Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
This column is part six of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a twelve-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season.
The first time anyone came out to me as gender-fluid, they requested that I refer to them with they/them pronouns. At first, they said it hesitantly, as if I was going to say no. They asked as if the request was a hassle, and it was up to me to decide if I wanted to address them correctly.
They explained that sometimes they didn’t feel connected to their assigned gender, and other times they didn’t feel like they could relate to any gender. They felt as though she/her pronouns no longer fit them.
After years of questioning, they had met someone else who was also gender-fluid. The person had introduced themselves with they/them pronouns, and my friend found comfort in the additional option. They didn’t come out for a few more years, but when they did, I made an effort to use the correct pronouns.
Although I made a lot of mistakes, and it took some time to get used to, the look on their face when I used the correct pronouns was worth it. They could at least tell that I was trying. My efforts made them feel validated. The issue is that other people around me were ignoring the change in pronouns for our friend.
I couldn’t figure out how to remind them of this, until I started introducing myself with my pronouns. It forced my friend group to recognize that when I introduced myself, I was instantly telling the world that these are the pronouns they can use when referring to me.
While I’m cisgender, the act of stating my pronouns normalized it for my friend. Suddenly, they felt confident introducing themself with gender-neutral pronouns. All it took was someone else normalizing the behavior.
Including pronouns when introducing yourself can be helpful to gender nonconforming individuals. It opens a dialogue about the community. It also begins to normalize the act of stating your pronouns.
For gender nonconforming individuals, “they” isn’t the only pronoun that has has been introduced into the community. Other alternatives that also exist are “ze” and “e.” Both are offered to Harvard students when filling out admissions paperwork. All three of these provide an amazing opportunity to the community to find a term without the feeling of being tethered to a specific gender.
The number of gender nonconforming individuals has doubled within the last ten years, according to the Houston Chronicle. This increase is due to a more widespread understanding that gender is a fluid construct. It is also linked to more representation within the community.
Since these pronoun options aren’t the immediate response, it can be difficult for individuals to introduce themselves to another person. This puts stress on the gender nonconforming person to try and validate their identity.
If someone else were to introduce others to the concept of newer pronouns, then that person would be able to act as an educator for the community. Currently, this is what activists across the nation are doing in order to convince others to do the same.
Alongside universities, civil rights activists have also requested that state bureaucrats begin to use pronouns within their introductions. The idea is to have enough people normalizing the behavior so it isn’t questioned when gender nonconforming individuals state their pronouns. By having people within a position of power do this, it becomes something that may spread quicker and create a more welcoming environment.
Another benefit of using pronouns in introductions is that people can start to identify trustworthy allies. Seeing that someone is making an effort to create a more welcoming environment can become a sign that someone would listen to their story and help them in the future.
While adding this when you introduce yourself may seem awkward, you could be making a more accepting environment for gender nonconforming individuals. Even if you are cisgender, the simple act of stating your pronouns could help the entire gender nonconforming community. This alone could mean the world to someone, even if they aren’t out yet.