People with unique names might know how frustrating it is when people repeatedly mispronounce your name, even after you’ve corrected or showed them the right way to do it. While some people make genuine mistakes, others just think it is hilarious to make fun of one’s name by mispronouncing it. Similarly, pronouns, an extension of one’s name (proper noun), help us understand how a person likes being referred to. Just like the correct use of one’s name, the correct use of pronouns is a basic way to show our decency and respect. Recent studies also show that the use of correct names and set of pronouns while referring to queer people has reduced depression and suicide risks within the community.
Gender is a figment of a humane idea. It is fluid and implies different things to different individuals. Most people who stand outside the norms of the gender binary world do not use traditional sets of pronouns, i.e. He/him/his or she/her/hers and instead use gender neutral or neo pronouns that are affirming to their gender identity. Traditionally, binary pronouns are very limiting in nature and fail to affirm non-binary, genderqueer or genderfluid identities that do not fit into binary boxes which is why gender neutral pronouns are considered a step forward to dismantling the binary and patriarchal ideas of gender.
While most cisgender people use pronouns that are assigned to their sex and queer people use pronouns that affirm their gender identity; pronouns are not a reflection of an individuals’ gender and only a way to affirm it, which means that it would be wrong assume a person’s gender identity based on their pronouns (or anything else). It is a safe practice to introduce yourself with your pronouns along with your name, regardless of your gender identity. It reassures the other parties in a conversation that they are a safe space if or when they wish to share their gender identity with you. Another inclusive practice that one can adopt is referring to people who are strangers by gender neutral pronouns instead of assuming their pronouns based on their gender expression as it reinforces the societal norm that pronouns are the same as gender identity.
While most people arrogantly dismiss gender neutral pronouns on the basis that they are grammatically incorrect, it is a legitimate fact that even the pronouns she/her/hers were created in 1100s to acknowledge the existence of people who were not men; stating that language again is an evolving entity that will keep on adapting to the changes over time and with the requirement of the people using it. Common sets of pronouns that people have been using since ages are: they/them/theirs, she/her, it/its, he/him/his but it is not limited to only these and also include evolving neo-pronouns like: fae/faer, ze/zir/zirs, xe/xem/xir and so on.
At the age of 17, when I realized for the first time that I was gender fluid and non-binary, meaning that my gender identity is just a state of my mind which is never fixed. I grew uncomfortable each time people referred to me by the pronouns assigned to my sex. There was a phase in my journey where I stopped interacting with people, including my closest friends; I acted out or had panic attacks each time when people referred to me by wrong pronouns. For a while I just had no idea how to help myself or even reach out to people who could help me get through that phase. Luckily, things changed when I got into college after graduating high school. I met a bunch of ferociously strong people who would stand up for me even when I wasn’t around. My collegemates changed my conception of vulnerability and the belief that I had to maintain friendships at the cost of my mental health. After hours of chatting by the ghats of River Brahmaputra that flows through my city and a few warm hugs that I didn’t know I needed until I received them, I realized how strong I was to give up on people who wouldn’t show basic decency of referring to me the way I felt comfortable because people who do care about us will try their best to give us a space where we can express yourselves, no matter what.
It might not seem like a huge thing to do, using correct pronouns for someone; but as a genderfluid person, I can tell you how important, safe and valued I feel when I’m referred to by my correct sets of pronouns. Using correct pronouns is almost equivalent to giving a person a space to grow where they don’t have to worry about protecting themselves from people around them. It would be wrong to state that nobody makes mistakes while referring to people, everybody does. We are in a constant state of being wary of our internalized queer-phobia and it is only normal to make mistakes but what matters is that we acknowledge our mistake instead of ignoring it and make sure not to repeat them. I believe in you and it’s time you put your ally-ship into action as well. Good luck with dismantling the system, one step at a time!