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If you’ve spent half a second on the Internet, you’ve seen articles, essays, and all-out Facebook commenting wars about whether or not pronouns are important. Let’s set the record straight: They are. Pronouns are a way that we identify with the world, and they move with us throughout our lives. They are SO personal, and using them correctly shows respect for the person we’re talking to.
Does your BFF want to go by a different pronoun and you have questions? Or maybe you want to be a true LGBTQ+ ally and learn more about trans experiences so you can better speak on their behalf when they can’t? We talked to 4 trans college students and GLAAD Campus Ambassadors about why pronouns are important.
Why Are Pronouns Important?
Pronouns are connected to gender expression. And WTF is gender expression? According to nonprofit organization GLAAD, gender expression is the “external manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics.”
“One of the main reasons why pronouns are so important is because, other than our name, it’s one of the main ways that people identify and call us,” activist theater performer Rowan Hepps Keeney says.
Imagine your legal name is Amanda, but your entire life your family called you by your middle name of Sarah. Every birthday cake, every holiday card, every time your mom yelled at you for texting at the table, all you’d hear is, “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!” Then, you tell a friend one day that your legal name is Amanda and they say, “OMG, I’m going to call you Amanda from now on!” And you’re all like, “But I don’t go by Amanda. Amanda means nothing to me. In fact, I feel really uncomfortable when people call me Amanda because it’s, like, NOT my name.” If that person insisted on calling you Amanda, I would suggest you go running for the hills.
The way that we call people by the names that they give us is very similar to how pronouns work. People tell you their pronouns and then you just use them. No “but why?” or “I don’t understand…”. If you want to show someone decency and respect, you call them by a name or pronoun that they say is right by them.
Your Pronouns Are Your Choice
Using a pronoun is one way to connect with the world, which is why it’s so personal. “In my opinion, gender is a universe. It is a broad spectrum of planets, and stars, and sky that truly cannot be contained into a binary [or just male and female],” says activist and performer Leah Juliett. “So when someone identifies with a pronoun, they are taking their little piece of that broad universe and identifying with that. And so in using their correct pronouns we’re validating, ‘Yes. You are right in your identity and you’re important and we’re respecting you.'”
What If I Don’t Know Which Pronouns To Use?
“If you’re unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to the person,”GLAAD says. “Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun.”
What If I Mess Up Someone’s Pronoun?
Practice makes perfect, and the more you use a friend’s pronouns correctly, the easier it’ll be in the future. “If you accidently use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move forward,” GLAAD says. If you make a big deal out of it by apologizing again and again or trying to give an explanation for your mess-up, you’re just going to make it more uncomfortable for everyone.
Encourage Your Friends and Family To Think About Pronouns
Trans people are misgendered (or called by the wrong pronoun/referred to as the wrong gender) ALL THE DAMN TIME. So your effort (and how you educate and encourage your squad) means a lot. “Being misgendered happens countless times in a day, and that builds up really quickly,” says Hepps Keeney. “It can really be difficult for a person to hear over and over again because it invalidates your identity over and over again.”
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