Pronouns are funny little words. They are words we use constantly and rarely think about. But when you (or one of your friends/family/acquaintances) is trans, you suddenly realise how often you use them and how much they matter.
For those of you who weren’t paying attention in English, pronouns are words we use to replace nouns. In the case of people, we use them in the place of a person’s name when we talk about them. We use different pronouns for different genders, most commonly, he/him/his or she/her/hers. (There are also non-binary pronouns for people who don’t identify as a binary gender).
When a person comes out as trans, they will usually make the decision to change their pronouns, often before they begin physical transition. Changing pronouns is a big deal, and one of the most supportive things you can do as the ally of a trans person is to respect their pronoun choices and gender them correctly when talking to them, or about them.
A beautiful example of how to be an awesome ally comes from my fifteen year old son. When I first came out to him, he listened to what I had to say, and afterwards I asked him whether he had any questions. The first thing he asked me was:
“So, when should I start using different pronouns for you?”
At that point I hugged him, shed a few (very manly) tears and replied honestly, “I’m not sure yet, but thank you so much for asking me that. It means a lot.”
And it really does. When you respect a trans person’s pronouns, gender them correctly and use their chosen pronouns clearly and confidently, you show them that they are accepted and valued, and that is incredibly affirming. If you try, but get it wrong sometimes, that’s okay too. Hell, I still keep misgendering myself. Mistakes happen. But don’t deliberately use the wrong pronouns for someone who you know is trans. That’s not cool.
I changed my gender marker when I came out on Facebook earlier this year, and in my announcement, I requested that people start using he/him/his when talking to or about me. I know that this is something that can take a lot of getting used to, especially if you’ve known me for a long time. It feels weird at first, but the more you do it, the faster you’ll get used to it. I know you’ll slip up sometimes, and that’s okay too. But using my preferred pronouns—whether I’m present or not—and correcting other people when they get it wrong, is one of the simplest and most fundamental ways that you can support me.
The other day I heard my son refer to me as ‘he’ when talking to one of his mates and it made my day. He’s known me as female for nearly sixteen years of his life and is already managing to get my new pronouns right most of the time. He is an awesome human. I blame the parents 🙂