March 25, 2021

Translated by: Maria Galanopoulou

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word of the year for 2019 was the pronoun “they”. It may be the gender neutral pronoun most frequently used by non-binary people (they/them/their), but this does not mean that it is the only one. Some people use other, gender neutral, pronouns (e.g. ze/hir/hirs – pronounced “zee/here/heres” – or ey/em/eir –pronounced “ay/em/airs”, respectively). There are many gender neutral pronouns out there, a demonstrative list of which is presented here. However, the pronoun “they” in the singular has undoubtedly been used in the English language for centuries.

  • But what are pronouns?

Those words that you would like other people to use instead of your own name when addressing you, are termed as pronouns. Some examples in English include the pronouns “she/her” , “he/him” or gender neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir”. Some people use particular pronouns, more than one, any one, or even none (address by name). An example of the use of the pronoun “they/them” for English-speaking people, is: “John is substituting for me today and they are an incredible mathematician”.

  • But why do they concern us?

According to Orlando LGBT+, “one of the most abusive and traumatic experiences that trans and GNC people can have with their close, but also their broader environment, is to be addressed or referred to in the wrong grammatical gender, using pronouns of another gender, essentially perpetrating the so-called misgendering, that denies the gender identity of people”.

  • But what does it mean to be a trans, non-binary, or GNC person?

Trans (or Intersex): is an umbrella term that includes people who have a gender identity that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. It includes multiple gender identities, such as trans man, trans woman, non-binary, agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, etc.

-Non-binary: people with gender identity or expression that does not fully adhere to the “male-female” binary, being either in-between or completely outside of this model.

Gender non-conforming: a broad term that refers to people whose behavior does not conform to the dominant traditional gender expectations, or whose gender expression cannot fall under any category, nor adhere to any norm or role.

  • But how are these traumatic behaviors defined?

Heteroidentification or misgendering: Referring to anyone, and especially to trans or non-binary people, using vocabulary, and particularly pronouns or some form of address, that does not represent the gender with which they identify.

Assumed gender: The gender that the rest of the people assume a person identifies with, based on their biological sex, assigned to them at birth, as well as on other indices of gender expression, such as physique, voice, clothes, and hair.

  • But are there any good practices?

Gender neutral language, also known as gender inclusive language, is the practice of using vocabulary that does not “colour” the identity of the referred person. For instance, the term “fireman” connotatively gives the impression that the person of reference is a man. The term “cleaning lady”, on the other hand, gives the impression that only a woman would be suitable for the job. Gender neutral alternatives would be “firefighter” and “janitor”, respectively, among others. Then it immediately becomes easy for a person to assume that this particular job is addressed to and carried out by any gender identity.

Changing our way of speaking or referring to people around us, is an effective way to combat sexist and abusive speech.

Tip for non-native English speakers: Do not ever refer to any person using the neuter “it” or the masculine-feminine “he-she”. They are offensive terms used against trans and gender non-conforming people.

According to Laura Russel, The language we use is important, especially when it comes to describing or referencing someone’s identity. More specifically, when we use language that actively includes women and LGBT people, it makes a real difference in reducing gender stereotyping. Using gender-neutral language is a positive step towards creating a world where everyone is accepted without exception.

After all, using gender neutral pronouns is not something difficult for us to do, but it would make a huge difference in creating a friendly, and more inclusive environment for all people.