Let’s Learn About Gender Neutral Pronouns

This here is just an overview to help you understand the language used by NB (non-binary) people who have less popular pronouns than ‘he’ and ‘she’.

These non-he-and-she pronouns are commonly known as gender neutral pronouns, and are often used by Trans people who do not identify as a man or a woman. All of this may seem super complicated at first, but the trick of it is just listening to people and respecting them. Like I said, this is just an overview.

1) They/Them/Theirs

This is often considered the easiest set of gender neutral pronouns to learn and use since folks already use “they” for the gender of a person they don’t know, like “If someone went to a Rocky Horror shadow cast without seeing the movie first, they’d be pretty confused.” It’s good to get into a habit of using this for a person you’ve just met whose pronouns you don’t know:

“That person over there is Egan. They seem nice. I met them this morning.” 

Later, you may find that Egan uses ‘he’ pronouns, but ‘they’ is good for when you’re not sure and doesn’t assign an assumed gender to this person. But again, for many people, these are the pronouns they have actively chosen:

“That’s Ben. They go to my school and I help them with their English homework sometimes. Their favorite class is biology and I think they’ll be a doctor someday. The project that won the science fair last year was theirs.”

2) Ze/Zyr/Zyrs

This is pronounced like ZEE, ZURR, ZURRS – rhyming with she/her/hers.

“That’s my friend Jamie! Ze is a great swimmer. I bet ze brought zyr suit to go in the pool. Oh, those goggles are zyrs too. Oh dang, there ze goes on the diving board! Go, Jamie, go! …Ouch. I think ze did a bellyflop… Jamie may have to work on zyr diving skills…”

3) Xe/Hir/Hirs.

Pronounced like ZEE, HEER, HEERS – hir sounds the same as “here”.

I have trouble with this set, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do my very best to always respect the pronouns of someone who uses these and correct myself if I mess up! It is harder for them to be misgendered than for me to learn new words!

“This is Daryll. Xe works as a stand-up comedian. I see hir once a week at PT. Some of my favorite jokes are hirs. Xe is super cute, and don’t tell Jared, but I have a huge crush on hir.”

4) Some people are non-binary but use traditionally binary pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ because that is easier or it fits them better. I use he/him/his AND ze/zyr/zyrs, depending on what’s easier for people.

“Jack is coming to dinner tonight. Gosh, he is so handsome.”

“I heard ze loves pizza. What’s zyr favorite dessert?”

“I don’t know, but we should probably make it for him…”

5) Others have pronouns that are completely different from all of these and are just as valid! Some don’t even use any pronouns at all. The language is evolving and growing, and we are all figuring it out!

“Tatiana is coming to the potluck tonight. I am sure my dear friend will bring a dessert. Tatiana makes a great apple pie.”

6) Some folks genuinely don’t have a pronoun preference, which means any singular personal pronoun is fine except for “it.”

“Did you see Ryan? She’s all dressed up today!”

“What a cute outfit! They must be going on a date or something”

7) And remember, if you don’t know what pronoun to use for someone, you can always ask,“what are your pronouns?”

Be sure you can answer with yours too if they ask back. It’s polite to ask back, so they probably will. You can just say, for example,“My pronouns are she, her, and hers.” or “I use he-him-his.” or “I have they pronouns.”Don’t pretend like it’s OBVIOUS what you use. They are being polite by not assuming your gender. Also, the “haha you can call me a TOASTER” joke is overused. Yup. Okay. Pronouns are so silly. We got it. What are yours though?

The most important part is learning for yourself, trying your best, and getting good at correcting yourself when you mess up. It is YOUR responsibility to get a person’s pronouns right. It is not their job to make sure you do.

Don’t make a huge fuss and apologize excessively when you make a mistake. You will make mistakes. That’s not ideal, but that’s reality, and even trans people have trouble learning new pronouns sometimes. Just say sorry, correct yourself, and get it right the next time. You don’t need to make an excuse, and usually no one wants to hear one. Especially not the same excuse multiple times.

No one wants you to make a scene and they REALLY don’t want to comfort YOU for getting THEIR pronouns wrong. If you have trouble, practice when they’re not around.

That’s my overview! Remember, do your best, keep learning, and keep listening!

This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.