A Discussion on “Mandatory Pronouns” vs. “Preferred Pronouns”
Today, I would like to discuss a trend within some of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities that I have noticed lately - and that is the growing dislike of the phrase “preferred pronouns” and the shaming of folks who say things like, “I prefer x/y/z pronouns.”
To some, this phrase “preferred pronouns” somehow gives the impression that folks can decide what pronouns they want to refer to you with or choose how to gender you at any given time, or not be held accountable when they mess up your pronouns. While I understand that the phrase may give that impression and folks can take advantage of that, the term is quite valuable to some in the gender non-conforming communities - especially those with multiple pronouns and/or identities and gender sensitive situations. To me, it is a valid phrase that should be respected among communities who want to use it to describe their personal pronoun use.
As a non-binary person, I have pronouns that I would prefer to be used for me depending on social situations. I have this preference for my own safety and well-being, and I discuss it at length with folks that I feel comfortable with - like friends, family, and some acquaintances.
For example, I used to identify with he/him/his AND they/them/their pronouns interchangeably. My friends and family were aware of this. They would refer to me as he/him in situations when we were in good company, but in workplace environments or other public situations where I was not completely out as genderqueer, they would try to use gender neutral pronouns - which is what I preferred to avoid awkward or even harmful social situations.
Sidenote: I now only use they/them/their pronouns for myself, but the sentiment is still there. I know a lot of other folks have had similar experiences with this and would like the same respect.
Some people ONLY use binary pronouns: he/him/his or she/her/hers. Some simply use they/them/their or other gender neutral pronouns like ze/zim/zer. Others use a variety of pronouns depending on their situation, gender identity, and gender expression, and this can vary from day to day for some folks.
Bottom line: Pronouns ARE mandatory, but they are not universally used the same ways in the same situations for all people. Pronouns are valid and should be respected and acknowledged according to each person. Trans and gender non-conforming communities are full of diversity, so why can’t we accept that pronouns are mandatory AND/or may be preferred for some?
Personally, I identify with both phrases collectively. My pronouns are mandatory to me. My pronouns pertain to me and are not to be modified or disregarded by anyone but me. But I do have preferences regarding my pronouns in various situations, as I have said. Quite frankly, there are so many factors that would determine what situation(s) would be appropriate to use what pronouns - and not just for me, but for everyone. This is why it is so important to not only inquire about people’s pronouns and their preferences, but also check-in regarding their pronoun status. Communicate when you can. Do research. Ask questions if need be. But respect people’s pronouns.
This is a really basic attempt at discussing this topic and the issues surrounding it. Basically, I wrote this to raise awareness of this issue and just keep the discussion going.
Please feel free to do so.