Respecting Pronouns

Written By: Natalie Hahn (Featured in Issue No. 2)

A personal pronoun, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “a pronoun...that expresses a distinction of person.” These are words such as he, she, they, and them and are how people refer to themselves and others on a day-to-day basis. Most of the time, these pronouns are assumed by others without any negative repercussions. In general, these are not words that people consider important or vital to their self-image. However, this is not the case for members of the transgender and nonbinary communities -- these words are an extension of who they truly are. It is important to understand how an individual/person is affected when the wrong pronoun is used, how to be inclusive, and how to react if you make a mistake.

What happens when you use incorrect pronouns?

For many of us, these words are not thought of frequently or are not viewed as important. However, for individuals who are transgender or nonbinary, these pronouns are vital to their identity.

Chance Hillman (pronouns he/him) states that he gets a “really deep insecure pain” when someone uses the incorrect pronouns because he doesn’t feel “man enough.” For Dodge Riot (pronouns they/them), the feelings are mixed and have changed over time. “Before, I would emotionally shut down and no longer be available. Now it still stings, but I can usually correct people and move on. This response did not come easily, it had to be trained.”

Hillman and Riot aren’t the only ones who feel this way when they are misgendered. In the 2014 study conducted by Kevin McLemore, entitled “Experiences with Misgendering: Identity Misclassification of Transgender Spectrum Individuals,” it was found that transgender individuals dealt with lower self-esteem. Additionally, transgender or nonbinary individuals can deal with more mental health problems than cisgender people. These problems can include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, and even dysphoria, which is a state where a person feels extremely unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied.

How to be Inclusive

Although navigating pronouns may seem tricky, there are many ways that an individual can be inclusive. This kind of inclusive behavior should be employed with everyone in society as to not single anyone out.