From ze and zir to they/them: Here’s why you should respect gender pronouns
You’re probably familiar with gender pronouns she, he and them, but what do ze and zir mean? There’s a long list of gender pronouns and it can be hard adjusting to using different ways of referring to people.
We asked transgender man Jackson Bird to explain what different pronouns mean, and share tips on how to ask someone their preferred pronouns, as well as how to let people know your own.
Being called the wrong pronoun can feel “demeaning” and “frustrating”, says Bird.
Respecting pronouns is especially important for transgender, non-binary and gender-non-conforming people who “have maybe had to work very hard to be seen in the world as they gender that we are, pronouns are particularly powerful”.
Watch the video below:
Gender pronouns: What do ze and zir mean?
Ze, zir, zie and ze and are all gender pronouns – much like he/him, she/her and they/them – that some transgender, non-binary or gender-non-conforming people might use if gender neutral pronouns make them feel more comfortable.
Everyone has gender pronouns – including cisgender people (cisgender means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth).
A non-exhaustive list of gender pronouns would include: she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir, ze/hir, xe/zem, and zie/hir, xe/xem, and ey/em.
Someone’s gender expression doesn’t mean they have to use a particular set of pronouns. For example, singer Sam Smith used he/him pronouns when first coming out as non-binary. Smith later decided they prefer they/them pronouns.
What should you do if you get someone’s gender pronouns wrong?
If you intentionally and repeatedly use the wrong pronouns for someone, they’ll likely consider you to be misgendering them, which can be hugely distressing for anyone but particularly for trans, non-binary and gender-non-conforming people who may struggle to be recognised as their gender by others.
Using the wrong pronouns for someone could also risk outing a transgender person to people they are not out to and/or may be transphobic.
Making a mistake, however, can happen and it shouldn’t be a big deal, says Bird.
“”If you still trip up and stay the wrong pronoun, here’s what to do: correct yourself and move on,” he explains.
“Don’t make a big deal out of it – plenty of people have brain farts and misspeak all the time.
“The more you treat it like a quick slip-up, the more the other person might believe it actually was just a slip-up and the less likely you are to put them in danger.”
Being an ally.
To help normalise the conversation around pronouns, you can be a good trans ally by putting your pronouns in your social media bio or your email signature at work.
If you’re part of a club or in a meeting, you could also introduce yourself with your pronouns as well as your name – for example: ‘Hi, I’m Jackson Bird, my pronouns are he/him.’
Coming out as transgender?
If you’re coming out as transgender, non-binary or anywhere on the genderqueer spectrum and you wish to change your pronouns, it can be tricky to know how to go about this.
Trans YouTuber and author of Sorted, Jackson Bird, says if you’re confident telling people, they’ll be more likely to mirror your energy and react “in a chill, respectful way”.
His advice is: “I first starting experimenting with he/him pronouns with trusted friends long before I came out publicly because, for me, those pronouns were an important part of my male identity that I wanted to get used to and see if they felt right.
“The weird thing about pronouns is that even when they do feel right, they can still feel uncomfortable for a while as you get used to them.”
Changing pronouns can even be hard for the individual, he explains, and it’s normal for trans people to “sometimes use the wrong pronouns in our head for ourselves”.
“Even if your old pronouns never felt right, you likely did use the same pronouns for many, many years and change can take time to adjust to.”
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