Afro Sexual Politics,Afro Sexual Wisdom

Put Some Respec’ on It: Navigating the World of Pronouns

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On Jul 4, 2022


The world is a lovely and colourful place with such diversity like gender and gender expression. Understanding how pronouns work is an important part of moving through this big wide world. 

First up sex vs gender.

While people may use the terms sex and gender like they are the same thing they actually mean different things.

Sex: Refers to a person’s biological status and is typically assigned at birth, usually on the basis of external anatomy. Sex is typically categorised as male, female or intersex. A person usually has their sex assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, including their genitalia and chromosome composition.

This is different from gender.

Gender: A social construct which reflects the social and cultural role of sex within a given community i.e. women must dress feminine, men must be strong and handle the household. Gender is often defined as a social construct of norms, behaviors and roles that varies between societies and over time. Gender is often categorised as male, female or non-binary.

Gender identity: A person’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is often not outwardly visible to others. People often develop their gender identity and gender expression in response to their environment (i.e. some countries will have different ideas of what it means to be a ‘man’ and thus you develop your gender identity around that, or if you are queer it depends on how masculinity is constructed within your queer circle/ community). 

While gender is usually split into a binary (man and woman) within most dominant cultures, especially in Western culture, the real fact is that gender likes to spread itself out and actually sits on a broad spectrum. Folx may identify at any point on this spectrum or outside of it entirely. Gender is not neatly divided along the binary lines of “man” and “woman”, it’s a whole delicious range of things. It’s a buffet not an à la carte menu.

Folx may vibe with genders that are different from their assigned sex, some people do not identify with any gender (cause why the f**k should they?) while others identify with multiple genders ( e.g. folx who are bigender and fluctuate between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behaviour and identities). These identities may include transgender, nonbinary, or gender-neutral.

Also remember only the person themself can determine what their gender identity is, and this can change over time. You can’t tell folx about their own lives. 

How do you go about getting pronouns right? Glad you asked, here are a few tips:

1. When you mess up someone’s pronouns, correct yourself briefly, apologise and move on. Don’t make it a whole uncomfortable drama.

2. Thank someone when they correct you about their pronouns. No need to get tense or clap back. What they did was brave and you should respect that ‘cause correcting people isn’t always easy. 

3. Also when they correct you about someone else’s pronouns thank them for putting you on (i.e. letting you know what’s up) and move on. 

4. Get into the groove of correcting people when they use the wrong pronouns for you or someone else. It’s hard but try to do it every time. Normalise correcting and allowing yourself to be corrected.

5. For every time you get someone’s pronouns wrong practice it a couple of times focusing on actively using their pronouns.You can even do it in your head or during the conversation i.e. using person’s correct pronouns instead of their name if you are talking about them.

6. Practice asking for people’s pronouns when you first meet them and never assume. Also normalise not assuming people’s pronouns. 

7. Never make anyone feel like they are doing too much for wanting their pronouns respected. Don’t dismiss someone’s request to use certain pronouns no matter your views on them. 

8. Don’t make anyone carry the emotional labour of you using the wrong pronouns, folx shouldn’t have to shoulder your guilt (ergo make the correction and keep it pushing).

Now that you know better about pronouns, do better, respecting folx’s pronouns can literally save a life. 



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