Why Pronouns Matter
Since time immemorial, language has changed, and we have always learned to adapt
At the risk of sounding naïve and ignorant, I was one of the many people who felt indifferent towards the proper usage of pronouns, especially amid a culture and landscape that evolve so rapidly. As a features writer, the first opportunity I had to educate myself on the proper usage of gender-neutral pronouns was through a profile assignment I did for digital creative, Mark Averilla, back in August 2020: Finding Unexpected Humor During A Pandemic: A Conversation with Macoy Dubs.
On their email signature, it read “Mark Averilla (They/Them).” I won’t lie, the moment I read those words, I panicked. Writing required more forethought, caution and practice, but I discovered that it was certainly not, in any way, difficult. All I needed was to be open-minded, to educate myself and to make space for other people’s lived experiences.
Safe to say, gender-neutral pronouns have been around for a very long time for English speakers. Language, as fluid as it is, inevitably changes over time; we, as a human race, have always learned to adapt. At The Atlantic, John McWhorter writes in Call Them What They Want, “If English had not changed in exactly these kinds of ways forever, we’d all be speaking the language of Beowulf. Some might wish it so, but count me out. Pronouns change, just as we do. We celebrate language change that has already happened as pageant, procession, progress. Why not celebrate it while it’s happening?”
Recently developed gender-neutral English-language pronouns “make space not just for two genders, but for many more, serving as a way for people who fall outside the binary of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ to describe themselves,” writes Michael Waters on Where Gender-Neutral Pronouns Come From for The Atlantic. A quick Twitter search on “pronouns” and “gender-neutral pronouns,” and you’ll find public posts of gratitude on being accepted and represented through the simple usage of their right pronouns.
When I started making queer pop almost 20 years ago, there was no place for me. I was told I should change pronouns in my songs. I’m so grateful for today’s young unabashed queer pop stars like @LilNasX @troyesivan @HayleyKiyoko @Kehlani, and so happy they are flourishing. #Pride
— Brad Walsh (@BradWalsh) June 30, 2021
My kid recently came out to me as non-binary and I've been working hard to switch their pronouns, but I sometimes slip up so we've created a secret hand signal so they can alert me non-verbally and it's working great
— That Pesky Aubrie (@AubriePesky) June 29, 2021
having some of my family members address me using gender neutral terms and using my pronouns since coming out has been so wholesome n surreal
— amb (@savesthew0rld) June 23, 2021
My neighbour texted me “happy Pride! I noticed the pronouns in your email a while ago!” And i just think that’s so sweet.
— moon gender-neutral royalty (@feministspice) June 23, 2021
Respecting kids’ pronouns saves lives.
— 🏳️🌈Phil Bildner🏳️🌈 (@PhilBildner) June 30, 2021
How people identify themselves, especially for those who are transgender, intersex and/or non-binary, is our business, and by that, I mean we need to do the work to correctly address how others reflect their Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE). And yes, that may even mean having the occasional slip, but trying again.
If we feel insulted when people misspell or mispronounce our names, what more if we were misgendered? It’s not hard, really. Using the right pronouns in this ever-evolving linguistic landscape means being “politically correct,” but it’s also being human and creating the safe space for others to be their most genuine selves.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver