As transgender, non–binary, and gender non-conforming people have gained more visibility, people have paid more attention to pronouns and the importance of referring to people by the pronouns they use.
Like “she,” “he,” or “they,” right?
Yes, though those are not the only pronouns.
They aren’t! The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has put together a guide breaking down types of pronouns:
- Possessive pronoun
So then, with those in mind, here some more. These are taken from The LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at UC Davis and the aforementioned Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:
So how are these used?
The same way “he,” “she,” and “them” are used. Let’s go back to the types of pronouns:
- Possessive pronoun
You have seen these before, even if you’re not used to calling them by those terms:
- She loves pizza.
- I told her to call back later.
- Her favorite color is purple.
- That guitar on the couch is hers.
- Chris built that bookshelf herself.
So the other pronouns in that list would work with the same corresponding numbers?
- Ze loves pizza.
- I told zir to call back later.
- Zir favorite color is purple.
- That guitar on the couch is zirs.
- Chris built that bookshelf zirself.
- Xie loves pizza.
- I told hir to call back later.
- Hir favorite color is purple.
- That guitar on the couch is hirs.
- Chris built that bookshelf hirself.
I never knew there were so many pronouns.
Indeed! And as The LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at UC Davis points out, this is not an exhaustive list.
Really?! There are even more?
Oh, yes. In a 2015 article for the BBC, Avinash Chak explained:
The alternatives to “he” and “she” are myriad. Wikipedia’s gender-neutral pronouns page lists 14 “non-traditional pronouns” in English, though three are variants of “ze.” Other online resources for the non-binary community, however, offer hundreds of options.
Some terms come from foreign languages — such as the German-inspired “sie” — others from fiction. For example, “ze” and “per” are the pronouns of a future utopia Marge Piercy describes in her feminist sci-fi novel “Woman on the Edge of Time” (1976). Some are drawn from the plant or animal worlds, or refer to mythical beings with which the individual may identify.
It’s is not the first time people have tried to coin new pronouns. Writers have long been frustrated by the lack of a neat way to refer to someone of unknown gender — “he or she” is clunky, and if you use it several times in quick succession, “your writing ends up looking like an explosion in a pedants’ factory”, as Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan once put it.
Is it best to just call everyone “they” just to be safe?
Not everyone will agree on this topic. In a 2018 piece for Slate, Lena Wilson wrote:
In liberal circles, they/them pronouns are largely considered the safer default option when you don’t want to misgender someone. The problem is, putting a stranger in the “they/them” gender category is still putting them in a gender category. This practice requires the assumption that any gender-nonconforming person cannot identify with a binary gender—in my case, woman. It may seem paradoxical, but this is still misgendering.
And then there are some people who do not use any pronouns at all.
So, how will I know which of these pronouns to use (or not use) for someone?
As we have said in past posts, there’s no way to know what pronoun someone uses without the person explicitly making it known. Unless you know someone uses a specific pronoun, do not use it. If you need a refresher, feel free to check out “What’s the “right” way to learn someone’s pronouns?”
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