LGBT Pronouns: A guide and why they matter

The LGBTQ+ community faces many struggles, and one of the most pressing is how to refer to someone who identifies as something other than male or female. LGBT pronouns make people feel welcome so we should use them correctly.

The first thing we need to do is understand why pronouns are important. To respect someone’s gender identity, you must be use their Correct pronouns because using wrong pronouns hurts feelings, and nobody wants to do that.

We use pronouns in place of nouns when referring to people–they help fill a void created by not using someone’s name. But, when it comes down to it, you’re either respecting pronouns or misgendering people; there isn’t an in-between option here!

Pronouns exist in every language, not just English. Keep reading so you understand common pronouns and how and why they are used around the world.

How do I respect LGBT pronouns?

If you’re unsure of someone’s LGBT pronouns, ask them. Do not simply assume the pronouns are male or female based on their appearance/masculine or feminine qualities. Use people’s preferred pronoun -whether it be he, she, they (singular), ze (singular), zie (plural) or neo-pronouns is common sense if you have a mindset of acceptance and openness.

For those unsure, a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun or a noun phrase in the sentence structure of an English language form. Pronouns can be classified by person (first-person, second-person, third-person). Third-person pronouns can be those that hurt others, so make sure you understand them!

Pronouns in an LGBTQ+ exclusivity context

First-person LGBT pronouns don’t change. They are still I, me and mine. Second person pronouns in the lgbtq+ context don’t change either. They’re still you and yours.

Third-person pronouns are tricky for some people to understand. They refer to a person you are mentioning during a conversation. You should use the third-person pronoun of that person’s choice. 

We also have neo-pronouns – which sounds like a big word, but the concept is simple if you have acceptance in mind.

What are Neo-pronouns?

Neo-pronouns are LGBT pronouns that can be combined with “he” or “she”. Some such are xe, zi, and co for people who don’t identify as a gender binary. Those in the LGBTQ+ community often use this to represent their identity better.

Some less known neo pronouns are used by people who identify themselves as agender, gender-fluid or neutrois.

Neo pronouns are also used by those in the autistic, asexual and neurodivergent communities to represent their identity better. Some neo pronouns besides xe and si are xem (singular) and zeir or zer (plural).

Neo-pronouns are important because they allow individuals to be represented appropriately. When the individual does not identify with a binary gender, it is inappropriate for someone else to assign them a pronoun without their consent.

Bun and bunself is another pronoun used by a person who does not identify as male or female.

The following is a list of neo-pronouns that one can identify with :

List of LBGT pronouns in a chart
Credit: https://intercultural.uncg.edu/wp-content/uploads/Neopronouns-Explained-UNCG-Intercultural-Engagement.pdf

ze, zir, zer (singular) and zeirs or zers (plural).

xe, xem (born female), xyr; per xis preference

hie/hir-self; per hie/hir own preference

muh-self; per muh own preference.

LGBT pronouns can seem like a lot for people new to inclusive vocabulary and how we speak and respect each other, but it’s not a new concept. People have recognized a third non-gender for centuries.

Are Third-Gender Pronouns New?

No, they aren’t. All around the world, people have used alternate pronouns for centuries, although many people in English speaking countries might not be aware. 

In Mesopotamian mythology, we see the earliest reference of a third gender. For example, the goddess Ninmah was looked at as neither male nor female. 

We also have evidence of “third gender” in Zapotec culture, specifically called muxe. Muxes are biologically male but live as women and often marry other men. They have roots in Mexico and you can read more about them on this fantastic and culturally rich blog wearequeerhere.

In North America, Native American tribes have long recognized gender fluidity with a third gender category: “two-spirit.” The Lakota tribe, for example, has four genders: male, female, feminine male (“winkte”), masculine female (“okanye”). 

The North American Mohawk tribe has three genders: masculine females and feminine males (known as “huhu”) and the third gender of neutrals. Neutrals have a female spirit but may adopt male dress and roles.

Some cultures have even more than three genders: the Bugis from Indonesia recognize five (masculine female or “calabai,” feminine male or “dodola,” androgynous person or “joko jogo”).

The third gender is seen amongst the hijra of India, kathoey in Thailand, and bakla of the Philippines. In the Hijra society in India, the hijras were born considered third sex and traditionally taken on feminine social roles such as dancer or, Jinthe kurgarra (a male who takes on a feminine identity) in the Andaman Islands and the fa’afafine in Samoa. 

In Africa, many tribes use more than two genders. For example, the Khoisan Tribes have four: male, female, hermaphrodite and nurupari (“manhood”). 

Gender-neutral pronouns are not specific to English

Argentina is leading the way for gender-neutral language in Spanish. The movements in the Spanish-speaking world are similar to those of English, with an added focus on sexual orientation and nonbinary genders.

Argentina is using “p/per” for a third gender (“los per”), while Chile has adopted “mxe” (pronounced meh) as its pronoun for non-binary.

Guarani is a language used by Indigenous peoples of South America. It has no specific gender-specific pronouns; however, they have nonbinary gendered ones: Ñande (feminine) or Nde’nde (masculine). 

Xier, xieser, xiem, xien, xies, xiese, xiesem. These are gender-neutral German pronouns that can be used instead of the gendered third-person singular system of sie/er (she/he), ihr/er, die/der. They offer a neutral means to refer to non-binary gender identities or do not prefer assigned female and male pronouns.

The genderless pronoun in Brazilian Portuguese: ou (feminine for “she” or “he”)

The Quechua language of Peru has no gender-specific pronouns.

How can we politely and conclusively ask someone their pronouns?

The biggest problem arising from using correct pronouns is not knowing how to ask someone their pronouns in an inclusive manner. The easiest solution is to ask, “What pronouns do you use?” politely. 

Some people find it easier to offer their pronoun first as a way of easing the process. However, we can also say: “I don’t presume your gender identity based on how I see you or what we have talked about before. What are your pronouns of choice?

As the LGBTQ community continues to grow and evolve, it is crucial that all people feel welcome. In this blog post, we’ve talked about how pronouns can help make your writing more inclusive of everyone in our society. We hope you have learned something new today! 

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