What Are Gender Pronouns and What Are They Are Doing for the LGBTQIA+ Community
Shakespeare would sometimes use different second person pronouns in his plays, often switching from one to the other in the same conversation. In the 17th century ‘you’ was for formal usage and ‘thou’ was the casual pronoun. A man of Shakespeare’s time could say to his wife “thou art lovely this day” but to his superior would say “do you have need of anything, sir?” Today, thou would find thyself scratching thine head in confusion if this were still the way thee should address thine populace. However, in the twenty-first century we are being called to evolve the way we address people using third person pronouns: he, she, they, and them. And although it can seem confusing, it’s necessary for the health and well-being of our LGBTQIA+ community.
Sex refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones, whereas gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. Basically, gender doesn’t have to match the sex a person was born with. Gender is the identity a person feels the most comfortable with. Google lists 64 different types of genders, or 64 different reasons someone may be asking you to address them with a different gender pronoun than the one you might have assumed.
Misidentifying someone can be harmful. “Gender dysphoria is listed in the DSM 5 and refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity,” said Dr. Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist, executive director of the Whole Health Psychological Center, and co-Director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. “There is research showing that using the correct pronouns and names reduces depression and the risk of suicide in transgender youth.”
Many people have updated their social media bios, email signatures, and contact info with their pronouns, including people who identify with their gender assignment, as a way to communicate their support for social change and inclusion. “We use pronouns every day and might not even realize it but when we use someone’s correct gender pronouns it shows acceptance and that we respect an individual’s identity,” adds Dr. Rachel Needle. Referring to someone by their name, avoiding pronouns altogether, researching social and professional profiles, and simply asking the individual are other approaches to correctly addressing ones pronouns.
Despite the century you were born in, or what we once believed to be true, we have an obligation to do better once we know better. You will meet someone who identifies with one of the 64 genders you are not familiar with. It doesn’t matter which gender they chose, and it doesn’t matter why they chose it. That is their personal story. Your story will be the compassion and kindness you use in addressing them with the gender pronoun they feel comfortable with.
Once upon a time, Old Farmer Jones bought a dog to help him on the farm. He named the dog, Dog, and began training immediately. But, no matter how hard he tried he could not get Dog to come when he called. He was angry and thought Dog must be very stupid. Then one day, his wife was feeding the barn cats and called “Hey cat”. Dog came running to her. The farmer was surprised. He told his wife he was never going to call that stupid Dog, Cat. He screamed at Dog, threatened Dog and frightened Dog. Dog was sad and walked around with his head down and tail between his legs. Farmer Jones liked Dog, and didn’t want to give up on Dog so he finally gave in and named him Cat. Farmer Jones is happy now. He enjoys the big brown eyes, perked ears and wagging tail of his happy Cat. And Cat is the best farm dog he ever had.
** Compass has been a leading, comprehensive resource missioned to engage, empower and enrich the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, and those impacted by HIV and AIDS, in our local community since 1988. Visit https://compassglcc.com to learn more.
Dr. Rachel Needle is a Licensed Psychologist and Executive Director of the Whole Health Psychological Center, and Co-Director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, a continuing education and Ph.D. provider company that trains couples and sex therapists around the world. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or visit her on the web at www.modernsextherapyinstitutes.com or www.drrachel.com
Julie Khanna is the owner of Khanna Connections- a marketing, communications and relations firm with a niche in the medical, health and wellness industries. Connect today at Connect@khannaconnections.com