What You Should Know About Gender Pronouns – And Why They Matter
It's about time we broke out of the conformist gender-binaries
After she won the election and was sworn in as the Vice President of the USA, most of us went onto Kamala Harris’ social media to get a sense of who she is. And while we admired her well-curated feed filled with #GirlBoss energy, the one thing that caught our eye was the ‘she/her’ she’s added in her Instagram bio. Now, if you’re wondering why she felt the need to state something that may be ‘obvious’, you’ve come to the right place. Buckle down, because today we’re talking about gender and gender-neutral pronouns.
Of course, pronouns are an old concept – pretty much as old as the conception of language itself. And we’re not about to give you a 4th-grade lesson on what pronouns are, we promise! What we will say, though, is that the recognition of ‘she’ and ‘he’ as the primary gendered pronouns is a little dated. After all, in an increasingly gender-inclusive world, the two binaries are extremes on what must be recognised as a spectrum – and it excludes those who identify as transgender, non-binary and genderqueer. Acknowledging someone’s pronouns and their identity, and more importantly, respecting it ensures the visibility of their lived experiences, rather than dismissing the very essence of who they are.
And nothing is more personal than how people refer to each other – through their names and pronouns. When it comes to correctly identifying a person, Monisha Ajgaonkar, an LGBTIA+ activist says, “Some people’s internal identity might not exactly match their external presentation; hence it is necessary for people to understand the difference to correctly identify one’s preferred identity.”
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“For example, I would introduce myself as ‘Hi, my name is Monisha Ajgaonkar and my personal pronouns are she/her.’ Utilising a pronoun is one’s approach to interface with the world, which is why it’s so close to home. Gender is not just a single element; it expands across a spectrum. Pronouns are our second identity, and it enables people to recognise us beyond our names. It’s a medium for people to convey their original identity and to express not only their gender preference but also create a safer and more comfortable space for everyone in the room,” she continues.
Imagine if someone referred to you by the wrong pronoun, every single day of your life. Sounds frustrating, right? But even though people may be clear about their preferred pronouns, the use of these pronouns continues to be one of the chief aspects that many people struggle with. Known as misgendering, it occurs when you intentionally or unintentionally refer to a person, relate to a person, or use language to describe a person that doesn’t align with their affirmed gender. And let’s just break it down for you – even if it’s inadvertent, it’s still a problem.
“I carried a clicker around to count how many times I was misgendered in a day on an average. It is about 250 times a day,” shares Durga Gawde, India’s first performance drag king, who identifies with the pronouns they/them/their. “How could anyone function with a smile on their face when they feel like the world does not see them for how they see themselves? It is important to refer to a person the way they want to be referred to and not in a way that’s convenient. Working to break conditioning is the way to a more inclusive society. It starts with respect,” they add.
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Inclusivity plays a huge role in the conversation, and there are various steps each of us can take to be a little more sensitive and all-encompassing in our own lives. First off, there’s a ton of resources available on the internet – and they’re super accessible. Whether you’re curious about the in-depth workings of gender-neutral pronouns, or just want to live your life with a little more gender-sensitivity, there’s no better place to start than some honest-to-goodness research. Second, start de-gendering language in your own personal life – this can be as simple as using the term ‘significant other’ and ‘partner’, instead of ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ and ‘husband/wife’. This normalises and destigmatizes vocalising how we want others to refer to us in terms of our gender. Also, sometimes doing something as uncomplicated as adding your own pronouns, to, say an Instagram bio, if you’re a cis-gendered person can help too.
“Adding pronouns to your basic introduction with your name should be normalised since it creates a sense of equality and comfort for the trans, non-binary, and other genders. Also, for cis-gendered people it might come across as stating the obvious however it destigmatizes the use of personal pronouns,” says Monisha Ajgaonkar. “The reason why it should be a mandate for users to update their Instagram bios mentioning their preferred personal pronouns is because Instagram has established itself as not only a strong social media platform but also one that creates awareness and educates its audience about global issues. It works as a prime platform for people to reveal their identity and acts as a safe space for us to express our sentiments,” she concludes.