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How To Use Pronouns Like A Pro

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

If you’re wondering what the different pronouns are, how to use pronouns or how to ask someone their pronouns, let’s embark on a journey together.

Hello, all. As a nonbinary person and writer of sex education, I have something to say to you: asking someone what their pronouns are is one of the kindest things you can do for us. Why do you ask? Well, because we who dare to go into the unknown of gender are doing something pretty cool for the world. We’re taking gender, something that everyone has told us is absolute, and we’re making it fuzzy. We’re challenging what it means to be a man or a woman, and admittedly, we’re inconveniencing a lot of people to do it. It’s no small task to shift your language.

That being said, self-identifying can become exhausting. Some days I struggle to like my identities. Some days I’m really disappointed with how ‘fem’ my hair looks—or frustrated with how boxy my pants are. It’s really nice to have someone else mirror back that identity that I’m accustomed to doing for myself, and nice to see the world evolving. Even the sex industry is taking charge, creating gender-neutral sex toys, so the least we can do is take a few moments to learn the proper pronoun usage for a human being.

This validation is especially helpful with gender-neutral pronouns because these help us to show our gender-blended selves without being pushed to one side or another. So, if you don’t have a lot of experience with gender-neutral pronouns or find someone whose pronouns you haven’t encountered before, here are some helpful tips!

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Help is Here

You may be wondering how to ask someone their pronouns and how to use them after that. So to start off, what the heck is a pronoun? The word itself sounds sort of sanitary and stale (read: boring) and difficult to use.

It’s basically what goes in place of a name. How to use pronouns is actually pretty easy: it just takes practice and familiarity. Read on for how to ask, use, and familiarize yourself with the different pronouns you may encounter, so you’re prepared for any social situation in the wild.

Help! I’m an Introvert. How do I Ask Someone their Pronouns?

First off, don’t sweat it. Just get curious! People who value their pronouns will often share them online. Common places to declare them are email tags, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites such as LinkedIn.

You can also look for pins or identifying LGBT items like the trans flag (blue, white, and pink stripes), or a rainbow bracelet. Many of us are proud of our identity and will announce it to the world; we don’t want to hide in the closet! When I finally came into my own identity, it felt so empowering to finally walk the streets of Pride events and feel more at peace in my own skin. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders just for letting myself be seen. Sharing my own triumph over my gender journey with proudly displayed pronouns felt empowering. So, when it’s time for you to ask, know that you’re well-poised for someone to be honored you did.

You Could Always Ask

Be ready to listen. It can be uncomfortable to learn how to use pronouns—as someone who’s walked the road of a gender journey, even learning about gender has been uncomfortable for me too. But on the other side of that, when someone is willing to learn, it feels like getting a Christmas present in the middle of May. So if you’re interested in connecting, asking gives us the invitation to connect with you and share more about who we are. For example, my masculine appearance doesn’t match up with my feminine approach to parenting. So starting a curious conversation can create connection and shared meaning, even if you use traditional pronouns.

Keep in mind that there are still hate crimes happening around the world for people with non-traditional sexual and gender identities, so this person may be scared when you ask. One way to go the extra mile here is to introduce your own pronouns first, then ask for the other person’s, so they feel less threatened. And if it goes poorly… it reflects on them, not you. They may be struggling with their identity more than you know–gender is hard!

Help Us Out: Wear Your Pronouns Loud and Proud

Please, please do this! Even if you don’t know what the different pronouns are, it’s the nicest thing! Starting with your own can make them feel less alone and weird introducing their pronouns into an unwanted space. It also shows you know how to use pronouns and marks you as an ally. When queer folx know they can trust you to respect their identity, they’ll be excited to connect with you too!

Use Pronouns Like a Pro

The first step in how to use pronouns is to practice them out loud. You may feel proud of yourself for practicing in your head (and you should!) but saying it solidifies it in a different way. Practice with friends, co-workers, and allies, especially those around the person with different pronouns–you all need to learn them, after all. It will sound natural with practice. Pets are also great to test out your skills on: they don’t care. So are mirrors (as long as you don’t judge yourself).

Okay, What if I hear Someone Misgendered?

In this game we call gender, it’s pretty new and revolutionary to challenge traditional ideas; and changing up our language? Whoa, that’s pretty wild.

So every time someone is misgendered, there’s an opportunity for the black and white perspective of the world to shift just a little more grey. A little more complex. A little more human. It looks like correcting someone with kindness. “You may not know, but Charlie goes by them/them pronouns.” Ultimately, the more forgiveness and kindness we can show, the easier it becomes for all of us to move forward together.

Great! What if You Mess Up?

Ah, the inevitable failure. Here’s how to handle it: take a deep breath and forgive yourself. Then offer a brief apology. Like when you overstep any boundary, an apology will go far. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. It’s how we learn!

What are the Different Pronouns?

It’s a rainbow! When you’re learning how to use pronouns, you’ll find that there are all sorts of pronouns and combinations, enough to accommodate…everybody!

Common ones are:

She/her/hers

She’s going to get some pineapple

He/him/his

He’s going to slice up the pineapple

Then there are gender-neutral pronouns for people who don’t like using she or he. These include:

They/them/theirs

They’re going to bake it into pineapple upside-down cake

Ze/zem/zir

Ze will cut it up for everyone when it’s done!

Other neo-pronouns you might encounter are:

It/it/its

It loves upside-down pineapple cake

(this one is considered controversial: step back if it’s not your pronoun)

Ey/em/eir

Ey will bring some to the neighbor

You may encounter some unexpected pronouns: just use the same steps you would for any others and practice until it’s perfect (or nearly there). And if you have questions, ask! It’s totally okay to start a conversation around pronouns. It’s normal to ask people to share theirs, too. It’s all normal, and soon it could be as second nature as asking someone’s name. So get out there, pronoun partner! Now that you know how to use pronouns, it’s time to shine! Thanks for being an ally.

Written by Marcus Richards

Photo by Igor Karimov 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

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