Lien: Neopronouns Are a Useful Tool For Communication


By Kayla Lien, Opinion Writer


The way we use gendered language has rapidly evolved over the past few years. Suddenly, the strict gender binary of “his” and “hers” isn’t the only possibility. The rise of “neopronouns,” or English third-person pronouns beyond traditional terms, has sparked countless discussions, both for and against. Neopronouns are important signifiers to reflect the genders of those outside the conventional binary and offer greater accessibility for identity.

Neopronouns provide alternatives to the typical “he,” “she” and “them.” The use of the singular “they” still bothers many people, so it can seem overwhelming to add on identities like “xe/xem,” “ze/zir” and “fae/faer.” For many, it almost feels out of control or rampant. But to put this into context, only about 4% of queer youth use neopronouns, according to a survey from The Trevor Project.

It’s important to recognize that neopronouns aren’t a new phenomenon created by younger generations to mess with people. English speakers have attempted to introduce gender neutral pronouns since the 1300s, with more than 200 words gaining and losing traction. The singular pronoun “thon,” introduced in 1858, was even added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1934, though it was obsolete by 1961.

Many different cultures, specifically non-white cultures, have utilized inclusive pronouns for thousands of years. Many of these words — and other aspects of identity — have been lost to time and colonization. The view that there are only two genders actually comes from the 18th-century Enlightenment period, which saw an emphasis on an individual’s genitals rather than identity. This theory has remained prevalent ever since.

Neopronouns are often used by people who feel that “they/them” doesn’t fit, either due to personal comfort or the plurality issue. Others embrace them to force people to acknowledge their trans identity. For neurodivergent people, neopronouns are especially popular. Because of the way autistic brains are wired, some people experience and present gender differently from those who aren’t autistic. Transness and autism have large overlaps, according to a 2020 study.

Those who use neopronouns cite feeling outside the binary of male or female, while still having a gender. This likely sounds confusing for those who haven’t deeply considered their gender, but the use of “they/them” can feel de-gendering rather than gender-affirming.

Criticisms of neopronouns cite that they are unmanageable and hard to keep track of. Even within the queer, specifically trans community, neopronouns are viewed disparagingly. Some are offended by the use of neopronouns, likening them to a joke at the expense of trans people. For others, it seems like a privilege to worry about someone using the correct pronouns or to be concerned over gender validation.

This prevailing criticism is cruel. It attacks the younger nature of neopronoun users, citing the usage as a phase born out of a youthful need for attention. It’s almost ironic, but regardless, there is no permanent state of self because identity is fluid.

Others are upset over the “made up” nature of neopronouns, as if every language isn’t made up. The English language cannot be preserved — it’s constantly changing and adapting.

When I was first introduced to neopronouns, I’ll admit I didn’t get it. My family was discussing it, and as the token queer, suddenly I had to have an opinion. It didn’t make sense to me. So many of us can barely get people to use “they/them” pronouns, so why make it harder to get taken seriously as a community?

However, my own relationship with gender is complicated. I’ve never felt close ties to womanhood, nor comfortable with the personal use of “they/them.” My gender is less about how I view myself and more about how others view me. It would be hypocritical to scorn how others present their identities when mine also doesn’t make sense.

People need to be kinder to things and people they don’t fully understand. No one’s lived experiences are identical, so it’s asinine to assume that one person knows better and more than another.

Even if you don’t understand it, use people’s correct pronouns. If you don’t know how to refer to someone, ask for examples. It’s better to ask questions than get something wrong, especially because it could hurt someone, even unintentionally. Using neopronouns doesn’t physically harm anyone, so there’s no excuse not to use them just because it doesn’t make sense to you.

This isn’t about coddling queer people. It’s about basic human decency.


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