telling you that she prefers to use these pronouns. Either way, if someone says that they prefer “she/her”, respect her choice. 

  2. He/him/his: This set of pronouns is preferred by individuals that identify as men. It could be a cisgender male telling you about his preferred pronouns or it could also be a transgender person or a gender-nonconforming person telling you that he prefers to use “he/him/his. It is imperative to consciously remember people’s pronouns, especially if you interact with them often.

  3. They/them/theirs: These pronouns may be used by individuals who either have a nonbinary identity or by someone who does not wish to conform to a gender-specific identity. They/them is a gender-neutral set of preferred pronouns that helps people identify as individuals instead of a specific gender. These pronouns may be used by transgender people. Although sometimes, it is important to be sensitive to the idea that someone that is trans might also choose to identify as She/Her or He/Him. 

  4. Other gender identities- Many people have tried to come up with other sets of preferred pronouns. This could either be due to the lack of gender-neutral pronouns in their language or they choose to opt for an even more neutral way to go than “they/them”. It is important to be informed of their gender identity. You might not have to know all of them, but if someone you know uses a different set of pronouns, ensure you go out and make yourself aware.

What if I get someone’s identity wrong?

Remember, it is not the individual’s job to comfort you about you getting their identity wrong. If you realise at the moment, apologise and correct yourself immediately. If you realise later, apologise privately and move on. Finally, educate yourself some more.

How to ask someone what their preferred pronouns are?

If you are in a group, a simple, “if you are comfortable sharing, what are your preferred pronouns?” works. If you’re talking to someone one-on-one, be direct and ask them politely,  “what are your preferred pronouns?”. If you have forgotten someone’s preferred pronouns, it is always best to ask again. A straightforward, “could you remind me what your preferred pronouns are?” goes a long way.

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