Coming out as a transgender or non-binary person is so deeply personal and, for most of us, frankly, a never ending process. One of the tools that may be used for public social transitioning is choosing new pronouns, rather than using the ones assigned to them at birth based on their assigned gender. The decision to assert new personal pronouns and “come out” is an undoubtedly difficult thing to navigate in public: How do you announce your pronouns? How much should you share when coming out? Who do you come out to? The decision to change one’s personal pronouns is also complicated by layers of cultural anti-transness, violence, and trauma. Still, making the decision, and publicly sharing it with others, can also be a deeply euphoric and liberating experience.
In honor of International Pronouns Day, which takes place on October 16, we spoke with five trans and non-binary folks who wanted to share their real, heartwarming stories of having their pronouns affirmed in a society overrun by stories of transgender dysphoria, hate crimes, and debates over our basic human rights. These stories illustrate the power of intentional efforts to learn pronouns, and the importance and impact of all-gender inclusive spaces.
“It feels like that person sees me, understands, and saves me the stress of correcting them.”
“When I first started hearing people call me ‘they,’ it felt amazing. As a non-binary person, to be identified as something other than my assigned gender at birth feels incredibly affirming.
Most of the time, when I'm in spaces where sharing pronouns is not normalized, I choose to save myself the emotional labor of explaining my gender (and the possibility of having to defend its validity) in favor of enduring the dysphoria of being misgendered.
I do Muay Thai, and about a year ago I switched to a more intentionally queer gym, and on my first visit, the coach asked for pronouns on the new student form. I was over the moon at the idea that I could do the thing I love in an environment where it's normal to ask. At my old gym, I never shared my pronouns with anybody because I assumed they wouldn't know what I was talking about.
When someone misgenders you, and another person steps up and corrects that person, that is one of the best feelings. It’s become very difficult for me to correct other people when they use the wrong pronoun for me. When someone else does it for me, I love them forever. It feels like that person sees me, understands, and saves me the stress of correcting them.”
- Sam R. (they/them)
“It wasn't until I moved away from using she/her that I truly realized how fitting and comfortable my agender identity and pronouns were for me.”
“About a month after coming out to my best friend as using both she and they pronouns, we were hanging out, and she asked me if I was still using both or if I preferred just they. It was the first time someone made a point of asking me, and it felt really validating. She has made a point of checking in regarding pronouns, and is one of the only people to do so. It makes a big difference to see someone care enough to be proactive, instead of putting the work on me to bring it up.
Having people use my chosen pronouns went a long way [in] helping me be more comfortable in my gender identity. Growing up conservative, I had no idea about anything relating to sexuality or gender, and it wasn't until I moved away from using she/her that I truly realized how fitting and comfortable my agender identity and pronouns were for me.
I work at a clinic that provides hormone care, and it wasn't until I [started my job] that I regularly had that affirmation. Our forms all include spaces for pronouns, gender identity, and sexual identity explicitly, which I don't find many other places and [it] means the world. It happens so rarely in healthcare settings that to have it explicitly reinforced really stands out.”
- Orlando (they/them)
“It's very nice to have the opportunity to share my pronouns because bringing them up and advocating for myself in situations where they're not discussed can be intimidating and challenging.”
It's so nice hearing people use my pronouns. It makes me feel like people are putting in the effort to listen to me and to respect me as a person. I’m often misgendered because no one assumes that I use they/them pronouns, so hearing [my pronouns] really shows to me that people are making a point to use them, and that's such a good feeling.
This year, my anthropology professor made a point to ask us all to write down and say our pronouns so that they were all known, and he's been great about it. I liked having an opportunity to share my pronouns without it having to be me who made the effort and started the conversation. It took some of that stress off of me. It's very nice to have the opportunity to share my pronouns because bringing them up and advocating for myself in situations where they're not discussed can be intimidating and challenging.
My doctor's office here in New York also asked for my pronouns, which is such a good practice. Medical offices have always been kind of iffy for me, and I know that to be true for a lot of other trans people. The fact that the office took the initiative to make patients of all genders as comfortable as possible really made me feel welcomed and safe in that practice.”
- Finn N. (they/them)
“I feel most comfortable when I am able to present really differently all the time, and people still use they/them.”
“I'm still exploring being non-binary/genderqueer and what that means for me, both in how I see myself and how I present to the world. The more gender-bendy I came across, the more comfortable I was. I liked being able to look either more masc or more femme or androgynous. I feel most comfortable when I am able to present really differently all the time, and people still use they/them.
I remember when our HR department put my pronouns on my business card like it was no big deal, and I teared up because they made it so easy for me to be out at work. It is important for me to hear other people use they/them because it shows that they *choose* to see me for all of me. It feels euphoric!
I would have never dreamed that I could be 100% out at work. I grew up in Texas. All the work that people did before me to ensure these workplaces were non-binary/trans friendly has made it so much easier for me. I hope to help shape the workplace even further to make it easier for future non-binary/trans employees.”
- Eli G. (they/them)
“I just remember the huge relief I felt. It was like I was walking through that space [where] I had worked for 2.5 years for the first time. I felt seen, respected, and above all, I felt comfortable.”
“The use of proper pronouns is super important to me because it can be really invalidating and triggering to be misgendered. On the other side, it can be really affirming when people use the correct pronouns. It just drastically shifts how I interact in any space. Being misgendered pretty much immediately takes away any comfort, almost like the wind being knocked out of you, whereas the use of proper pronouns allows me to interact in any space in a much more authentic way.
I remember one day, towards the beginning of my transition, back when I was working in a women’s bar and surrounded by a pretty wonderful queer community. I didn’t know how to have the conversation yet to ask people to switch pronouns because I was still very much finding my voice. One of the bartenders looked at me and said, ‘This is your life. You get to choose pronouns you want to use, nobody else. I just want to respect you. Let me know what you want and I will use that.’ I said, in what was probably close to an inaudible whisper, ‘I’d be the most comfortable with they/them. He/him is also okay, just as long as it’s not she/her,’ and that was the last time I had to say anything about it (at work). I just remember the huge relief I felt. It was like I was walking through that space [where] I had worked for 2.5 years for the first time. I felt seen, respected, and above all, I felt comfortable.
It might be hard to understand if you’ve never lived in constant discomfort on such a visceral level, but the comfort I felt in that moment—and many moments to follow—was a feeling unmatched by anything I can think of.”
- Daniel S. (they/them), @transintransit
An increasing number of public spaces (workplaces, healthcare settings, etc.) have taken the initiative to implement formal, safe, methods of pronoun identification (e.g. business cards, email signatures, and intake sheets). As society collectively changes and challenges the gender binary, it’s important to keep in mind a few things about personal pronouns:
1. Don’t assume anyone’s pronouns, and furthermore, don’t assume anyone’s gender.
2. Not every non-binary person uses they/them pronouns and not every person who uses they/them pronouns identifies as “non-binary.”
3. Non-binary is not synonymous with androgynous. Gender identity is not invalidated because of the shape of someone’s body, the clothes they wear, or the pronouns they go by.
4. Not only is taking the time to learn and respect someone’s correct pronouns an act of human decency and respect, but it can also be incredibly euphoric, affirming, and potentially life-saving for that person.
To find more resources related to personal pronouns, and International Pronouns Day, visit www.mypronouns.org!
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