1 in 4 LGBTQ youths prefer pronouns outside of the gender binary

By Amber Koteras, Staff Reporter

One in four, LGBTQ youths identify with pronouns outside of just she/her or he/him, according to the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

Personal pronouns are a topic that the world is becoming increasingly familiar with, and gender-neutral pronouns have become especially prevalent. 

When asked what identifying as non-binary meant to them, Dylan Jihan, an individual who identifies as non-binary, said, “Personally what it means to me is just feeling totally comfortable in who I am without needing to fit into a box of male or female because I personally feel like I’m a little bit of both and a whole lot of neither.”

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Neal described identifying as non-binary as not fitting in as just a man or just a woman on any given day and said somedays they might feel like one or the other, or neither.

Assuming one’s pronouns is quite the commonality in society. “As we’re growing up, we use pronouns, and we’re told that we can look at somebody and gauge their pronouns,” O.J. Duncan, vice chair on the board of directors at Rainbow Cafe, said. 

“We see people as on a binary between man and woman, so there is masculine on one end and feminine on the other end. Non-binary people don’t necessarily see that as the only two options, and they don’t necessarily see themselves as somewhere in the middle,” Duncan said.

Despite this practice being a norm in society, Duncan said this assumption can be harmful.

Duncan said by wrongly labeling someone whose gender identity doesn’t match their gender expression one can induce gender dysphoria — the distress felt when biological sex doesn’t match gender identity. 

Gender identity and expression, though sounding similar, have two entirely different definitions. Gender identity represents one’s sense of where they lie on the gender spectrum while gender expression is the way someone publicly expresses themselves in terms of gender. 

Duncan suggests leading with your own pronouns when introducing yourself to someone, giving the example, “Hi, my name is O.J., my pronouns are he, him, and his. What are yours?” 

The goal is to keep comfort and inclusivity in mind by making sure nobody feels singled out, Duncan said.

“The best way to ask for people’s pronouns is to just ask,” Tori Neal, a volunteer for Rainbow Cafe who identifies as non-binary, said, “It may seem like a scary thing […] but it is not an intrusive question.”

With a growing base of pronouns in use, there are likely to be cases of misgendering, or using the wrong pronouns. Duncan said to be sensitive in this situation and ensure that no one feels called out or put on the spot in an uncomfortable manner. 

“Generally if I use the wrong pronouns when I am speaking about somebody, I just really quickly apologize and correct myself,”  Duncan said. 

He said by dwelling on the mistake, the hurt is taken away from the individual who was misgendered, and it becomes about the person who made the original mistake. 

Neal expanded on this and said, though it might be embarrassing, it isn’t about you in this situation and it is best to quickly move on and use the correct pronouns. 

The same method applies to correcting someone else using the wrong pronouns. A quick correction that doesn’t emphasize the mistake is a simple and effective way to approach the situation. 

Jihan noted that the best way to learn was to always be willing, and to keep an open mind to new information. 

“Heteronormativity is telling us that it’s really important that we know if someone is a man or a woman so that we know who they can mate with, and so we have a lot of things in society built around that but we shouldn’t have our society built around who we want to mate with,” Duncan said.

Staff reporter Amber Koteras can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @AmberKoteras

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