Perfecting the Pronouns

By Angela Tran

At a woman’s college, it is easy and tempting to assume that everyone uses she/her/hers pronouns. After all, the vast majority of students do identify as female, and the title of “woman’s college” seems to imply universal identification with the female gender. However, for the people that prefer they/them/theirs or other gender neutral pronouns, that assumption can be incredibly frustrating. It may seem bewildering to those that use she/her/hers, but assuming someone’s pronouns can be extremely insulting to their identity as a non-binary person. While it may feel tedious and unimportant to ask every new acquaintance for their preferred pronouns, it is a necessary effort and one that encourages people to associate with their most comfortable gender identity.

In many ways, assuming that everyone uses she/her/hers pronouns reduces gender to a binary and does not acknowledge that it is in fact a spectrum. Female and male exist at two ends of this sliding scale, and there are those that choose not to conform to either. This concept of gender arises from the simple fact that gender identity is a social construct to which most people adhere. There are those who may argue that it is actually a biological feature, meant for the reproduction of our species. The falsehood of that statement lies in the distinction between sex and gender, one of which refers to the genitals that we possess, and the other which reflects our outwardly appearing or inwardly conforming ideas of gender. Furthermore, sex does not exist as a binary either; there are many combinations of ovaries, penises, and testicles that prove the diversity of sexes that exist. Intersex people come in all shapes and sizes, and assuming that gender is as binary as sex means nothing at all.

Assuming the wrong pronouns, in addition to being disrespectful, questions the identity that non-binary and transgender people have developed over the years. Referring to a non-binary person as she/her/hers may undo years of progress with their own identities. Language and the names we give to things play an important part in how we view ourselves, and therefore, a seemingly miniscule thing such as a pronoun may impact what people think of themselves. Sometimes, transgender or non-binary people continue to misgender themselves in their heads, so it helps tremendously when the outside world can respect their true desires to be referred to with their preferred pronouns.

Some of you may have tried your best to respect the pronouns that your non-binary friend uses, but continue to accidentally use she/her/hers. This is okay: undoing years of societal preconceptions takes active work, and it may be difficult at times. The most important and respectful action that you can take is to actively work to change this preconception. It's really just easier and more respectful to ask people for their pronouns before you do anything wildly offensive. Although it’s easier to make assumptions, it shows a tremendous amount of respect when you make the effort to ask for someone’s pronouns. In a culture that attempts to directly invalidate the existence of these people, they will be grateful for it.