Using correct, preferred pronouns can be like learning a new language. If you pick it up when you’re young, it’s easy and natural. But if you’ve learned the wrong rules for decades, it can be a lot of work. Good work, necessary work, but work nonetheless. What do I mean? Well, let me give you a “tell me more, Meredith” example. So today, let’s talk about pronouns like he/his, she/her, they/them, and how we address our gender-neutral, trans, or non-binary friends. Oh, and hello! Welcome back to my blog! I’m so glad we get to see each other again after my very long writing hiatus.
So What’s This About Pronouns, Now?
To begin with, let me just say that myself and anyone else who took academic writing in college had the singular “they” soundly beaten out of us as a matter of rote. So some of us (like myself) need to work harder at addressing our loved ones with the correct pronouns. In that, we can feel the professor-imposed tourniquet around our minds squeezing every time we see a singular “they” – we want to mentally default to “he” or “she”. At least for me, it’s taking A LOT of work to break out of that grip.
But it’s worth it – and truly a labor of love. Because the people around us deserve every bit of respect for THEIR own identities, as we would expect to receive for our own. Think about it. Let’s say you have a favorite nickname, but there’s always that ONE relative or friend who INSISTS on calling you by your given name or a nickname you can’t stand. And I don’t know about you, but it annoys the ever-loving CRAP out of me when I’m addressed as “Meri” instead of Meredith. Like, THAT’S NOT MY NAME, ya know?
Okay Meredith, Tell Me More About Why Pronouns Are More Important Than Ever.
However, just as it can be difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, it can be just as difficult to teach an old broad like me (I AM 49 now, you know) new pronouns. Especially when said old broad like myself grew up with “he” and “she” and THAT’S IT. But more on that in a moment. And given that we’re living in a brand new world these days, using preferred pronouns for everyone, including our trans, gender-fluid, and non-binary friends, is crucial to respecting their feelings, boundaries, and identities.
Let me give you an example. But first, as an aside, I live in BAKERSFIELD. We’re not exactly known for our diversity; plus, being an extreme introvert, I don’t get out much. That’s why sometimes we have to travel outside of our comfort zone, just as Matthew and I did here recently, when we took a trip to Denton, Texas; an amazing mecca of creative and diverse individuals. Who just happen to be extremely dear friends of my husband’s – in fact, they are his chosen family. So it was of the utmost importance to me to make a good impression.
Let’s Talk About A Recent Experience I Had With The Importance of Pronouns
One such individual’s pronouns are they/them. And though it doesn’t feel good to admit this (hey – nobody ever said growth is easy), it was difficult in that moment to change my preconception of said pronouns because this remarkable human presents as classically beautiful, with the type of warm, open soul that I tend to associate with feminine energy.
So even though I had primed the pump of my brain to say, “they”, the first thing I did upon meeting them face-to-face was say, something-something “SHE” in regards to their physical beauty, and I promptly wanted to crawl under the couch and die. I did apologize profusely and correct myself. And they were perfectly gracious and understanding about it, but in that very moment I understood more than ever why pronouns are so important, and how gender doesn’t necessarily denote what’s between one’s legs, but rather how one feels on the inside.
I can respect that.
And if I’m going to be the loving creature I aspire to be, I never, EVER want to disrespect someone, ANYONE, but ESPECIALLY a friend that I admire so greatly, by misgendering them, even accidentally, EVEN IN THEIR ABSENCE, because they and their preferred pronouns deserve my full respect, whether they are in the room or not.
Life Isn’t Black And White – So Why Do We Expect All People To Be So Binary?
So now, let’s talk about pronouns and autism. See, a hallmark of an autistic brain is black-and-white thinking. Not that this an excuse, but I hope to offer that thought as more of a, “oh, so THAT’s why.” So, given most things to my autistic brain are black and white, it is doubly difficult to grok the idea of gender fluidity. Especially for us Gen X autistic folks, when we’ve initially been taught you’re either a boy or a girl and that’s it. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 non-binary dollars.
However, even though it’s pretty darn difficult to train my brain to the idea that there is a lot more in this world than a touch of grey (points if you got the Grateful Dead reference), and not everything or everyone is concretely this or that, the mental strength training I’m currently undergoing is worth the effort. In that, it’s worth the effort to come around to a new way of thinking so I don’t accidentally hurt the feelings of someone I love.
In fact, I believe it’s worth it for ALL of us to learn about preferred pronouns and why they’re so important to people, regardless if they are a friend, a stranger, or even someone we dislike. Because basic human respect never goes out of style.
Or at least, it shouldn’t. And as my dad told me when I was small, “never hurt anyone on purpose, and try your very best never to hurt anyone accidentally.”
Indeed, words to live by.
Let’s Talk About Gender Fluidity and Neurodiversity As A Spectrum
And here’s something else to think about, if neurodiversity is at least a spectrum, possibly even a multi-dimensional map, then that same understanding can apply to gender in regards to gender fluidity and non-binary people regardless of how they present.
Now read that again.
Another point I’d like you to consider, if you’re struggling with pronouns or wondering ugh, why do I have to do this even when they’re not around, is this: in a world where there is already so much hardship, strife, and dissension, I believe it is of the UTMOST importance, ESPECIALLY for those that would live by the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Gandhi or any of the other Great Teachers who influence our daily lives, to support our fellow humans however we can, and with as much love and understanding as possible.
And THAT, my friends, is why using someone’s preferred pronouns is so important.
Doing so is truly an act of love, when we get right down to it.
Finally, Let’s Talk About How Pronouns Are Important for All of Us.
Because when we really think about it, using someone’s preferred pronouns are just as much of a supportive gesture to the identities of the people we love and respect, whether they are cis het, trans, gender-fluid, or non-binary. And don’t let masc, femme, or neutral presentation throw you; in that, it is always appropriate to ask someone’s preferred pronouns, and respect them accordingly. Remember, when we know better, we do better.
So to my trans, gender-fluid, and non-binary friends, I want you to know that I’m working very hard to use your preferred pronouns, even in your absence, because I love you and I respect you. I might slip occasionally, because I’m human like you, but I *will* catch myself. And I very much appreciate the grace you give me when I do.
Lastly, please know that THIS old dog is gonna practice these important new tricks as hard as she can until she gets ’em right, because change is the wave of the future, and I for one, refuse to get left behind.
Never stop learning,