"Hi beauties. I have a friend who just recently asked everyone to start referring to them with they/them pronouns and I think this totally rocks. That being said, why is it so difficult for my brain to make the change? It’s been easy for me to switch from she/her to him/his and vice versa for trans* friends but somehow they/their isn’t sticking and I keep slipping and using their old pronouns. I feel bad and I really am trying but I don’t know what to do because I feel like I keep offending them."
- Question submitted by Anonymous
First of all, “Beauties.”
It’s hard because we were raised to think of ‘they/ them’ as words that are only used in the plural tense. That’s the long and short of it. There has not been a single time in mass media where “they/them” has been used to describe one person. It’s not like the male or female pronoun, that we see everywhere all the time. You can easily switch that in your head because you think “oh, this person feels more comfortable with this gender pronoun, so I will just switch their gender in my head because that is a concept I can easily understand” and BAM, you can start to practicing. Sure, you’ll mix it up a few times, you’ll apologize, have an open dialogue with your friend, but in general, you’ve been hearing ‘he’ or ‘she’ 60 billion times a day since you were born. Never in your life (this is kind of the fault of our society) have you referred to one human being as ‘they.’
The cool thing is, we all get it. I have multiple genderqueer friends who use they/them and I have absolutely fucked it up. But, this is new to me and it’s new to a lot of the world and we are trying. Own up to the fact that you fucked up and that it’s not cool, and that you both recognize and respect your friend’s identity.
I think the worst thing we can do is ignore the fact that we’ve fucked up. Ignoring it is kind of like saying it’s okay that it happened. Which, it really isn’t. It’s kind of understandable, but it isn’t okay, you know?
Own up to it, and go out of your way to actively use they/them more often. In times where you might naturally say your friend’s name, take a second and say ‘they’ right after. Instead of “My friend, Jillian likes iCarly a lot,” say “My friend Jillian, they like iCarly a lot.”
I HOPE I HAVE HALPED U.
I HOPE SHE HAS HALPED U TOO.
Here is what I have to say.
A long time ago when thinking about the difficulties our brains have in switching the use of pronouns for a particular person, the first image that came to my mind was one where I had moved my garbage can to the opposite side of my desk.
Stay with me here.
For several months, maybe even years, when I had something to toss in the trash, I leaned right, crumpled, and boom – there it was. Then, when I rearranged, my brain went through a series of stages. The first stage was legit just throwing the trash right on the floor where the garbage can had originally been, and then grimacing at what kind of idiot I must be to just THROW TRASH ON THE FLOOR WHEN THE GARBAGE CAN WAS TWO FEET AWAY ON THE OTHER SIDE. *face palm* This happened for maybe a week, on and off. The next stage was me having the trash in my hands and JUST BEFORE RELEASING IT TO THE FLOOR, realizing ahhhhhh there’s not a thing there stahhhhhp!, and then correcting myself, reorienting, and getting it right. That happened for a few weeks. THEN, FINALLY, it became a natural and fluid motion.
Now, I know that we are talking about pronouns and human beings and not trash and trash bins, but my POINT is that our brains are hardwired to certain settings (as Dannielle explained above), and it does take most of us a little time to make that shift. Many of my trans* friends have told me that they slipped up in the beginning and used the wrong pronouns when referring to themselves — so there is generally room and understanding from most individuals during this process. The point is to do your best, acknowledge if you slip up, and work toward the place where using the correct pronoun is a natural and fluid motion.
Dannielle is right though, it is important that you work hard at getting to that place in the meantime. This post isn’t meant to say, “ahhh we all fuck up no big,” it’s meant to say, “it’s okay that your brain takes some time to get it right 100% of the time, and since this is a very important shift, you should in equal measure forgive yourself for those slip-ups and work as hard as you can to adjust completely!”
Everyone Is Gay has started a new project to help parents who have LGBTQ kids: Check out The Parents Project!