Trans* Pronouns 101
Nobody wants to be that person in a social situation. You know, the one who gets their pronouns all wrong? There you are in a room with people identifying as ze, they or hir and it doesn’t even occur to you to ask. You make a few assumptions about peoples’ genders, are met with blank stares or even worse, and pretty soon you’re in a corner all alone. Well, we’re here to help you not be that person.
If you’re not sure what went wrong, but are sure you don’t want to be that person in any room, then it may be time for you to update your gender and pronoun vocabulary. Avoiding a social faux pas and respecting a person’s ability to identify themselves, will ensure you get an invite to the next function. Pronouns are a basic building block of language that indicate the gender of the person you’re referring to. Traditionally, pronouns come in he/him or she/her, and are determined based on what’s assigned at birth. For example, when somebody is born and the doctor says, “It’s a girl! She’s beautiful. What will you name her?”Cisgender folks are those who feel their bodies are aligned with their gender assigned at birth, which is the experience most supported by society. So, for many cis folks, the story of their gender ends right there, as does their thinking about the appropriate label in which to address a person.
But the two-party system of pronouns is outdated, as there are a range of people whose gender stories are more complex. Finding self-descriptive language that feels right can be a tricky process, and one that only the individual can determine best. Some transgender folks identify as male or female, though it’s the opposite gender of the one assigned at birth. Genderqueers don’t subscribe to the idea of only two genders and may feel more comfortable somewhere in between. Bigenders identify as male and female and some First Nations folks embody both feminine and masculine spirits. Agenders identify as no gender at all. Luckily, there are more neutral personal pronoun options now, including they/their, ze/hir, ey/eir and the newborn, Swedish ‘hen’ . Recognition of diverse gender identities has a long history around the world, and neutral pronouns are language’s way of catching up.
So, where does this leave you? When you’re mingling at a party, heading up a meeting, or in school, just be mindful of the potential for multiple genders in the room. If you’re unsure of someone’s preferred pronouns, don’t be afraid to ASK. Once you learn them, use them every time, like you would for anyone else. Not being that person can be as simple as that.
Thank for asking!
Want to learn more? Check out:
LGBTQ* Websites and Books You Should Know
The wonderful authors and illustrators of THE GENDER BOOK have released a new 60 page color booklet for you to read, download, print, and share.
Check out their homepage HERE
Print and share the newest edition HERE
LGBTQ* Links, Guides, Manuals, Outreach and Supportive Literature
for the Trans* Community and their Allies
LGBTQ* Tips, Insight, and Ally Resources
MIT’s How To Be A Trans* Ally (for the FULL TWO PAGE GUIDE, click here)
Understand the differences between “coming out” as lesbian, bisexual, or gay (LBG) and “coming out” as trans.
Unlike “coming out” in a LBG context, where the act of disclosing one’s sexuality reveals a “truth” about that person’s sexual orientation, disclosing one’s trans status often has the opposite effect. That is, when a person “comes out” as trans, the listener often assumes the “truth” about the trans person is that they are somehow more fundamentally a member of their birth sex, rather than the gender/sex they have chosen to live in. In other words, sometimes “coming out” makes it more difficult for a trans person to be fully recognized as the sex/gender they are living in.
Don’t just add the “T” without doing work.
“LBGT” is now a commonplace acronym that joins lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender under the same umbrella. To be an ally to trans people, gays, lesbians and bisexuals need to examine their own gender stereotypes, their own prejudices and fears about trans people, and be willing to defend and celebrate trans lives.
Don’t try to tell a person what “category” or “identity” they fit into.
Do not apply labels or identities to a person that they have not chosen for themselves. If a person is not sure of which identity or path fits them best, give them the time and space to decide for themselves
Know your own limits as an ally.
Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything! When dealing with a trans person who may have sought you out for support or guidance, be sure to point that person to appropriate resources when you’ve reached the limit of your knowledge or ability to handle the situation. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to provide information that may be incorrect or hurtful.
Listen to trans voices.
The best way to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to trans people themselves. They are the experts on their own lives! Talk to trans people in your community.