Yes, You Can Take 5 Seconds To Use Their Proper Pronoun
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Politics and Activism

Yes, You Can Take 5 Seconds To Use Their Proper Pronoun

An individual's preferred pronoun is their proper pronoun.

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Yes, You Can Take 5 Seconds To Use Their Proper Pronoun
Plaid Zebra

Language is a social construct if ever there was one. One of the first things they teach you in any Linguistics class is that there is no proper English- there are only different kinds of English used at different times that have different meanings to different people and groups. Those meanings change over time. Words change over time. The internet has made that change utterly transparent, and any adult over the age of 40 can suffer serious difficulty trying to discern the vernacular of a millennial immersed in the digital age.

So if language changes so much, and language is, more than anything, a reflection, and crystallization of our social and cultural norms or code words, why do we struggle so hard to accept changes of language introduced by the LGBTQ community? The use of gender-neutral or nonbinary pronouns is often treated with scorn, as grammatically incorrect, as "special snowflake syndrome," as a bastardization of English, or as somehow an affront to proper speaking. However, much of the development of nonbinary pronouns was worked on by people with expertise and thorough understanding of the way language works.

Not only does language reflect cultural norms, but it also determines them- by introducing a space for nonbinary people in everyday lexicon, we are acknowledging that their existence is valid- that they exist, that there is a way to acknowledge their presence, that they are not a bastardization of the gender binary, that they are not an error, but they are supposed to be here, they are allowed to be here, their identities are valid and real- for, if gender is a social construct and if language reflects code needed to allude to meaning, and if there are people that are outside the he/she binary, doesn't it only make sense to expand our understanding of gender and the language surrounding it, rather than to delegitimize these people and ignore the fact that they exist? Rather, by insisting upon only a he/she binary of pronouns, we are doing far more than ignoring them- we are telling them they have to fundamentally change the way they are to exist as a recognized identity (something, obviously, no one can do), and so, by insisting that and knowing that they cannot change, we are denying them a culturally legitimate identity, not even by law, not even by popular culture, not even by hateful slurs, not even by nomenclature, but by the most fundamental unit of self-reference which exists outside the body- the referential pronoun. By insisting that they (and non-binary pronouns) do not exist in the abstract, we are furthermore insisting that they, as individuals, do not exist in the particular.


By insisting that they (and nonbinary pronouns) do not exist in the abstract, we are furthermore insisting that they, as individuals, do not exist in the particular.



To deny a person of that most fundamental unit determined as they understand themselves and as they desire to be understood- a level of autonomy which is universal to every human being- is a kind of violence- and it is not only ignorant, it is incorrect. An individual's preferred pronoun is their proper pronoun. It is not up to you to assess an individual and tell them who they are because that is not something you could possibly determine. If your instinct is to refer to them by one pronoun yet they inform you that that is not the pronoun they use, it is you, not them, who is incorrect. If you met someone and said, "I really liked her shoes," and a friend corrected you to say, "It's 'them,' actually. 'Their' shoes," you would learn that you had made a mistake. Most people are very understanding about this, and you will be hard-pressed to find someone who's an asshole to you if you make an initial mistake. Usually, if you make this mistake you will be embarrassed and aware that what you did was offensive, and you will be careful to correct yourself in the future before you speak.

However, to blatantly disregard this fact and insist upon using an incorrect pronoun really just makes you an asshole. It does. Despite the ever-changing nature of language and despite the both linguistic and cultural correctness of the existence of nonbinary pronouns, for some reason a sector of society is enraged by their existence and refuses to use them. These people demand that they are being told what to do by being told to use a certain pronoun, and they insist that the use of a pronoun is silly and rather inconsequential. As we've addressed above, it is neither inconsequential nor incorrect. It follows, naturally, that if you refuse to use someone's correct pronoun, you're really just being a jerk.


An individual's preferred pronoun is their proper pronoun.


Here are 5 reasons that yes, you can take five seconds to use their proper pronoun. I'm going to reiterate myself a bit here in case you're the kind of person who only reads listicles.

1. It's their identity.

No one's oppressing you by referring to their own identity. You don't have to speak to them at all, but if you are going to speak to them or refer to them correctly, it is not up to you to determine the nature of their identity and what that identity is. Quite frankly, you don't know what that identity is and people are not always the way you think they might be based on how they appear. People's basic freedom and autonomy is to be and express themselves as they choose. That's your freedom too, but that "freedom" does not extend as an excuse to disrespect the freedom of others to do the same.

2. It's not a 'freedom of speech' issue.

No one's restricting your 'freedom of speech' by asking you to respect their preferred pronoun. You're not talking about morals, or science, or even politics. You're talking about who they are as a person, and who that is is not up for debate. Especially not in a crude public forum of everyday discussion, and it is violent to demand that they publicly justify their identity anytime a stranger demands it.

3. It's not a matter of opinion.

Let's say you introduce yourself as Jeremy's sister who lives in Boston and plays the piano. Is it natural, normal, or respectful for someone to wonder, "Hm, are they really Jeremy's sister?" Or, "Actually, they do not live in Boston, and they do not play the piano. I just know this." Why would you assume that? They have just told you who they are. That's not something you would second-guess by default, and if you decided to argue with them about these facts, it would be really weird, obstinate, counterintuitive, and obviously erroneous. These things they told you about who they are are not matters of opinion. It's not "a matter of opinion" that you are Jeremy's sister. You are. So imagine transferring those bizarre and obstinate assumptions onto something as personal as someone's very identity, and then deciding to attack their identity that way. It's illogical, it's violent, and it's... really weird on your part, honestly.

4. Refusing to is incorrect.

Refusing to use someone's preferred pronoun is not only beyond rude and oppressive, it's also incorrect. You're using the wrong one. They told you that. So you continuing to use it is not only disrespectful and hateful, it's also just wrong.

5. I don't know how to convince you why you should treat other people with respect.

Be a decent person. The reasons I've discussed in this article are mere rebuttals to the rhetoric employed by those who insist upon delegitimizing the use of nonbinary pronouns and refusing to use them, but beneath all of that is a kind of violence and institutionalized oppression which goes down to the very most fundamental building-blocks of shared cultural experience- language. If language as it previously existed was not equipped to reflect the spectrum of reality, it is only natural that language be modified and expanded to encompass all that is. But beyond that are flawed assumptions and restrictions based on identity which uphold our power structures, and challenging those restrictive power structures demands a space of identity for all people which threatens the powerful position of oppressors. Breaking down oppressive barriers, especially ones as invisible yet fundamental as language, and language being one that is easy and responsive to change, should be not only our priority, but our shared cultural mandate.

But I really hope the only justification you need is "We should respect other people." And I really hope we can stop having this conversation. And I really hope we can stop asking nonbinary people to justify and prove to us that we should treat them with basic human decency.

Cause if it comes down to acknowledging someone's basic human right to exist and take up space, then yes, you can take five seconds to do that.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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