Most people are used to hearing the pronouns “he” and “him” and “she” and “her,” but these are not the only options. For people who don’t fully identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, choosing new pronouns that better express their inner experience can feel liberating. You might be thinking about switching pronouns because you feel uncomfortable with the ones you’ve been called up until now, like they don’t fit you or match who you are. Or you might feel like there are other pronouns that would make you feel even better in your own skin.
No matter what your identity is, you have a right to be called by the correct pronouns. Some people talk about pronouns in terms of “preferred gender pronouns,” but we’re going to just say “pronouns” because many people find that their pronouns, like gender identity or sexual orientation, aren’t simply a preference.
Finding Pronouns That Feel Good to You
Figuring out what pronouns work best for you can be a process. As you reflect on your options, keep in mind that you can use any set of pronouns regardless of your gender identity (internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither) or gender expression (the outward expression of gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, and other behaviors). For example, you don’t have to be a woman to use “she” and “her,” and using “they” and “them” doesn’t make you less of a woman.
It’s okay to switch pronouns as many times as you want. You might try out different pronouns for a while to see which ones fit you best. Be patient with yourself during this process, and don’t get discouraged if it takes some time to find ones that fit.
You might also find that there isn’t an “endpoint” to your pronoun journey and that what works best for you is switching between pronouns or having people use a mix of pronoun sets. For example, a bigender person might use “she” and “her” on girl days and “he” and “him” on boy days. This person might even throw in “they” and “them” or “ze” and “hir,” too.
Gender trumps grammar. Language is evolving all the time. It’s okay to use the singular “they” and newer pronouns. If you feel like none of the pronouns that have been created so far fit you, you can even make up your own!
Here’s a chart of some (but not all!) pronouns created by our friends at the nonprofit FORGE :
Letting People Know About Your Pronouns (Or Not)
Just like with any other “coming out” situation, it’s totally up to you whether you want to tell people about your pronouns.
When meeting someone for the first time or introducing yourself to a group where you feel comfortable sharing your pronouns, you could say something like, “Hi, I’m _________________ . My pronouns are ________________ and _________________.” And if you use less common pronouns, you can also give an example sentence using your pronouns.
It may not always be safe or “worth it” to disclose your pronouns. You might have a couple of close friends use your pronouns, but not come out at work or school. Or you might be out in most areas of your life, but not feel like correcting a random person when they call you “sir.”
Another area to consider is social media. Facebook offers three pronoun options: he/him, she/her, they/them. While that leaves out a whole lot of pronouns, at least it’s a step outside of the gender binary. You can also set privacy settings around who can see your pronouns.
Dealing with Mispronouning and Misgendering
Being called the wrong pronoun can make you feel invisible, erased, upset, or frustrated. Whatever feelings come up for you are completely valid.
When someone mispronouns you, there are a number of ways you can handle it. If someone who knows your pronouns slips up, you can correct them (or they may catch the mistake and correct themselves). You don’t have to do this, though, as it can get annoying to constantly correct people.
If you’re somewhere where you’re not out or if you don’t feel like correcting a random person who doesn’t know your pronouns (and has incorrectly assumed what they are), then you might decide not to say anything. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response. It is not your job to be educating others all the time. The number one priority should be doing what is best for you.
Embracing Your Pronouns
Being called the right pronoun can make you feel seen, acknowledged, respected, or cared for. It’s awesome!
If you can, try to cultivate a group of people you trust who will call you by your pronouns (even if they’re not perfect at it one hundred percent of the time).
In addition, affirm your pronouns to yourself. Sit in front of the mirror and talk about yourself using your pronouns. Narrate what you’re doing in your head or out loud. Sing a song you like that has your pronouns in it, or change the lyrics to fit you. Celebrate your pronouns and celebrate yourself!