My Pronouns are They, Their and Them – Pronouncing Gender Identity

My Pronouns are They, Their and Them – Pronouncing Gender Identity

We do not choose to be born and yet here we are. On top of that, we are born into a certain race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, society and community – none of which we ever got to choose. We get to choose nothing, these are our so-called birthright entitlements, our burdens to bear. Despite the choicelessness, some of us sail through life with the default identities without any questions or doubts, but some of us do not or cannot or will not. 

Just like many birthright identities, gender identity is one that is garnering some attention for the right reasons. Sex is one of the first identities assigned to a newborn. “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” From that very pronouncement, we categorize people into male or female and their lives then become almost cut out for them. We give them names based on their assigned gender and accordingly we dress them and we address them. Once again, some of us have no qualms whatsoever about being a boy or a girl, but some of us do. 

Pronouns and Gender Identity

Gender identity is more than the assigned gender at birth, which is based on the sexual/ reproductive organs present in the newborn. American Psychological Association (APA) defines gender identity as “one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender.” It is how a person senses and so it is the self-conception of an individual. To a certain extent, this is about making a choice, especially when an individual cannot relate to their assigned gender. Once an individual chooses a gender, choosing the pronouns they prefer to be addressed further helps strengthen their gender identity. 

As a cisgender person, you may never have felt the need to introduce yourself using a pronoun. (Cisgender is an adjective “​describing or connected with people whose sense of personal identity and gender is the same as their birth sex”, Oxford Learners Dictionary). However, for individuals who could never identify themselves with their assigned gender, introducing a pronoun along with their names is a way to assert the gender identity they actually relate to. Also, when anyone takes the effort to introduce themselves along with their preferred pronouns, we must be considerate and use the appropriate pronouns. 

You may hear people introducing themselves like this: 

“Hi. I am Jane Doe… I use the pronoun she, her, hers.”

“Hello. I am John Doe… My pronouns are they, their, them.”

According to grammar rules, there are three genders in the singular third-person pronoun and two of these refer to human sex –  Masculine gender (he, him, his, himself) and Feminine gender (she, her, hers, herself). For other nouns, there is a Neuter gender pronoun (it, its, itself). However, when we look at human beings not from the grammatical perspective, gender identity is not as black and white as it is in grammar. There are greys as well because not every person identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth. English grammar has no pronoun for transgenders, non-binary, gender-neutral, agender, and so on. Therefore, when a person chooses a pronoun and states it in their introduction, they are telling us not just who they are but who they want to be seen/known as too.


Why is pronoun important?

According to a 2015 survey by Bailey et al., up to 43% of transgender people had attempted suicide in their lifetime. They are also at a higher risk of having other mental illnesses as they are constantly in stress due to their inner gender conflict. There is also a unique mental illness, gender dysphoria, that affect transgender people exclusively. 

So, when we hear a person claiming their pronoun, we must remember that this is their way to affirm and pronounce their gender identity and that they might have had to overcome intense stress. All you have to do is use the pronoun they want you to use, and by doing just that you are not only respecting and honoring their gender expression but relieving their mental stress to some extent as well. 

  • Mistaken identity is always uncomfortable. With identity comes pronouns. When we speak about a girl but use “he/him”, yes fundamentally the grammar is wrong. 
  • Pronoun is the only part of speech that has a gender-specific usage. The singular third-person pronoun is classified into masculine, feminine and neuter gender. However, the grammar falls short when we take into consideration people who do not identify with the ascribed gender.
  • Assuming people’s gender solely based on their outer appearance can create miscommunication and misunderstanding. Instead, asking politely what pronouns and addressing them accordingly is a good practice.
  • When we use the pronouns people have chosen for themselves, it is an incredible way of acknowledging, respecting and accepting the individual and their choice. 
  • Pronouns are also important because just by using it we can start a dialogue and open up discussions.  

Whether your gender aligns with your physiology or not, whether you feel one with your gender identity or not, we can all start using pronouns in our introduction. That one small phrase in our usual introduction can indeed be a giant leap for humankind, human understanding and human acceptance. 

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