Pronouns are part of a class of words called function words.
Function word examples: will, the, under, however, a, and, has, do, beside, etc.
Out of all the words that we use, function words are the hardest to change because they are more deeply ingrained in our brains. Efforts to change the use of function words often are fraught with problems and the use of pronouns surrounding different gender identities is caught up in this.
Imagine trying to pick up and use “y’all” in everyday conversation vs using “birb” instead of “bird” or “adorbs” instead of “adorable.” “Birb” follows the basic rule for pluralization and possession (birbs, birb’s). Is the possessive form of “y’all” “y’all’s?” The internet seems to think so. What about possessive “y’all” at the end of a sentence?
“This house is y’all’s’s.” (I have no idea)
Pronouns end up in all sorts of places and have more complex rules surrounding them. When someone decides to go by ze/zir/zirs, there’s a lot of learning going on on the part of the person who is being introduced to this new pronoun.
In some cases, the person being introduced to the new pronoun, or usage of a pronoun they already know, may be learning about sex not being the same thing as gender or gender as a societal construct. In those cases that person may get overwhelmed by their worldview being tipped on its side.
I am not saying that it is alright for people to misgender other people or for people to not accommodate the pronoun wishes of others. I am saying that people learning new things benefit from the patience of others. I am saying that people overreact when they are overwhelmed.
It hurts when someone doesn’t have enough compassion to use the right pronoun. I have trans and non-binary friends (I myself am non-binary) who have to correct people over and over again on their pronoun usage. I understand how upset they get. I also know what it’s like to learn to use different pronouns.
What helps me stay sane is being apologetic and compassionate when I am learning and equally compassionate when I am teaching. Sometimes I teach my cis friends about the pronoun usage of one of my non-cis friends in advance of them meeting that person.
By taking on part of the burden of teaching and being in a situation where we use the pronouns a lot (talking about someone in third person since they’re not there), things go far more smoothly and the overall stress in my social circle is reduced. So, I believe using the right pronouns is best solved as a community.
When there isn’t a community present and it’s someone in a supermarket, there isn’t really time to teach them. In cases like this, I find that being kind and polite no matter how awful the person is works best.
The reason is that you look like the reasonable person to everyone watching and often get support from bystanders. Now, I’m not the best at being assertive about stuff like this, so there may be strategies that I do not have access too.
My #1 goal in a situation where my LGBT+ status is conflicting with cultural norms in a public setting is to be brief and polite. I want people to think back about how decent I was and I don’t want to get caught up in long draining conversations when I have stuff I need to get done.
Personally, I love new pronouns like ze/zir/zirs and I’m planning on using ne/nem/nir in an upcoming book. By playing with these pronouns, I gain more experience with them and also get the chance to try them out so I can see if I would like to use them to describe me.
For now, I am experimenting and tinkering trying to figure out:
- Do I want to go by different pronouns for every part of my life or just with close friends?
- Is there a pronoun that I feel reflects my non-binaryness/genderfluidity?
- Do I want to come out to non-close friends about my gender identity?
Some of this has been solved for myself as an author, but not all of it. What pronoun should you use when you refer to me? Anything you want to try out. Use referring to me as a testbed for pronoun forms you’ve always wanted to use in a sentence, a paragraph, etc. If you email me or talk to me, you’re going to be using “you,” so I won’t know what pronoun you’re using to refer to me.
Of course, you could write about me in third person or make up a little story about me and send it to me, but that is outside the realm of normal social interaction, so I do not expect it to happen (imagine how fun that would be).
Do you have any examples of stories that use interesting pronouns or that use one of the standard ones to great effect? I might do a future post about books that have cool pronoun usage and your comments will aid me in doing so. Also, please comment with your feedback/discussion about what I’ve posted above. Let me know in the comments!