The weight we put on gender is incredible and it’s starts for people often before birth (and definitely when they’re assigned their gender at birth). We assume what babies might turn out to be based on what genitalia may or may not be between their legs. We assume what babies like, don’t like, who they love all before they can talk, walk, hell before they can even lift their own head.
The assumption that we all identify as our assigned gender at birth is not only very limiting but for some who don’t identify as such, very dangerous and/or very terrifying. Coming out as trans in any way is scary because you never know how people might react – there are often many invasive questions about our bodies and our lives, often from strangers who have no business knowing such intimate details. Even scarier, some have actually killed trans people once finding out their trans identity and used the defense of “trans panic”, which blames trans people (usually trans women) for their own murders.
A part of all of this also includes pronouns because using the right pronouns for people (especially trans people) will make you a better ally to the trans community. Ignoring someone’s gender pronouns, especially if that someone is a loved one, says so much about who you are and how you view someone else’s lived reality. Using the wrong pronouns for someone (particularly a trans someone) for whatever the reason is incredibly hurtful because you’re constantly saying that you know that person better than they do, that their identity isn’t real, and much more.
There are easy things to do and other things to avoid when someone in your life asks for different pronouns – the most important is to respect their decision and honor it. And it might take a bit of time to relearn someone’s pronouns but doing so is important. If you do fuck up and make a mistake with a person’s pronouns, correct yourself and move on. Everyone makes mistakes but don’t constantly fall back on that.
There are plenty of pronouns out there – the most common being he/him/his and she/her(s). But there are plenty of other pronouns being used that are just as valid – whether or not you have heard them before or not.
One that has been on the rise recently has been the singular “they/them” and while there are some objections to using the singular they, using it for people is important and validating because you are reinforcing that person’s identity. (If you do come across some of these common objections, there are ways to shut them down.) And if you’re cis and uncomfortable with they/them pronouns, that might actually reveal some unchecked privilege about yourself.
I believe that we should move away from assuming people’s genders not only on a day to day basis but also assuming and assigning gender to newborns. The strict gender binary that we live with here in the US is harmful for many reasons, particularly for those who don’t fit neatly into our prescribed notion of assigned gender. We should allow for self expression and self determination with many things, especially gender. And a part of that includes honoring people’s pronouns and genders, whether or not you’ve heard about it before or not.