Hi there, wonderful Kenyon people! It’s time for another ♥Queer 101♥! Yay!!! Today, we’ll be talking about pronouns. What are pronouns? Why are they important? How can we avoid using the incorrect pronouns for our peers? If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, or are wondering about the proper use of gender pronouns, then this article is for you! We’ll be going over the basics about pronouns and we’ll point you towards helpful resources in case you have any further questions. Let’s begin with a simple description of why pronouns are so important.
Why Are Pronouns Important?
A person’s physical appearance might not match up with the way you think they identify. Clothes, hair, mannerisms, etc., are not necessarily determining factors for a person’s gender. The use of correct pronouns stops us from misgendering our friends/peers/colleagues. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure we’re using the right pronouns for our peers.
Examples of Pronouns and How to Use Them
My name is Caitie and my pronouns are she/her/hers. When you’re referring to me in the third person, you would say, “she got six giant plates of fries from Peirce today. I tried to stop her, but I guess those lovely golden potato wedges are hers now.”
But guess what? There are so many more pronouns out there in the world! Allow me to introduce to you… The Pronoun Chart!!!
Pronunciation tips: You can pronounce “hir” like “here” and “xyr” like “zeer.” However (and here’s the important part), if someone using any of these pronouns asks you to say them differently, you should respect their request and pronounce accordingly!
Also, some people don’t even use pronouns at all, and would prefer to use their name, like so:
“John went to take John’s seat at the table where John usually likes to sit” vs. “John went to take their seat at the table where they usually like to sit.”
P.S.: There are even more pronouns than these! If you’re curious and want to know what some of them are, check out the links at the bottom of this article.
How Do I Avoid Using the Wrong Pronouns For My Peers?
The easiest way is to ask (but make 100% sure you’re being polite and respectful while doing so). Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for asking about a person’s pronouns:
- Do: Ask in a way that’s respectful and considerate instead of intrusive or invasive (“Hey, would you mind telling me which pronouns you’d like me to use for you?” is all right, but “What gender are you?” is not, especially since the person you’re addressing might not identify with a gender at all)
- Don’t: Make your question sound like an assumption (“Hey, you look kind of [gender-related adjective] … do you use [xyz pronouns]?” is not a good way to ask someone about their pronouns)
- Do: Make the question casual/natural. You don’t want to make the other person feel awkward or uncomfortable (“Which pronouns do you use?” is okay, but “So which, um … do you use … I mean, are you … you know … ?” is not)
- Don’t: Judge the person based on their answer (this one’s pretty self-explanatory)
- Do: Remember the person’s pronouns so you can avoid misgendering them in the future
If you misgender someone and they correct you:
- Apologize the first time (but after that, don’t make a big deal about it)
- Don’t make it about you (i.e: “oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did this — I’m usually so PC/I usually don’t misgender people/I’m usually more considerate,” etc., etc.)
- Ask them for clarification about their pronouns and assure them you’ll do your best to avoid misgendering them ever again
Something to Keep In Mind
Many people are happy to tell you about their pronouns, but sometimes, “ask everybody about their pronouns” can translate to “ask anyone who doesn’t ‘look cis’ about their pronouns,” which can easily make a trans/non-binary/genderless/gender questioning person feel singled out or uncomfortable. So, if there’s a person you know you’re going to spend lots of time with (or see yourself spending lots of time with in the future), that’s the best situation for you to ask them for clarification about their pronouns. Or, if you’re in an environment like a classroom discussion where pronouns are bound to come up when responding to people’s opinions, it might be a good idea to ask so you don’t misgender anyone. Just make sure you’re not intrusive and don’t ask out of curiosity because that’s rude, no matter how good your intentions are.
All righty! That’s all I have for you today. If you have any questions (or there’s something missing from this article that you’d like to see Queer 101 address), please let us know in the comments section. I’m by no means an absolute expert in pronouns, but I’ve put a few resources below that are much more knowledgable than I am and might be able to help you out. If you’re looking for more Kenyon-related resources, check out Sam Roschewsk ’18’s Queer 101 article from earlier in this semester. There’s also a new group forming on campus for Kenyon’s trans, non-binary, genderless, and gender questioning community. You can email them at TransKenyon@gmail.com.
If you’ve got any suggestions for future Queer 101 articles, you can leave a comment, shoot us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or use the new, magical ‘Submit’ button to write your own!