In English, the terms “gender” and “sex” share close linguistic ties. Consequently, the use of pronouns using nouns as the prefix- also called “noun-self” or neopronouns- has raised discourse over whether it is truly valid as a form of identity, and whether people should use pronouns in accordance with their sex. Grammatically, these pronouns fit into the English language in a concise and proper manner and should be respected as such. Likewise, the users of these pronouns deserve to be respected for their identity and choice to come out.
What is a Neopronoun?
Typically described as “noun-self” pronouns, neopronouns exist when the prefix of a typical pronoun, such as he/his/himself or her/hers/herself is replaced with a noun, such as budself/bud/buds or catself/cat/cats. The prefix “neo” has been defined as: “Prefix meaning new. From the Greek "neos", new, young, fresh, recent”. When the term “pronoun” is used with the prefix “neo,” it refers to any pronoun made within the last century. Lexicographers have traced the use of the genderless pronoun they/them/theirs back to the 1300s. The seriousness of these pronouns in legitimate discussion, and whether people truly feel as if they identify as a “bud”, has been highly debated. In standard practice, these pronouns are used by nonbinary people to describe how they feel about their gender identity, or what they feel comfortable with.
So, how do I use these?
It’s pretty simple to incorporate these new pronouns into regular discourse. Neopronouns are used in place of the typical pronouns of your gender assigned at birth: AMAB (assigned male at birth), AFAB (assigned female at birth), and intersex (upon which gender is determined on a case-by-case basis). For example, using he/him/himself pronouns juxtaposed to bud/buds/budself pronouns:
He was going to walk his dog today, all by himself.
Bud was going to walk bud’s dog today, all by budself.
Some people may prefer multiple personal pronouns, such as they/them and he/him. The use of these is up to the person in question, but people who identify with several sets of pronouns often prefer for the person referring to them to alternate pronouns. Here’s an example using they/them/themself and he/him/himself pronouns:
He was going to walk their dog, all by themself.
Naturally, this poses the question of why people feel the need to identify this way; it can be viewed as overcomplicating communication by adding unnecessary terms of English linguistics. This is because of the gender binary and people identifying outside of this binary, or nonbinary.
What is the gender binary?
The gender binary refers to the two, opposing genders that typically correlate with one’s sex. However, the concept of gender is entirely man-made, because it functions as a societal and linguistic aspect of humanity and is studied through sociology. Sex is predetermined, unchangeable, and a part of human anatomy and DNA and RNA strands. The dictionary definition of “sex” is, “An individual’s biological status as either male or female (or hermaphrodite). For example, chromosomes (female XX, male XY), reproductive organs (ovaries, testes), hormones (oestrogen, testosterone).” There are other organisms that have the same sexes as humans which are separated by brain function, internal anatomical structure, reproductive organs, and more. However, the term “gender” is defined as, “a person’s sense of, and expression of, their maleness or femaleness. Gender is often determined by the cultural differences expected by society of men and women according to their sex”. Gender is bound by the stereotypes imposed for men and women, their roles in society, and their significance in culture. Unlike sex, which applies to both humans and other organisms, gender roles are instituted solely by humans. The difference between sex and gender is that one is man-made, no matter how integral it may seem to our society.
What does it mean to be nonbinary?
Being nonbinary is defined as, “Noting or relating to a gender identity that does not fit into the binary male/female division”. Gender can be described as a spectrum, with male and female on opposing ends and androgynous in between. Most people feel strongly toward one side, usually correlating with that of their sex. However, nonbinary people do not identify with either distinct side or within the gender binary. There’s cultural and societally formed labels for some of these distinctive gender identities, such as: Two-Spirit, Agender, Genderqueer, etc. Essentially, any labels, pronouns, or identities that do not lie within the parameters of the gender binary (male and female) are nonbinary. Neopronoun users typically fall under the umbrella category and/or singular identity of being nonbinary.
What if I don’t feel comfortable using someone’s neopronouns?
Often, the connotations associated with a pronoun do not align with those of which are familiar to the user; in these situations, during which the user is faced with change and unfamiliar circumstances, it is normal for them to feel uncomfortable. The best option is for the user to to use their (the recipient’s) preferred pronouns in conversation, or for the user to communicate their opinion respectfully, kindly, and in a manner which would construct a productive conversation that could lead to compromise. Misgendering someone purposefully, referring to them with their former pronouns or deadname, or using language to invalidate or nullify their feelings about their gender is always the wrong solution. “They/them” pronouns, which are standardly used when the person being referred to has an unspecified gender, could be a middle ground for both parties. In addition, it is important to remember that coming out, especially considering the frequency for invalidation of neopronouns, is a very hard decision for someone to make. As a friend or acquaintance of someone utilizing neopronouns, you should remind yourself of their strength in dealing with denial and possible ruined relationships that stemmed from their coming out, and treat them with kindness regardless of your predetermined biases.
Since neopronouns are a newly developed aspect of the linguistics, syntax, and semantics of the English language, confusion is normal. Supporting the neopronoun users around you is integral for healthy relationships with said person. According to the Trevor project, “Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected”. In a Forbes magazine article about the study, additional information was revealed: “Of the young people who identified as trans or nonbinary, more than half said they strongly considered ending their lives”. Dr. Amy Green, director of research at the Trevor project, also stated, “‘We have found, now year over year, that greater levels of support and acceptance is associated with dramatically lower rates of attempting suicide’”. The statistics make it overwhelmingly clear that respecting someone’s identity goes a long way, and could even potentially save lives. When given the choice to live in denial of someone’s identity because of personal misunderstanding or ignorance, or to respect people for who they truly are, choose to be educated, respectful, and accepting of those around you.
Samantha Castro is a freshman in high school and Liberal who focuses on political discourse in society and human rights-related issues. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, the study of the English language, political debates, and rock music.