How to adjust to using your friend's preferred pronouns
This essay reflects the thoughts and opinions of the author.
"It's not that you've changed who you are, it's that you finally understood how to express who you are." -A.H.
From a young age, we're conditioned to assume a person's pronouns based on their appearance. This can make adjusting to a friend's preferred pronouns somewhat difficult. But respecting the pronouns of others is a mandatory adjudgment. If your BFF came out to you and asked that you call them by new pronouns, we *know* you're going to show your love and support for them, no matter what.
That being said, it can be somewhat difficult to adjust to a person's preferred pronouns. If a person looks cisgender, your mind may instantly assume pronouns they do not identify with—after all, gender doesn't have to fit into any box. It can also be tricky to remember a friend's preferred pronouns if you have referred to them differently for a long period of time. Whether it's your childhood BFF or that locker buddy you've known since freshman year, it's tough to break the mental association you've made for that person...but you have to. To help you be the very best friend you can be, we've rounded up some tips and tricks for remembering your bestie's preferred pronouns, as well as some resources and advice for trans allyship.
Breaking down the idea of "new pronouns"
Gender pronouns are a way for a person to correctly express who they are to those around them. A person expressing their desired pronouns knows who they are and who they have been their entire life. It doesn't mean that they have "new" pronouns—rather, they are finally expressing their *true* pronouns. They haven't changed who they are; instead, they are simply expressing themselves to others in a way that feels most comfortable and correct.
A personal POV
From a cisgender perspective, I believe pronouns are a significant piece of how transgender people express who they are to those around them. However, it's equally important to understand that their correct pronouns weren't handed out to them at birth. In fact, identity is not handed out to anyone—you have to live life to find your own personhood and place in the world.
I find that understanding the value of preferred pronouns allows me to be more conscious and better prepared to correctly gender a person when in conversation. I have to thank many of my transgender friends who have educated me, and I consider myself proof that, with effort, you can be a true friend and committed ally to the transgender people in your life.
For an explanation of pronouns from a transgender POV, you can check out this video from Seventeen that interviewed trans students on several topics from their preferred pronouns to the importance of having others acknowledge and respect their identities.
Tips for allyship
Pronoun correct. Pronoun correcting is when you intentionally correct someone's pronouns mid-conversation. If you slip up, you might feel the need to profusely apologize. And while you should apologize for misgendering someone, whether it was intentional or not, try not to make your slip-up a spectacle. Simply acknowledge the mistake, apologize and carry on without drawing attention to the situation. You'll get better with practice, trust.
Put pronouns next to their contact name. A simple hack that helps you memorize a person's preferred pronouns is tacking them onto their contact name in your phone. You'll repeatedly see that person's name associated with their correct pronouns, which should help your brain memorize them.
Spend more time with them! We know you've heard it before, but practice really *does* make perfect. Scheduling one-on-one time with your trans friends is a great opportunity to use their preferred pronouns in conversation. Even if you're struggling to adjust, do your best to make time just for them. Setting time aside for just you two and using their preferred pronouns intentionally will show you care and allow your bestie to exist just as they are.
Use their pronouns even when they're not present. No brainer, but we just thought we'd clarify. You should pronoun correct both when talking to or about them. With time, their pronouns will come to you as naturally in conversation as your own.
Be mindful and educate yourself. When making this adjustment, it's essential to educate yourself on more of the in-depth concepts behind gender pronouns, gender stereotypes and the gender spectrum. It's also important to ask your friend if they are comfortable talking to you about how they identify. This explanation may help you make the mental association to refer to your friend by their correct pronouns.
Check out more of our LGBTQA+ posts!
🌈 Why you should share your pronouns
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