Using Preferred Pronouns: The Power of Considerate Word Choice

Using Preferred Pronouns: The Power of Considerate Word Choice

Morgan Tornilla writes about preferred pronouns, how they are an integral part of one's Identity, and how to be an ally to the often-misgendered LGBTQ+ community.

Congratulations! I’m happy to inform you that you have a latent superpower! It isn’t anything as flashy as shooting laser beams from your eyeballs or being able to jump over buildings in a single bound. It’s using someone’s preferred pronouns.

Really? You might ask. How can that be a superpower? Why does something like that even matter? 

Imagine people constantly referring to you by someone else’s name. Procopio, for example, or Jejomar. Wouldn’t that feel uncomfortable? What if they kept doing it no matter how many times you asked them to use your name? What if this went on for years

Even a one-pound weight becomes unbearably heavy if you never get to put it down.

Pronouns are words that people use in place of someone’s name. He/Him, She/Her, They/Them, Ma’am, Sir, etc. They’re something that most people can take for granted but many LGBTQIA+ people are misgendered on a regular basis. Even if it’s not always intentional, being misgendered has been shown to have a direct negative impact on a person’s self-confidence and overall mental health.

Using someone’s preferred pronouns prevents this harm by conveying Respect for or affirmation of their Identity, and promoting values of Openness and Inclusion. Straight (or straight-passing) allies especially have a significant role to play in the creation of safe spaces and the expansion of those spaces by normalizing certain standards of behavior. 

If you had the power to help other people feel seen, safe, and acknowledged in your presence, to lift that small but unbearable weight, wouldn’t you want to use it?

Here are a few things you can do: 

Start with you.

It’s important not to assume someone’s pronouns, and while it’s generally a good thing to ask, sometimes people aren’t comfortable being asked what their pronouns are. They might have been mistreated for their gender identity in the past and find it hard to feel safe, or they could still be figuring themselves out. 

In any case, the easiest way to get around this is to share your own pronouns first. Establish yourself as a safe space. You can do this by including your pronouns in your email signatures, or social media bios, and any time you meet someone new. In group situations, this becomes especially powerful as it immediately helps to take the pressure off of the queer members of the group, and actively reinforces this practice as a social norm.

Don’t make it weird.

Whenever you’re trying to develop a new habit, you’re bound to make mistakes. That’s normal. If you mess up, simply apologize, correct yourself, and move on. If someone around you messes up, gently correct them and immediately return to the original topic of conversation. Suave. Seamless. Smooth. 

Over-apologizing, talking about how hard it is for you to use the right pronouns, or lecturing someone else for making a mistake instantly turns it into a big, awkward deal (and is just generally unpleasant). This causes the safe space to disintegrate like half the cast in Avengers: Infinity War and can leave the queer person feeling like they are a burden. This is the opposite of what you want. 

Be a bi-lingual boss babe.

Using gender-neutral pronouns is one of the simplest ways to avoid misgendering someone. In English, “they” is perfectly valid as a singular pronoun but the default singular pronouns are “he” and “she”. Filipino languages on the other hand don’t have gender-specific pronouns. There is no “he” or “she” in Bisaya. Just “siya” 

Most Cebuanos are bi-lingual and this is something that we can use to our advantage when it comes to habitually using gender-neutral pronouns. Allow yourself to lean into using Bisaya, or even Bis-lish. Doing this intentionally will help reinforce the correlation of the native, gender-neutral singular pronoun siya, with the use of the English “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Go with the flow.

It’s important to recognize that Identity is fluid. This means that a person’s preferred pronouns can change over time. This is especially true for Transgender or Non-binary individuals. A person may not want to use the same pronouns they did before, and some people would prefer that you only refer to them by name and not use pronouns at all.

Self-discovery is a process. Everyone is different, and we’re all constantly growing and changing. Being open to these changes and any direct feedback is the only way to effectively maintain the safe spaces you create.

Words have always been an incredible source of power and as we all know by now, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Words matter. Even simple ones can have a profound impact on the people around us, for better or for worse.

I hope that you choose words that uplift and affirm the people around you. Words that create safe spaces where you can connect deeply and respectfully with others. Words that transform this reality into one where everyone can feel accepted and included. The power is yours. Choose well.