Respecting the Usage of Pronouns Image
Illustration by Arielle Zepeda

Respecting the Usage of Pronouns

By Carlos Fuentes

The conversation around pronouns is different for everyone. An individual’s pronouns can be absolutely anything as there are no rules to a socially constructed idea. Some people prefer he/him, she/her, they/them, or even queen/goddess for pronouns. Unfortunately at a young age, society limits and defines our understanding of pronouns based on a person’s gender. A majority of people, either from a cultural or social stance, take years to realize this.

Gender expression is how a person presents. This could be based on clothes, hairstyles, social behaviors, and pronouns. My gender expression allows me to fluctuate in how I choose to present daily. There are days where I feel more feminine, while others are more masculine, my pronouns being interchangeable within the process. I mostly dress in masculine clothes, yet behave more feminine. Thus, I cannot simply address my pronouns as one or the other.

For the first 20 years of my life, I was strictly he/him because as a ‘man’ I was taught it was socially ‘correct’. I recently realized I was living this façade of what I thought my gender expression should be. At the moment my pronouns are he/she/they because my gender expression is fluid. I don’t just fit into one set of pronouns; I’d ultimately be boxing myself if I chose to conform to social expectations around my assigned sex or gender.

Pronouns are limitless and everyone has their explanation for them. I’m sure this all sounds complicated and it is. Nevertheless, the moment a person expresses their preference in pronouns, it is important to keep an open mind even when the conversation is confusing. I think what’s important is to listen and respect any form of pronouns as it can be emotionally and mentally challenging for people to express due to the fear of being judged. This is the reality for a lot of us who don’t abide by the social expectations of a man or woman. The world isn’t so kind to non-conforming individuals, but that shouldn’t stop us from telling our stories.

I was once afraid to speak about my pronouns, especially when working with predominately straight cis-gendered men. During the first few months at a new job, I was cautious of being open about my gender expression. I wasn’t sure if I could freely express myself without being judged. During a store meeting, I stated I was non-binary with my pronouns as he/she/they to make my experience at work more comfortable. Being constantly addressed as only he/him felt invalidating to my gender expression and I didn’t want to keep making my life harder for the sake of keeping everyone else’s at peace.

As a non-binary person who goes by he/she/they, I understand not everyone will get my gender expression. Nevertheless, it is important to address who I am as a person to be my authentic self. A supervisor of mine came to me and expressed that she was still learning about different pronouns. I explained my appreciation towards her after our talk because she respected me as a person and my pronouns even when she didn’t quite understand. She’s a great example of how people don’t have to understand a person to respect them and their differences.

The usage of pronouns is visible within the workplace and school more than ever; it’s exciting to see the inclusiveness of companies and institutions that I love and support. Long Beach State University has policies set in place to adhere to an individual’s pronouns. I can now declare my pronouns by going to MYCSULB, scrolling down to personal information, and clicking on pronouns under the dropdown list.

Being able to state my pronouns freely around campus and work makes me feel welcomed and protected. I have been lucky enough to work and be associated with people who support me and my pronouns. Nonetheless, I know that may not be a reality for everyone. There are people with certain social or religious beliefs that we won’t see eye to eye with and it’s okay to remove ourselves from those uncomfortable situations. Always talk to people you trust about any concerns you may have, especially if your life feels threatened. People will hate and try to erase our story, but we can’t allow that to happen. I encourage starting our conversations with the question “what are your pronouns?”. And if anyone is unsure, that too is okay.