Everybody has pronouns. Yet, the way some people wish to be addressed in today’s society is seen as controversial when they deviate from gender binary norms.
If a boy goes by he/him pronouns, no one will bat an eye. However, if they no longer identify as cisgendered and prefer she/her pronouns, some people start to get uptight. The distaste toward pronouns that don’t align with someone’s gender assigned at birth is the result of transphobic thinking. Everyone should seek to use people’s preferred pronouns.
Whenever transgender people begin to present themselves as their preferred gender, you may not be able to know their pronouns based off their appearance. The best way to avoid any unintentional conflict would be to ask what pronouns best suit them. This helps to prevent any accidental disrespect that might be caused by misgendering somebody, and it takes the responsibility of correcting you off of them.
Using the wrong pronouns is extremely harmful to the individual you’re misgendering. For starters, it invalidates their identity. If you use the wrong pronouns, they are less likely to feel accepted by you because you are already signaling that you don’t know them very well.
It’s also a sign of respect. If you have a friend who doesn’t like to be hugged, you don’t hug them out of respect for their personal boundaries. Similarly, if your friend prefers to be addressed as she/her, then you should value that preference.
However, hate can drive people to turn a sign of respect into an opportunity for disrespect. Even when someone knows an individual’s pronouns, they don’t always respect them. Transphobic people might purposefully misgender them to voice their disapproval. I witnessed this happen to one of my friends in high school by a close-minded teacher, and it made my friend afraid to approach that teacher for the rest of the year.
If you ever see this happen to someone, you should speak out to defend the misgendered person. It’s important to look out for the people around you. The world has enough hatred, so anything you can do to diminish that is worthwhile.
Gender norms today can feel confining, and people in the transgender community aren’t the only ones who feel the desire to change their pronouns. Pronouns affect what people wear, how people speak, who people interact with and countless other aspects of life. Something people often neglect is that gender norms are unrelated to sex assigned at birth. Gender norms are society's expectations for certain traits or actions to be exhibited by a specific gender.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone feels comfortable embodying the gender norms that they are assigned at birth. Whenever the alignment passes their point of comfortability, anyone can choose to go by different pronouns. Many people don’t feel like they align with any gender at all. Because of this, there’s been widespread adoption of they/them as a gender-neutral pronoun.
If you don’t respect people’s preferred gender pronouns, then they won’t feel comfortable being themselves around you. Plain and simply, it’s unkind. They may not want to talk about their personal life, interests or frankly anything because you’ve set the precedent that you don’t care about their preferences.
The best thing you can do to make everyone comfortable is to ask people’s pronouns when you first meet them or early in conversation. This has become a more normalized practice over the last few years, and it’s a great way to decrease the risk of misgendering someone.