As we discussed in “7 Things Parents Should Know About Their Child’s Dating World”, young adults and teens have increasingly rejected the binary concept of “boy” and “girl” in favor of a more fluid gender spectrum. With a broader concept of gender comes a whole new set of pronouns that refer to these new gender labels. In 2016, the Merriam Webster Dictionary added two new terms, “genderqueer” and “Mx”. “Genderqueer” which is defined as “of relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female“. Sassafras Lowrey, author of several novels: Lost Boi, Roving Pack, Kicked Out, Leather Ever After, A Little Queermas Carol”, notes that a genderqueer cannot be labeled by their presentation, and can change over time. Sassafras herself went through multiple physical and social gender transitions from the age of 17. At the age of 33 years, Sassafras has experienced numerous gender presentation: butch, transgender man, bearded lady, and queer femme. This may be an extreme case, but as parents, we really have to be open to our children’s gender fluidity and gender-neutral pronouns even if it seems unusual. Here are 10 Tips to help you navigate gender-neutral pronouns:
10 Tips to Navigate the Use of Gender Neutral Pronouns
Normalize Gender Neutral Pronouns: Try to include gender-neutral pronouns in introductions and communications such as email signatures or social media bios. By doing so, this helps to normalize the idea that people should not assume that they can tell someone’s pronoun based upon traditional gendering name.
In the Company of Others, Don’s Ask About Their Pronouns When First Meeting: By asking someone how to address them, the other person may feel that you’re trying to “out” them even though that was not your intention. Instead, introduce yourself with your pronouns, “Hi, I’m Susan and my pronouns are she/her”. By sharing your pronouns, you are allowing the other person the option to share theirs, but at the same time not unintentionally forcing them.
Respect of Someone’s Identity Supersedes Good Grammar: As mentioned in this article, forget about proper English in favor of showing respect to genderqueers by using non-binary pronouns.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Just like learning a foreign language, the only way to really remember gender-neutral pronouns is to commit it to memory that will require a lot of practice.
Don’t Assume Anything: Just like the saying “You can’t tell a book by its cover”, you can’t tell a person’s gender identity by how they look. Sometimes, gender presentation is different from gender identity. So, someone may look like a boy, but actually identifies as a girl. Also, since a genderfluid person can change over time like Sassafras, pronouns are not fixed.
Include Pronouns: Include Personal General Pronouns, not Preferred General Pronouns because the former is more inclusive and doesn’t imply that the pronoun is optional. In ice breakers for introductions, start the meeting offering the option of stating their Personal General Pronoun. Have name tags and business cards with pronouns stated.
Apologize: As with most anything in life, do apologize if you mistakenly misgendered someone. Fix the language and go forward. Don’t bring added unwanted attention by making a big fuss.
Non-Binary Greetings: Instead of saying “ladies” or “guys” to a group of people, use non-gendered language like “folks” or “y’all”, or “friends.
Correct: When you hear someone using the wrong pronouns, correct them in a discrete way. Like a telephone tree, teaching one more person will multiply as they in turn will teach another person the correct way to address gender neutral individuals.
One-Size Doesn’t Fit All: Although the pronoun “they” is the default pronoun to address non-binary people, some gender fluid people actually prefer to have more specific pronouns like “sie” to identify themselves. So, check to see what that person’s preference is.
Chart of Gender-Neutral Pronouns:
****Cocktail Chatterers, have you used gender neutral pronouns in your personal or work life?****
Share your thoughts or experiences below