“Why Pronouns Matter”
“Pronouns are any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose referents are named or understood in the context.” This definition is given by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
“Why is a part of speech an important concern?”
Pronouns are a way that our identities are portrayed. When anyone asks you to use their pronouns, they ask for their identity to be respected. It is never safe to assume someone’s gender; life in which people automatically recognize people’s correct pronouns is not a privilege everyone experiences. Someone referring to another using the wrong pronouns, especially on purpose, can lead to one feeling disrespected, isolated or even alienated. It is not just an act of oppression, but also an act of aggression when one chooses to disregard or disrespect the preferred pronouns of others. It is generally safe to use they/them/theirs unless the individual says otherwise, as these are gender-neutral pronouns.
“I am a cis-gendered individual and I even look like it, so my pronouns are obvious. Do I still need to share my pronouns?”
Yes. You sharing your preferred pronouns actually normalizes sharing and asking for pronouns. It helps non-cis people to not feel isolated but validated, and also shows your positive support towards them. Introducing oneself with their preferred pronouns actually helps in avoiding misgendering and propagating the message that gender identity exists beyond binaries. So yes, it would help if you shared your preferred pronouns regardless of being cis-gendered.
“I don’t want them to feel offended, I don’t know their pronouns. So what should I do?”
It’s quite simple actually. Ask them! As long as you do that politely (for example, “Hey, what are your preferred pronouns?”). Knowing one’s preferred pronouns is not the most important thing, but respecting a person is. Sometimes people just don’t want to share their preferred pronouns and that’s fine too. So try not to ask someone something if they’re not at ease giving it. Try to introduce yourself with your own pronouns so that everyone you meet knows that you’re a safe space and that you won’t assume one’s pronouns. It also motivates them to share their preferred pronouns without it being awkward. (For example, “Hi, my name is Surabhi and I use she/her and they/them as my preferred pronouns.”)
The Bottom Line
Continue learning about the community. There are countless online services, resources and centers around
The world which will support you more than happily! And remember, calling oneself an ally is not enough, being an ally is a thing to do. You always grow as a human, practice makes one perfect. Mistakes happen, yes, but most importantly, you should be committed to making this planet a better, happier and safer place for everyone. Keep at it! Your contribution to the community is extremely worthwhile!
Author: Surabhi Kulkarni