Picking Pronouns

When I first came out as a nonbinary trans man, I wasn’t sure what pronouns I wanted to use.

But, I knew I didn’t want to hear “she said this”, or “that’s her sweatshirt”, or “let her do it herself” anymore. Everyone uses pronouns, right? Why did it feel so hard to figure out what mine should be? I was even asked by someone that I’ve known all my life whether it was ‘truly necessary for me to change my pronouns, because it made them ‘stop and think of me like an object’ somehow. 🙃

Some people also thought my pronouns were just a preference. We often hear the term “preferred pronouns”, but that never sat right: They’re just my pronouns.

It was the same when I heard people say that I “now identify as nonbinary”, almost as though they didn't see me, how I saw me. Perhaps they didn’t believe me. And, sometimes, I knew that was true. But that changed as I continued to explore what felt ‘right’, and as I thought about my childhood. The shows I watched and games that I played; who did I want to be in them? It was always a boy. Or someone whose gender you weren’t quite sure of at first glance.

I rarely saw trans men or nonbinary folks in any kind of media, but if I had, I think I could’ve caught on quicker to realizing I was a nonbinary trans man.

In the end, I realized that while I am a ‘him’, pronouns had far less to do with gender than I thought. It was exciting that a little piece of language could be so free and changing, while also mattering so much.

I knew cisgender folks who used they/them pronouns (which are indeed grammatically correct and have been since the 1300s), and nonbinary folks (like myself) who use ‘binary’ pronouns (such as he/him or she/her). And there are many more options beyond those three (they/them, he/him, she/her).

These would be neopronouns, such as ze/zir, fae/faer, ey/em, xe/xem, and more. The prefix ‘neo’ might mean ‘new’, but these pronouns date back hundreds of years!

Many neopronouns are used in the ‘singular’ form the way you’d use she/her or he/him, as opposed to ‘plural’ pronouns like they/them.

I call myself a nonbinary transgender man because I don’t see myself as a man, nor do I see myself as genderless. However, the wonderful thing about deconstructing the ideas, expectations, and norms around gender are acknowledging that everyone’s experience of gender is different. This is my personal experience and interpretation, but another person feeling the exact thing I do may, with their personal experiences and cultural background, may be something else. Our understanding of gender and sexuality are culturally-dependent and, often, no singular language can scratch the surface of explaining these dynamic, complex concepts.

All spoken languages are constantly changing the more we learn and connect, so we use language differently every decade–sometimes even less than that. And so we add more words to the dictionary. So it has been for thousands of years, and so it will be for thousands more.

Hollis Schmidt (he/him)

QMUNITY Education Program Coordinator

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