The Merriam-Webster dictionary has added a new entry to the definition of the word "they" as a pronoun used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary. Gender pronouns and gender fluidity aren't topics that only LGBTQ+ folk should be knowledgeable about; cisgender people need to educate themselves as well.
Raven Yamamoto is a junior journalism major whose gender pronouns are they/them. They define genderfluid as “an unwillingness to cling to standards or someone who doesn’t adhere to any side or point on the spectrum. It can be going back and forth between the two extremes.” This means that someone can be very feminine-presenting one day, very masculine-presenting another or androgynous.
Millennials and Generation Z are the most familiar with gender-neutral pronouns and do the work to accept and understand gender-nonconforming, trans and LGBTQ+ folk. “[We’re the only ones] who make that effort to recognize the identity that they own,” said Yamamoto. They still think it’s a problem, as there’s a gap in understanding and fear of interacting with people who are trans, gender-nonconforming or who are queer.
Misinformation can breed fear, which leads to people not being willing to ask if they are confused about someone's gender pronouns. If you aren't sure about someone's gender pronouns, ask; this way you avoid any discomfort. Another way to normalize asking for gender pronouns is to offer your own when meeting someone. Simply saying, "Hi, my name is Gloria, and my pronouns are she/her, what are yours?" avoids any possible awkwardness or uncertainty you might have about misgendering someone.
To normalize gender-neutral pronouns, higher education, such as universities and colleges should incorporate training on how to use and ask for pronouns as well as offering their own. This would allow them to be able to handle a situation where someone.
It’s likely to fall into an awkward situation where you have used the wrong pronoun when referring to someone. Do not ignore your mistake in the hopes that it will blow over. Correct yourself the moment you realize that you’ve made a mistake. This shows that you are working on using their correct pronouns moving forward.
Moreover, if you didn’t know someone’s gender identity or what pronouns they prefer and they correct you, express gratitude. Ken Cavanaugh, a senior women's and gender studies major, who goes by the pronouns they/them or she/her, advises against apologizing when you've made the mistake. "Apologizing for using incorrect pronouns puts the person who was just misgendered in the position of comforting you and telling you it's okay," they said.
Saying thank you acknowledges that you now understand and are aware of their gender pronouns, and you are both able to move on from that moment.
One way that we can avoid making these mistakes is to practice saying some sentences using they or them to yourself. As silly as it seems, this is a good way to work it into your everyday vocabulary.
Another thing to be conscious of is not policing someone’s gender identity. Gender identity is a spectrum, and just because someone may not fit your definition of a specific gender identity does not mean that they are not valid.
One way to be more aware of what particular pronouns mean is to read up on them. A great resource is Them.us, an online magazine that provides a range of information about topics from entertainment to politics to culture through the lens of today’s LGBTQ+ community.
Although we have come a long way in nonbinary representation, we still have a long way to go. We need to take the simple steps to work non-gendered language into our everyday lives. We can do this by interacting with more nonbinary people and following people on social media that provide more information. Some of Yamamoto’s favorites include Alok Vaid-Menon and Chella Man. A few more people who identify as queer or non-binary that you may not have known of include Sam Smith, Asia Kate Dillon, Ruby Rose and Amandla Stenberg.
This is the opinion of Gloria Ndilula, a senior economics major from Windhoek, Namibia. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.