Why pronouns are important?
I’m from a country where there isn’t much variety, so London, where I studied, was a whole different thing for me. My first day at university was a faux pas. First of all, I arrived late. I quietly greeted the professor and the class and sat down at the very back of the room by the door. I carefully listened to my classmates responding to the professor’s questions. I quickly gathered that we should, one by one, introduce ourselves, say what topics interest us and what are our preferred pronouns. It was a creative writing class, so I assumed he wanted to know who our characters usually were. Just to be sure, I asked the student sitting next to me. He didn’t know what to say either. It was nearly my turn, so I thought: ‘My characters are usually guys, I’m going to say he.’ Well, you can imagine the consequences. Later, I had to tell the professor and the whole class that I misunderstood the question and actually didn’t identify as he. I made a complete fool of myself. However, the worst part is that there was a non-binary person in our class. I think I must’ve offended them, or at least make them feel very uncomfortable.
So, if you don’t want to commit the same mistake as me, follow my thoughts on what I’ve learned about why pronouns are important.
In English, pronouns are frequently used when referring to a person — it could be that we don’t want to constantly repeat the person’s name or that we don’t even know it. Therefore, we usually refer to people as he or she. But life is not only black or white. There are many more colors.
As mentioned above, some people identify as non-binary, which means that they don’t align with neither males nor females. A non-binary person’s pronouns would be they/them.
There is a common belief that they/them are plural pronouns, and using them as singular pronouns would be incorrect. Wrong! The Mirriam-Webster dictionary has just added they as a singular pronoun. So you don’t have to be concerned anymore that you would speak bad English.
There is more to that. The binary pronouns are gender implied, and the associations are not always accurate. People often make assumptions about gender based on the person’s appearance. That is incorrect. Because we should be able to express ourselves in the way we want, and no one should be making any other assumptions than that we are all individuals. If I buzz my hair, does it make me a boy? Well, of course not. It’s just my way of self-expression.
Better ask than presume
If you are not sure about someone’s pronouns, you can first listen to what pronouns other people use. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct ones. Or, you can simply ask. Like they asked us at the university. And it wasn’t just that one class. It was all classes. Sharing your preferred pronouns is similar to telling someone your name. It’s personal, but it’s something that others should know.
What if I say the wrong pronoun?
What to do if you mess up? Politely apologize, and move forward. Don’t worry, your friend will understand. And don’t forget that practice makes perfect. You will be more likely to use the correct pronoun next time.
So why is it important?
Trans and non-binary people are often misgendered. Using the correct pronoun is a way of showing decency and respect. Moreover, you create an inclusive environment. The world will feel like a safer place for them. And there is more you can do. You can also encourage your family and friends to think about pronouns.