"What are the correct pronouns for intersex people?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Hey, there, Anonymous! First off, I need to tell you that I’ve been listening to a lot of Sleater-Kinney since the release of their fantastic new album, No Cities to Love, and I’ve been revisiting a lot of myold fave tracks too. So when I read theword “anonymous” today, my mindbrain heard it in Carrie Brownstein’s delightful sing-yell voice – “AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!” So if ya don’t mind, Anonymous, I’m gonna call you AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS! (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then I highly advise you to check out “Anonymous” here– your ears thank you in advance! THIS HAS BEEN YOUR DAILY RIOT GRRRL UPDATE, YOU’RE WELCOME <333 *feedback*)
Okay, AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS! It’s time for a lil’ pronoun go-around – one that’s intersex-inclusive, of course. The short answer is that there isn’t any one way that intersex people identify – pronouns or otherwise. What all intersex folks have in common, at least broadly speaking, is biology: we have a combination of what are traditionally considered “male” traits and “female” traits in the same body (and sometimes, also traits that are uncommon for typical males or females).
But move a toe’s length beyond these basic commonalities, and intersex folks are as diverse as any other group of people. Although we might not explicitly say so, folks assume that your pronoun usage matches up with your gender identity. Intersex people may identify their gender in a variety of ways. Some intersex people identify as female or male. Some intersex people who strongly identify with their being intersex may identify their gender as “intersex.” Some intersex people have other non-binary gender identities, fluid identities, identify as genderless, or don’t identify with any gender terms or labels. WE IDENTIFY HOW WE WANT, ya know?!
In the same vein, different intersex people have different preferred pronouns. Some intersex folks use she, her, hers. Some intersex folks prefer he, him, his. Some intersex folks refer to themselves with non-binary pronouns, which might include they, them, their; ze, zir, zirs; ze, hir, hirs; or other non-binary pronouns. You can check out a list of some of the many non-binary pronouns that folks use here!
Bottom line: for all folks, regardless of how we read them, regardless of what groups and communities we perceive or know they’re a part of, we cannot accurately infer how a person identifies. And even if we could, one person’s identity can’t represent the many, many identities that members of a group share – there’s no one-fits-all gender identity or set of pronouns we can just apply to all the people in X group. It just doesn’t work like that since identities are so highly individualized.
Soooooo AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!, I’m gonna answer your question by basically telling you I can’t answer your question. I can’t advise you on what pronouns to use when talking to any ol’ intersex person, because that totally depends on the specific lovely intersex person you’re talking to! Instead, I’d suggest that when you meet new folks, ask them what pronouns they prefer you to use when referring to them, and then use ‘em when talking to or about her/him/them/zir/hir/other preferred pronoun. SEE WHAT I DID THERE, I’M NOT MAKING ANY PRONOUN ASSUMPTIONS, BOOM.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though we conflate gender identity and pronoun use, those two things don’t have to match up in a binary way. Just like we are free to identify as we choose – using binary terms or not – within an identity category, we’re also free to mix and match up our various identities across categories as we choose! So like, maybe you’ll meet an intersex person who identifies their gender as female, and also prefers they, them, their pronouns. That’s totally cool! Maybe another intersex friend you’ll make identifies their gender as intersex sometimes and genderless sometimes, and also prefers he, his, him pronouns. That’s also totally cool! None of those gender identity & pronoun combos contradict one another because one’s gender identity/ies and pronoun usage/s don’t need to line up in any particular way.
I think you’re all set, AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS! Have the best day.
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