5 Ways to Advocate for People's Pronouns
2019 March 27
It can be very difficult as a transgender or nonbinary person to assert your pronouns. Society has dictated thus far that the polite thing to do when you encounter a new person is to assume their gender and subsequently assert your assumption with confidence; to make note of someone's gender ambiguity through your uncertainty is rude, after all. Call them he or she, sir or ma'am, and once there's any indication that you might have incorrectly assumed their genitals (and consequent place in society), apologize quickly and profusely for your transgression.
Obviously, there are a lot of issues with this model, and we don't have time in this blog post to unpack all the issues with equating gender and sex (and letting the complexities of both as constructs fall by the wayside), falling to traditional gender roles and assuming a static binary, and relying upon inferences instead of just asking, lest your consideration be mistaken for rudeness.
Instead, I'll just focus on that last bit and assume the reader already understands the complexities of gender and why it's important to use the right pronouns for people. It can be hard to speak up for yourself, so here's a guide on how to speak up for other people.
Before we get started though, DO NOT OUT PEOPLE WITHOUT PERMISSION. If you already know your friend's pronouns, check with them before sharing that information with other people. Respect their choices. Use their pronouns under their terms. Safety comes first.
1. Introduce your pronouns when you meet people
Especially if you're cis, please do this. It normalizes the idea of sharing pronouns (even if your gender matches people's assumptions), and it gives other people a precedent to follow. Most importantly of all, it indicates support for people asserting their pronouns, to trans people and transphobes alike. It tells trans people that they're safe sharing their pronouns in that space, and it implicitly tells transphobes that this space is not safe for them.
Put your pronouns in your bio on social media. Especially if you're cis.
If you call for a group introduction, ask people to say their name and pronouns.
If you want to know someone's pronouns, just ask. I know it can be daunting. Again, polite society, blah blah blah. But we really do prefer you just ask us what our pronouns are, rather than assume. It tells us you care, and it implicitly indicates your support and intent to help us feel safe, something we don't necessarily have if the onus is on us to introduce the idea of sharing our pronouns.
3. Introduce them to other people
One of my favorite ways to introduce someone's pronouns when they're being first introduced is to say something about them. "This is Jess. They're cool." "This is CJ. I went to school with her." Using someone's pronouns when you're introducing them is a natural way to bring them up without it feeling forced or awkward.
Once again, though, make sure you're not outing someone whose pronouns are private.
4. Correct people when they misgender someone else
If someone uses the wrong pronouns for someone else who is public about their pronouns, correct them. Especially if you're in a position of privilege and feel safe doing so. Don't let people keep using the wrong pronouns for your friends (or others) when you know better. Speak up and spread awareness. Keep correcting people until they get it right.
Talk to your friends about whether they want you to do this for them.
Educate yourself. Talk to your trans and nonbinary friends. Listen to your trans and nonbinary friends. Do some research. Google is a parasitic leech, but DuckDuckGo and Searx are search engines that claim not to track you.
Educate others. Don't talk over other people's experiences, but do advocate for them.
Do the thing. Help normalize the sharing of pronouns, correct people when they get it wrong (as long as you're not outing anyone), and educate yourself and others about what to do and why it matters.