Our world is incredibly diverse. No two humans are alike, and we do, after all, refer to each of us as individuals because we are unique! And this is a wonderful thing. Limiting this extraordinary world of uniqueness and individuality into only two categories simply isn’t enough anymore. We are becoming more in touch with our inner selves, and, fortunately, we are no longer afraid to speak out and be proud of who we really are. And that is why everyone should become familiar with the use of gender pronouns and integrate them into our “normal” everyday lives. Because being normal means being yourself and accepting others as themselves!
What are pronouns?
Gender pronouns are a linguistic tool that individuals use to communicate and describe others. You might say he loves to cook when talking about your dad or she is a great mechanic when talking about your mother. Pronouns help us accurately describe the people in our lives to others.
Before we get further into our discussion of pronouns, let’s start by focusing on the difference between biological sex and gender. Biological sex is based on physiological characteristics – or physical anatomy- that we often associate with our ideas of gender. Society tends to label people born with vaginas as female, people born with penises as male, or people born with a combination of physical traits as intersex, and this label is assigned at birth based on what genitals the doctor can physically see.
Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct, or the labels society uses to explain the expectations of the social and cultural roles assigned to biological sex and anatomy within a community. So, unlike biological sex, which is based on genitalia, physical development during puberty, and chromosome composition, gender is the way a person identifies or is expected to identify in relation to socially constructed roles and as a response to their environment. People who identify as the gender assigned to their anatomy are known as cisgender and people who don’t identify with the label society assigns may identify as a member of transgender or gender-nonconforming communities.
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Because many Western cultures and the English language have been using these terms interchangeably, it’s no surprise that gender is thought of in a binary way, becoming just as binary as biological sex to our society. However, we know this is not true; gender can be defined on a broad spectrum and is more complex than the binary labels society has been using. A person may identify within this gender spectrum or outside it at any point in their lives. For example, you may have heard the terms “tomboy” or “girly girl”, which society has used to describe different types of femininity. Or you might look at a bodybuilder and think he looks more manly than someone with less muscles. These words and thoughts let us know that there are many ways to express our gender, showing us that there are more than two ways to express ourselves.
Gender is no longer a prisoner of the societal realms of “man” and “woman” that are based on genitalia. People are finding the words that work for them, some people may identify as nonbinary, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, or even gender-neutral. They can even change their gender identity over time, in a matter of hours, or over months or years. Gender identity is a combination of how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we express ourselves to the outside world.
In other words, people can identify more closely with society’s expectations of being male or female, or even in between the two, or they may identify more with conventionally masculine expressions, feminine expressions, both, or in the middle, and simply switch between the two. Some people won’t express themselves in any way society can label, and that is a natural and healthy expression of identity too.
Persons who identify outside of society’s gender binary roles may prefer to use third-person pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their as singular, ze instead of she/he, and hir in place of his/him/her, and the list can go on with ve/ver, xe/xer, xie/xem, ze/zir and many more. These newer pronouns, like xe, ve, and ze are called neopronouns because they are new ways to help people be more accurately described. So, you may have a person in your life who wants you to use gender-neutral pronouns when you describe them or xem to others.
Why do pronouns matter?
Millennials and Gen Z are more open towards all forms of gender expression and they need society’s support to help develop and grow into healthy and happy human beings. Pronouns matter because they help people position themselves in their communities to be seen as they truly are. Using the correct pronoun encourages inclusion and makes people feel seen, respected, and valued. Our gender identities are important parts that help us build our self-confidence and self-worth, so it’s only natural for us all to grow as individuals when everyone else respects the way we see ourselves.
The Center for Suicide Prevention reports that nonbinary and transgender people are 2x as likely to think about suicide than the general population. And that’s, in part, because of being misgendered and/or misnamed, having a significant and serious impact on one’s mental health. It is very important for workplaces, educational institutions, and organizations to include and support the use of self-identified pronouns and first names. In California, a person’s pronouns are protected in the workplace under Title IX and employees have the right to expect appropriate pronouns will be used by colleagues.
Furthermore, it is healthier for people to never make assumptions about how people identify. The appearance or behavior of a person is not enough to make the correct assumption about a person’s gender in every situation. It is best to always ask people about their pronouns and in some cases, maybe even how they identify.
However, it also is important to respect people’s privacy, so it’s best to refrain from asking questions about one’s body and medical history without permission. According to Science Direct, using a person’s pronouns can and will significantly reduce their risk for depression and suicide, so our society should speed up the process of embracing all gender identities and give everyone a chance to be vocal.
Why social media invites people to share their pronouns?
Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have understood the importance of pronouns and in keeping up with the times, have rolled out profile features that allow their users to share their pronouns.
Instagram has a dedicated space for pronouns that gets displayed next to the user’s profile name. The feature is optional but has been welcomed by gender-neutral identified users. There are 41 pronouns on Instagram’s list and the company is planning to expand it. Their list was discussed and compiled following consultations with various LGBTQ organizations. Users also have the option to mix and match the available pronouns to better reflect their identity.
Facebook changed its options from just “male” and “female”, now offering users more than 50 different gender options to choose from, including non-binary and gender fluid. Moreover, users can choose the pronouns they identify with.
Another social media platform that respects its users and has understood the value and importance of gender identity is Pinterest. The platform allows users to add two sets of pronouns to their profiles from an extensive list that includes neopronouns.
Social media plays an important part in our lives and is often used as a way to express our originality, creativity, and uniqueness. It is only natural to allow users the possibility to also express their gender identity and offer them a space where they can be authentic and true to themselves. Consider sharing your pronouns on social media, and who knows, you might help someone finally feel like they can share their own.
The world has already changed. We’re just waiting for our language to reflect that!
It is no longer uncommon to see personal pronouns in email signatures of employees and social media bios; this can only lead to more inclusive cultures and hopefully, the end of harmful gendered language. It costs absolutely nothing to add your personal pronouns in your email signature and it takes little time, but for gender minorities, that pronoun line can make a big difference. This is one step towards crushing the ignorance and fear that attempts to diminish and further marginalize gender minorities in our society.
The presence of gender-neutral pronouns in social media and organizations encourages discussion around gender identity and, more importantly, normalizes the idea that the world has room for everyone and not just cisgender people.
The world has always had more than two genders. and many societies around the world have historically welcomed and embraced transgender and nonbinary members of the community. The faster we accept this as a norm in our society, the sooner we will be able to build a healthier world where everyone is included and appreciated regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or s. A world that treats gender minorities with respect and encourages everyone to tell their story is a happier, healthier world with fewer mental health risks.