You may have noticed more social media users specifying their preferred pronouns in their bios and even their user names in some instances.
According to University of Arizona’s Denee Jackson, interim director of LGBTQ Affairs, these preferences are particularly significant to members of the LGBTQ community, who have advocated for the right to be addressed using the pronouns they identify most with.
“When we share our pronouns, that is a type of liberation for folks,” Jackson said. “We’re breaking the norm to say, ‘These are my pronouns, whether you thought they were that or not,’ and providing opportunity for folks to tell you rather than assuming.”
The most commonly used pronouns are “he/she,” and specifically refers to a person’s gender. However, for queer, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and transgender individuals, these sets of pronouns may be incorrect in relation to them. A recent study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin concluded that depression and suicide risks among transgender youth are reduced when the correct pronouns and names are used.
“It’s practical to support young people in using the name that they choose,” explained the study’s author Stephen T. Russell, professor and chair of human development and family science. “It’s respectful and developmentally appropriate.”
For those who are not comfortable with “he/she,” the most common gender-neutral pronouns used by genderqueer and gender-nonconforming individuals is “they/them/their.” However, one should not assume that these are satisfactory either. Other preferred gender-neutral pronouns include “ze/hir/hirs” (pronounced “zee/here/heres”) or “ey/em/eir” (pronounced “ay/em/airs”).
When in doubt and if not obviously stated, asking before assuming, especially when addressing members of the LGBTQ community, can eliminate misgendering.
“When we affirm someone’s gender identity, that can mean the world to them,” Jackson said.