Knowing when and how to use the right pronouns can be a little intimidating, so we've put together a guide on proper pronoun use!
Words by Katia Schwartz & Mia Maraschino, Edited by Eva Devore
Content Warning: This article includes topics such as sexuality, gender dysphoria and transphobia, and mentions genitalia.
Disclaimer: This article was written by a cisgender person with advice and assistance from trans and non-binary individuals. It is a basic introduction to pronouns for people who may not have encountered them before. We at Sky Sirens acknowledge that everyone's experiences and preferences are different and care has been taken to be as respectful as possible.
We all have different ways of expressing our identities, and sometimes we can be quick to assume someone’s gender based on how we perceive them. Although this is a natural instinct for most people, it's important to avoid assumptions in the studio environment so we can build respectful relationships with each other. Pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them etc.) are often an important part of someone’s identity as it helps them to feel validated and comfortable. You may have noticed that during the first lesson of each class across every term, our instructors allow everyone to sit in a circle and introduce themselves, including their name, pronouns and something else relevant to the genre - for example, why do they love Lyra/Pole/Burlesque? By asking for people’s pronouns, it normalises the idea of not ‘assuming’ someone’s gender and allows people to tell us how they would like to be referred, rather than the other way around. A few students have expressed confusion about the use of pronouns, so we’ve decided to give everyone a “Babydoll Beginners” 101 on Pronouns to help answer these questions and clear up the confusion. But first - in order to understand the importance of pronouns and why we ask them, we need to start with explaining the basics of Sex, Gender and Sexuality.
Sex refers to a person’s biological makeup - ie. characteristics such as genitalia and genetic differences between “males” and “females”. Just as people’s anatomy can differ greatly aesthetically and physically from vulva to vulva, or penis to penis - it’s not surprising that some people can have genitalia and genetic attributes of both “female” and “male”. These people are known as “Intersex”, and can identify with either male or female, both or neither! Sometimes, a person’s genetically assigned sex does not line up with their gender identity.
Gender is a social and cultural construct that can describe a person’s role within society, an individual’s concept of themselves and how others view them. We are usually assigned a gender at birth based on our genetalia and other genetic attributes. Our assigned gender is then used to shape us and our role within society, which also contributes to stereotypes, privileges and disadvantages based on these roles. With this in mind, it’s understandable that someone’s sex may not match up with their assigned gender role. For example, a person who was assigned to be a boy at birth, may grow up and not identify with the gender identity of being a man. This person may find that their identity aligns more with being a woman, which means they would be considered transgender (or more specifically a trans woman). Because gender is a concept that has been socially and culturally created, it’s also understandable that not all people fit into the box of identifying with society’s idea of being either a man or a woman. This is why it’s important to recognise gender as being on a ‘spectrum’ - and that not every person is the same. People who don’t identify with being either of the ‘binary’ genders (ie. a man or a woman) are ‘non-binary’ (or ‘gender-queer’) and may go by ‘they/them/their’ pronouns. There are also a number of less common pronouns that some non-binary people use, like ey/em/eirs or ze/zir/zirs. It’s also important to note, that some non-binary people identify as transgender, and others don’t. Depending on where they sit on the spectrum, some people who feel they are somewhere between non-binary and a woman - don’t mind she/her or they/them pronouns. Everyone is different, and the best way to know their pronouns is to ask them!
Sexuality refers to a person’s sexual orientation or preference. It is often a huge part of who we are, how we respond to others and how they respond to us. Our gender role shapes how we view ourselves and others, which does affect our sexuality. Sexuality is often a fluid concept, and does have the ability to change (or stay the same!) throughout a person’s life. There are a huge number of names to describe different sexual orientations, so here are a few to get you started:
A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex. Also known as straight.
Women who have the capacity to be attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to some other women.
1) Individuals who are primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex and/or gender. More commonly used when referring to men who are attracted to other men, but can be applied to women as well.
2) An umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.
1) A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women.
2) A person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to people of their gender and another gender . This attraction does not have to be equally split or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders or sexes an individual may be attracted to. Can simply be shortened to “bi.” Many people that recognise the limitations of a binary understanding of gender may still use the word bisexual as their sexual orientation label, this is often because many people are familiar with the term bisexual (while less are familiar to the term pansexual).
Used as an umbrella term to describe individuals who don’t identify as straight. Also used to describe people who have a non-normative gender identity, or as a political affiliation. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, it is not embraced or used by all members of the LGBTQIA+ community. If a person tells you they are not comfortable with you referring to them as queer, don’t. Always respect individual’s preferences when it comes to identity labels, particularly contentious ones (or ones with troubled histories) like this. Use the word queer only if you are comfortable explaining to others what it means, because some people feel uncomfortable with the word, it is best to know/feel comfortable explaining why you choose to use it if someone inquires.
Experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in sexual relationships/behavior. Asexuality exists on a continuum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex, to those who experience low levels, or sexual attraction only under specific conditions, and many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (eg. demisexual). Sometimes abbreviated to “ace.” Asexuality is different from celibacy in that it is a sexual orientation whereas celibacy is an abstaining from a certain action.
Why do we ask for everyone’s pronouns during week one at Sky Sirens?
Sky Sirens is a safe space for all people and it’s important not to assume someone’s gender based on how we perceive them. By asking people’s pronouns, it normalises the idea of not ‘assuming’ someone’s gender and allows people to tell us how they would like to be referred, rather than the other way around. It’s also helpful to know someone’s pronouns from the start, rather than getting into the habit of using the wrong pronouns.
Why is it disrespectful to misgender someone?
Pronouns often form a large part of a person’s identity and can remind them about how others view them. We live in a gendered society, where every time you walk into a cafe, theatre, retail store (or basically most public spaces) you are greeted with “Hi Ladies/Gentleman”, or “Can I help you Madame/Sir?”. In this enviroment, it’s extremely common for trans/non-binary/gender queer people to be misgendered (often unintentionally) on a daily basis. The average cis person (someone who is not trans/nonbinary/gender queer), has the priviledge of not being constantly described or addressed as the gender they don’t identify with. Because of this priviledge, it makes it very hard to explain to a cis person why misgendering can be harmful - as often reversing it (ie. asking a cis woman how they would feel if they were constantly referred to as ‘he/him’ or a ‘man’) doesn’t have the same effect as they don’t experience this on a daily basis. If you have been made aware of someone’s pronouns and you choose not to use them - it is a huge sign of disrespect. Being misgendered makes trans/non-binary/gender queer people feel invalidated, hurt and often disphoric.
What happens if I accidentally misgender someone?
If you do accidentally misgender someone, simply apologise, correct yourself and move on (don’t make a fuss!). If you have been misgendering someone unintentionally, (if you didn’t know their pronouns, and just assumed) apologise for not asking and let them know that you will use the correct pronouns in the future. Most languages, including English are quite gendered and using he/him or she/her pronouns are often our ‘go-to’ as they are ingrained in our speech patterns. Retraining your vocabulary and speech patterns is definitely a difficult process, but it will get a lot easier the more you try! And compared to the opression and misgendering that trans/non-binary/gender queer people face - it’s really nothing at all.
How can I be a respectful ally to the trans/non-binary community?
An ally is a (typically cisgender) person who supports and respects members of the trans/non-binary community. Here are some ways that you can be a positive ally: 1) When someone questions why we ask pronouns in class, avoid asking the non-binary or trans person in the room to explain anything. A good ally will show support by being informed enough to answer questions so the marginalised community doesn’t have to. 2) If you hear someone being misgendered (behind their back), always correct the person who is using the incorrect pronouns. Be careful when correcting pronouns in front of the person who is being misgendered. Some trans/non-binary people like it - others don’t. A good way of figuring it out, is to say nothing and ask them afterwards what they prefer. However, if someone is purposefully using the wrong pronouns out of spite or disrespect, don't hesitate to speak up and let them know it won't be tolerated. 3) If you hear others using transphobic slurs, or being ignorant about pronouns and trans/non-binary people - without putting your personal safety at risk, definitely speak up and educate them. Passing on knowledge and educating others is the best way for society to move forward.
Sexual Orientation Definitions: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/
What is a Non-Binary Gender? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruST0GPi68s