Not all of our vinas identify within the gender binary, and that’s great! Maybe you’ve known them for years and they just came out to you. Maybe you’ve only been on a few vina dates. Maybe they’re transgender, genderfluid, or non-binary. No matter what, it’s awesome that they’re comfortable with who they are and that they want you to know, too!
But not all of us were raised with the idea that there are more than two genders. It can be hard to make the switch from “she/her” to “they/them” when you’re not used to it. Changing your language patterns is an easy (and really important!) way to show your vina that you love and respect them.
Here are a few tips to make the transition:
DON’T ASSUME SOMEONE’S PRONOUNS
Gender theory is really complicated. It’s okay if you’ve never read Judith Butler. It’s okay if you hadn’t heard the term “cis-gendered” before your vina came out to you. You don’t have to know everything—you just have to be sure you know the right way to refer to your friend. Simply asking “What are your pronouns?” can go a long way.
For example, what someone looks like—what we see as traditionally masculine or feminine—doesn’t have to line up with what pronouns they use. Your friend could have a beard but still identify with she/her pronouns, and that’s how you should refer to her!
There are also a ton of gender neutral pronouns, and each person decides the pronouns that feel best to them (or ver, or zir, or xem, or…). Respecting your friend’s pronouns is a huge part of respecting who they are, so make sure you’re using the right ones!
But it might also be a good idea to talk to your friend about who they’re comfortable having their new pronouns used in front of. Some friends might be okay with you using their old pronouns in front of certain people, especially if they’re not out to everyone in their life. Outing them in a potentially unsafe space could be worse than misgendering them!
It never hurts to ask or clarify: It shows you’re really invested in your friend’s identity and want to do what’s best for them.
LANGUAGE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE GENDERED
Let’s face it, vinas: Our English teachers’ insistence that we use “he or she” or “his or hers” in our everyday speech never caught on, anyway. We use “they” and “them” as singular pronouns without thinking. We say things like “Someone left their phone here,” all the time.
Using different pronouns can feel awkward at first (especially for the grammar nerds among us). But pay attention to how many times you use “they/them” to refer to just one person. If you can use “they/them” to refer to the “someone” whose gender you don’t know, then you can use “they/them” to refer to your friend whose gender you do know!
MISTAKES WILL HAPPEN
Sometimes you’ll slip up, and that’s okay, as long as you’re trying. Maybe you’ve known them for years and it’s hard to break the habit. Maybe they’re the first friend you’ve met who identifies outside the gender binary. No matter how long you’ve known them, the best way to deal when you use the wrong pronoun is, well, to not make a big deal out of it.
Respecting your friend’s pronouns is all about making an honest effort to make them a routine part of your everyday speech. A quick “he—sorry, she—” is way less distracting than “He—Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I can’t believe I did that. Ugh, I’m trying so hard!” The more you act like their pronouns are an inconvenience, the more awkward it is for your friend.
Using the right pronouns is not about you. It’s about THEM. Your friend’s gender is a natural part of their identity. The best thing you can do for them is to make their pronouns a natural part of your speech.
Have any advice for people getting used to pronouns? Let us know in the comments!
(Feature image via @harinef)