Gender identity can feel complex and overwhelming, but using a person’s proper pronouns is one of the best ways to show them respect and acceptance, and ensure inclusion. As a parent, this is extremely important, whether it’s your own child who has decided to change their pronouns, or their friends or classmates. If you’re wondering how to navigate gender identity, we’ve put together a parent’s guide to pronouns to get you started on the right foot.
Gender Identity 101
Gender identity isn’t always an easy topic to understand. Especially if you were brought up during a time where it was taught that there were only two genders (man/woman) and two sexes (male/female). Sometimes we need to unlearn old ideas, so we can understand what gender is all about.
Gender is a social construct that assigns roles and values based on certain biological markers, as well as behaviour and appearance. Historically, most societies have recognized only two distinct classes of gender roles – a binary of masculine and feminine.
Each gender comes with a set of expectations on how to dress, act, talk, feel emotion, and interact with others. In many places around the world, there are very defined gender roles that describe what it is to be a girl or boy, a man or woman. However, gender roles aren’t set in stone and we don’t have to conform to them.
Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of gender. If you don’t feel like your gender identity matches the gender you were assigned at birth, you may identify as transgender (or trans). Nonbinary genders (genderqueer, agender, genderfluid) exist outside of the male/female/man/woman/ binary.
Try not to make assumptions about someone’s gender. You can’t always tell what someone’s gender identity is just by looking at them. A non-binary person might appear feminine, masculine, or genderless, or show a mix of gendered characteristics. Appearance doesn’t determine pronouns.
Parents Guide to Pronouns
What Are Pronouns?
Pronouns are a part of someone’s gender expression. They’re how we identify ourselves apart from our name, and how people refer to us in conversation. For example, for those who identify as female, their pronouns will typically be she/her/hers, those who identify as male will usually have the pronouns he/him/his, and non-binary people will often go by they/their/theirs. There are also other pronouns, which we discuss below.
Why Are Pronouns Important?
Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the easiest ways to show them courtesy and respect. When someone is referred to by the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, or alienated (usually all of the above).
Using the correct pronouns for trans and non-binary people is a way to let them know that you see them, affirm them, and accept their identity. It creates safe spaces by referring to people in the way that feels most accurate to them.
Commonly Used Pronouns
Commonly used pronouns include she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/their/theirs. The she/her/hers and he/him/his pronouns are sometimes referred to as feminine and masculine pronouns, but many people avoid these labels as not everyone who uses she/her/hers feels feminine, and not everyone who uses he/him/his feels masculine.
Neopronouns are a new category of pronouns that are used in place of “she”, “he” or “they” when referring to a person. Examples include xe/xem/xyr, ze/hir/hirs, and ey/em/eir. Neo pronouns are most often used by transgender, non-binary, and or gender nonconforming people, although they can be used by anyone.
Sometimes people will use two different sets of pronouns. If someone has a split set of pronouns (he/they, she/they, they/ze), the first pronoun in the set may be used more often than the second pronoun in the set, but try to use both pronouns.
For example, if you are talking about someone who uses she/they pronouns, you can use “she” in one sentence, “they” in the next, and so on. Or you can use “she” in some contexts, and “they” in others. You can gently ask if someone prefers to use one set of pronouns over another in particular contexts, but if they prefer not to answer or the answer is not totally clear to you, don’t press.
When Should I Ask For Someone’s Pronouns?
It’s important not to assume a certain pronoun or gender identity because someone does ballet or cuts their hair short. If you’re in a group setting and are unsure what pronouns someone uses, you can use the singular “they/theirs/theirs” until you get the opportunity to ask about their pronouns.
Asking for someone’s pronouns should typically be done in more private settings as people may not share their pronouns in certain contexts, especially within a bigger group. Some people use different pronouns depending on who they’re with or what space they’re in.
Remember that consistently asking people for their pronouns can help create a more normalized and safe way for others to share their pronouns. However, keep in mind, there are multiple reasons people may not want to share their pronouns in a group setting. If someone doesn’t share their pronouns, don’t press them to do so. Use their name instead or ask in a more private setting.
How Do I Ask Someone For Their Pronouns?
You can ask someone for their pronouns by sharing yours first. When you meet a new person, introduce yourself by your name and also include your pronouns. Try something like “Hi, my name is ___and I go by she/her pronouns, what about you?”.
It may feel awkward the first few times, but it’s already very common for a lot of adolescents in their social and peer groups. Adolescents and teens today understand that there’s a gender spectrum and that there are many ways to identify. Many have practice sharing their pronouns and asking people how they identify.
What Do I Do If I Use Pronouns Incorrectly?
Mistakes happen! Try not to draw more attention to your mistake. If you realize in the moment, you can correct yourself. For example, “she likes – I’m sorry, they like travelling in the fall”. If you realize or are told later that you made the mistake, a brief apology can help.
Try something like “I’m sorry I used the wrong pronoun for you. I’ll be more careful in the future”. Making excuses can be frustrating or triggering for the person. Most people prefer an apology and assurance that you’ll try better. Showing you’re committed to embracing a young person’s pronouns will go a long way to making them feel heard and seen.
Gender identity and pronouns is an in-depth topic that can take some time to understand. We hope this post provided a helpful overview as you navigate gender identity for your kids and their friends.
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