Anonymous said: I kind of feel stupid for asking this... but what exactly is the whole pronoun thing about? Like, during my OUTLook meeting we went around and said what pronoun we prefer, and I just kind of skipped because I didn't know what it meant. :/
This is a great question, don’t feel stupid! We are never taught much about pronouns so it makes sense for folks to be confused. I’ll start at the beginning; Pronouns are what we use to refer to people and denote gender – “she” and “he” are most common, and are usually (but not exclusively) used to denote female or male identity. There are also gender neutral or all-gender pronouns that do not denote a specific gender such as the singular “they” and “ze” (more info and examples). When we talk about someone, we use a pronoun to describe them. This pronoun is chosen by assuming what identity a person has, which is based on what gender a person is perceived to be, which is usually based off of how a person looks. With trans* spectrum folks (who may be transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, the list goes on…) how a person looks may not fully represent how they identify. So, if someone assumes a pronoun for someone who is trans*, it may not be the right one. It may not seem like a big deal to mistake a pronoun, but when someone is referred to by the wrong pronoun it can make them feel uncomfortable, out them, or even put them in danger. No one likes to be called something they are not. If you are Italian and that means a lot to you, you wouldn’t want someone to assume and continue to tell you that you are Greek. If you are a man who continuously, every day, is mistaken for a woman, that can get frustrating. It is painful to walk through the world never being seen for who you are. To counteract this, we can ask people what their pronoun is ahead of time: “Nice to meet you, what pronoun do you prefer?” Or as in the case you described, at a meeting people can offer up their pronoun when they introduce themselves: “My name is JAC, I go by he/him/his.” This creates what I casually call a pronoun safe space.
By taking active steps to learn a person’s pronoun, we are doing many things. 1) It allows people who are usually called the wrong pronoun an opportunity to feel recognized and respected, 2) It promotes a safe, affirming space for trans* and gender non-conforming people, 3) it creates a group understanding that gender identity is not to be assumed, and 4) it supports the reality that she/he binaries and non-trans* (aka cisgender) identities are not all there is in the world. These are all important elements for trans* allyship. And Pronoun safe spaces are supportive of people who are not trans* but are gender non-conforming. For example, masculine women may look very similar to what people expect a man to look like, and so are wrongly mistaken for men. Pronoun Safe Spaces also promote gender education by encouraging people to stop and think about their own gender and identity, how we reference people, and the existence of variance. You are a perfect example! You had never heard about asking pronouns before you went to that meeting, and now you are learning all about it. That is awesome! I hope this answered your questions about pronouns - it can be pretty complicated, I know! Let me know if there is more you’d like to chat about. If you’d like to do more exploring on pronouns and trans* friendly etiquette you can visit these sites for starters: