What you should know about gender pronouns, how to use them, and why they’re important

Demi lovato
Demi Lovato attends the premiere for their 2021 YouTube docuseries ‘Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil.’ Rich Fury/Getty Images for OBB Media

Yesterday marked international pronouns day, a day meant to spread awareness about how to use people’s pronouns correctly and respectfully.

Recently, more celebrities have openly come out as non-binary, trans, and gender variant like Demi Lovato, Elliot Page and Kehlani.

According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, more trans and non-binary people are living openly. One-third of teens and people in their early 20s know someone who uses pronouns other than “she” or “he,” according to the report – and this number is set to grow.

In 2019, Merriam-Webster dictionary named the singular, gender-neutral pronoun “they” word of the year out of a growing awareness around gender-neutral pronouns.

Here is a guide to using pronouns correctly.

What pronouns are out there beyond ‘she’ and ‘he’?

She and he are the most standard English pronouns people of all ages know, typically associated respectively with women and men.

Non-binary people – people who identify neither as man nor woman – can use these pronouns and still be non-binary, but an array of other gender-neutral pronouns exist.

They/them pronouns can singularly be used to refer to one person. In the same way someone refers to a person they don’t know by the gender of ‘they.’ For example, “I think they will come back for this lost wallet.”

While they/them pronouns are the most commonly known gender-neutral pronouns, others exist as well.

Fae/faer/faers pronouns (fae is my friend), Xe/xem/xyers (xe is my teacher), ze/hir/hirs (ze is my partner), and ve/ver/vis (ve loves to run) are just a few of the options out there.

These pronouns can be traced back to 1972, but there is some evidence that gender-neutral English pronouns emerged as early as the 1700s, according to Dennis Baron, Professor of English at the University of Illinois. They later circulated more widely on platforms like Tumblr in the early 2010s.

According to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the reason why so many pronoun options exist is because for a long time, there were no official pronouns that acknowledged the existence of non-binary people, leaving many people to create their own.

There is no singular way to look non-binary, trans, or any gender, so these pronouns can be used by anyone, regardless of gender presentation. The pronoun also does not dictate someone’s gender identity, as some non-binary people may use pronouns most people consider binary like ‘she’ or ‘he.’

What if someone says they use ‘rolling’ pronouns?

Some people may wonder why some people sign their email signatures with multiple pronouns, like he/they. This is because the person uses “rolling pronouns.”

People may use multiple pronouns for a number of reasons. Sometimes gender-fluid individuals might want to use different pronouns on different days depending on how they are feeling about their identity.

Others may prefer for people to constantly switch their pronouns in a sentence, like “She is upset because their mom didn’t call,” (she and they are the same person).

Because gender is a spectrum and people can feel like multiple or no genders, rolling pronouns might feel more comfortable than a singular one.

Why are pronouns so important?

The reason it’s so important to honor someone’s pronouns is because it acknowledges their humanity.

Transgender and non-binary people already suffer disproportionate rates of homelessness and are at risk of violence. Those who are misgendered more often also suffer worse rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations.

Taking the time to practice someone’s pronouns and respecting their identity can make a huge difference in a trans or gender-nonconforming person’s day.