Pronouns are some of the smallest words in any language, but their frequent use makes them powerful identity markers — especially for trans and non-binary individuals.
After coming out as transgender when he was 14, UCF psychology and political science student Andrew Adams says being referred to as “he” for the first time felt euphoric and helped affirm his sense of self.
“When someone uses my pronouns, I feel seen, I feel respected, I feel good,” says Adams, who serves on the Lavender Council, a student advisory board for LGBTQ+ services. “When I’m misgendered, it feels like a hot knife in the part of my brain that holds my identity as a trans person.”
Making Efforts to Support All Identities
For cisgender people — those whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were identified as having at birth — traditional, gendered language is convenient to how they see themselves. When encountering individuals, both virtually and in-person, many people make assumptions based on the name or appearance they see and use pronouns such as “he” and “she”.
“You can’t assume everyone is either male or female. The gender binary just doesn’t apply anymore because we have an increasing, very broad understanding of what gender identities or expressions are,” says Martha Brenckle, a cisgender writing and rhetoric professor whose research interests include gender studies and queer theory. “Language needs to change along with cultural attitudes … so people feel included in the language rather than excluded by the language.”
To help promote awareness for that change, International Pronouns Day aims to make respecting, sharing and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. This year, the third annual observance takes place on Oct. 3.
UCF will host a tabling event on the free-speech lawn by the Reflecting Pond on Oct. 21 in honor of International Pronouns Day (Oct. 3).
From noon to 3 p.m. on Oct. 21, UCF will host a tabling event on the free-speech lawn by the Reflecting Pond, where pronoun pins and resources will be given out to raise awareness on the subject not just for LGBTQ+ individuals, but everyone. COVID-19-related precautions will be in effect for the event.
“I want this event to also highlight breaking away from the use of ‘preferred’ pronouns and ‘chosen’ names and emphasize their validity as just pronouns and names,” says Zachary Baker, Pride director for the Multicultural Student Center and an organizer for the event. “Ultimately, I want cis or cis-passing people to understand their privilege with not having to say their pronouns. Furthermore, teaching people to use their privilege to uplift and support trans and non-binary people and move beyond the binary way of thinking.”
For Jax Rogero, an agender queer person and office support assistant for Student Government, their identity has continued to evolve since Rogero was 13. Before using “they/them/theirs” pronouns, Rogero used “xi/xir/xirs,” which they say is unfamiliar to many people and has created friction with others.
“I think it’s important for people to seek out information that is being willingly shared already before questioning the people they know personally for education,” Rogero says. “There are a number of podcasts, YouTuber videos and TED talks where people discuss their own transgender [and other gender] identities and experiences. I don’t need people to be perfect, I just want them to try.”
Developing Inclusivity Within Gendered Languages
For some languages, such as Spanish, gender applies not only to pronouns but is the base of the entire system — which can present issues when trying to be inclusive. Since all nouns are gendered in Spanish, applying the @ symbol as an ending vowel, such as [email protected], is an option some may use when they don’t want to indicate one gender.
Francisco J. Fernández-Rubiera, associate professor of Spanish linguistics, points out that the symbol is an “a,” which is usually used to mark the feminine gender, within an “o,” the vowel typically used for masculine words. While this may be more inclusive for some, it may not be for all non-binary individuals.
In recent years, a term such as Latinx has started to become popular since it doesn’t indicate any gender. With the “x” and “@” endings, Fernández-Rubiera says these options work when written, but when it comes to speaking, they don’t always translate.
However, he also notes in Argentina some people are pushing to change masculine and feminine vowel endings to a gender-neutral “e,” such as “amiges.” This may help to promote inclusivity within the spoken Spanish language and may be a consideration for other gendered languages.
Promote Your Pronouns
Regardless of which language you speak, respecting how people identify is common decency that everyone should follow.
Stephanie Florczyk, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, realized she was a transgender woman as a teenager, but didn’t make her identity known publicly until earlier this year. For her, coming out and making her pronouns known has been a positive experience, including in the workplace.
“Even if people don’t understand why it’s important to have your pronouns known, it’s a super easy way to make trans folks in your life feel more comfortable — and that should be enough to make you do it.” — Andrew Adams, UCF student
“Everyone in my department has been great. I have interacted with colleagues who are all using my preferred name and pronouns,” Florczyk says. “My advice is to be direct and tell others how you want to be addressed. Being properly identified makes me feel accepted and validated. Feeling accepted and validated contributes to feeling respected, and that is when people can excel.”
Since coming out, Florczyk says she’s been fortunate to not have experienced being misgendered much, but when she has been, it hurts — even when it’s an innocent mistake. She advises people handle these moments like any other time they put their foot in their mouth — apologize in a way that doesn’t bring further attention to the matter, correct yourself or ask for the person’s preferred pronouns.
Normalizing everyone, from cisgender to non-binary and every gender expression in between, making pronouns known upon introduction can help prevent misgendering individuals and helps to reduce the “otherness” of this practice. Although she is cisgender and presents as a traditional female, Brenckle says she thinks it’s important she and other cisgender people make a point of sharing their pronouns in solidarity with trans and non-binary people.
“Even if people don’t understand why it’s important to have your pronouns known, it’s a super easy way to make trans folks in your life feel more comfortable — and that should be enough to make you do it,” Adams says.