Hey y'all! My name is Rodney Williams. Miami native, though currently I am an undergraduate student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, SC. My gender pronouns are he, him, and his. Most of you are probably like “wHaT aRe gEnDer pRoNoUns”? Well, I’m glad you asked! Count this as your first important fact as we explore gender pronouns.”
So, gender pronouns are words that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about them. The most commonly used pronouns are “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers.” People who are transgender or gender nonconforming may choose to use pronouns that don’t conform to binary male/female gender categorizations, such as “they, them, theirs.”
As a society, we were all taught pronoun usage which had rules based on a binary male/female and singular/plural framework. However, this framework often leads to misgendering people whose identity is nonbinary, including members of the transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming communities. Before we dive in on the importance of understanding, using, and respecting gender pronouns, let us first get our feet wet on some terminology…
Pronouns are connected to gender identity and gender expression.
Gender identity refers to the deeply held, internal sense of self as masculine, feminine, a blend of both, or even neither.
Gender expression is the external manifestations of gender, which is expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, body characteristics, and more.
Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions aren’t always correct, and the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not.
Why is it important?
Some of you are probably thinking “Is it that important”? or “Is it even that serious”? Why yes my friend, yes it is. It’s a privilege not having to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. Not everybody shares this privilege. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive. Misgendering, whether on accident or purposefully, can make someone feel invalidated or alienated.
How do I ask someone?
Share your own pronouns, this is a great way to create and normalize a space for people to share their pronouns. Though, for most one-on-one conversations, another way to ask is by simply asking straightforward: “What are your gender pronouns?” or “Can you remind me of which pronouns you like for yourself?”
What if I misgender or use the wrong pronouns?
If you realize it in the moment, correct yourself. Apologize and restate the correct pronoun, as in, “Sorry, I meant she.” If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on. In either case, don’t dwell on the mistake.
Hopefully, you now have a fundamental understanding about what are gender pronouns, how to use them, and why they matter. I now challenge you! Starting today, practice using gender pronouns with friends, family, and love ones whether in school, the mall, or even in the workplace. Another way is to include it in your email signature. This is a great first step to building inclusivity, by also bringing awareness to something that many people might not have heard of before. The discussion around gender pronouns provides further education as to why it’s an important part of people’s identity that should be respected.
To see Rodney's other work, view the link below. Thanks again for reading! Live life. Be great. Flourish.