In recent years, it has become very common for many people to stray from normal binary gender labels, like "her" and "him." There are many layers to gender and sexuality, and with that comes a multitude of pronouns. The concept of gender pronouns can be very confusing if you've never experienced it before. To help combat this confusion, here is a list of what to do and what not to do when approaching gender pronouns.
1. DO ask about someone's pronouns.
It's not unusual for students on many college campuses to use non-traditional pronouns. Unless they are very vocal about their pronouns the first time you meet them, you probably won't know what pronouns they prefer. It's OK to ask. "What's your major?" and "What pronouns do you use?" are becoming part of our daily dialogue. Don't worry about being offensive or intrusive in asking, as it's better to know how to refer to an individual rather than potentially assuming their gender.
2. DON'T assume someone's pronouns.
The most important tip is to ask if you aren't sure. If you don't ask, you run the risk of assuming someone's pronouns. Just because someone looks like an assigned female at birth ("AFAB") doesn't mean they use she/her/hers pronouns. This goes for any other gender. Regardless of how someone looks, it's much better to ask prior to making an assumption that could be hurtful.
3. DO ask for clarification.
Many of these terms and pronouns can be new vocabulary. If someone uses a term or pronoun you don't understand, ask them about it. The best way to fight ignorance is to ask questions. However, be careful in the questions you ask because they could be hurtful if worded incorrectly.
4. DON'T question someone's pronouns.
If someone has pronouns you don't know or understand, don't question them. As stated previously, be aware of the questions you're asking. While it's OK to ask questions to gain a better understanding, questions like "Is that even a real label?" or "Can't you use something more normal?" are not OK. However someone identifies their gender is real and normal, so don't question the way they choose to label themselves.
5. DO try your hardest to be correct.
If someone uses non-traditional labels, try your best to be correct in using them. For many students, this may be your first encounter with non-binary labels, so it will take some getting used to. It just takes an awareness of when you use pronouns and when to replace them with someone's preference.
6. DON'T expect perfection.
While you should be aware of the labels you are using, don't put pressure on yourself to be perfect. This is a new concept for many students, so don't worry if you mess up. It happens to the best of us. If you do happen to slip up on pronouns, don't make a scene out of it. It's understandable. If you do mess up and feel bad, just pull aside the person and tell them you're trying your hardest to use the correct labels. It'll take some getting used to.
7. DO practice.
If you still aren't getting it, don't worry. Take some time to yourself to practice. As silly as it sounds, the more you practice using a variety of pronouns, the easier it'll be to include them in your daily conversation.
Non-traditional pronouns are very common on college campuses today. It's important to remember these tips so that everyone is treated with respect, regardless of their pronoun.
Lead Image Credit: Natalie Day