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Sherbet Youth Agency

To Be Visible and Powerful

by: Tiisetso Nhlapo

Coming out as non-binary glued up how I feel about who I am. It has allowed me the freedom to be my most authentic self, giving me the power to be visible in my true light and form. To be visible, not as a woman nor a man but as a non-binary shapeshifter! I have found a home in the pronouns They/Them. There are several other pronouns people go by besides the ones society made us believe in – he/she. For many, it might come across as unusual, but for me, it’s an identity that best describes my individuality.

“To be visible, not as a woman
nor a man but as a non-binary
shapeshifter!”

The stigma around choosing your preferred pronouns is one that I am all too familiar with. It can be hard for someone who does not know why we choose our pronouns to understand or accept our decision. Let me start by saying that pronouns aren’t reserved for the LGBTQ community, they are for society. People feel respected and seen when the pronouns they prefer are in use when talking to them. Names say a lot about who we are, the same power that lies in our names lies in our preferred pronouns. It is who we are called besides the use of our name.

I get a sense of demoralization when people assume I am a boy and call me “bro” based on the way I look and dress. It boxes me in and gives people the assumption that I should conform to gender norms. Please, I am more than that. What happens when you see me in a mini-skirt and a full-on face beat the following day? Whenever people ask for my pronouns I am validated and seen.

“Whenever people ask for my pronouns, I am validated and seen” 

More people now, more than ever before, know someone who is transgender or who uses pronouns outside the gender binary terms we are used to. The use of gender-neutral pronouns has increased over the years. We are your coworkers, friends, and family members. We are your hairstylist, designers, and probably your bus driver. We exist and by the look of things, we are here to stay so get informed and do not invalidate us.

We exist and by the look of things, we are here to stay so get informed”

Social media apps like Instagram and LinkedIn gave us an option to put our preferred pronouns in our bio. This improved communication online for people that use gender non-conforming pronouns. Pronouns are an important part of our identity. This option has helped in the simple task of calling people what they want to be called.

Here are a few gender-neutral tips that might help you! 

  1. How to get someone’s pronouns?  

Ask and avoid assuming. To be on the safe side, use neutral pronouns like they/them until you are sure. A great way to also go about it is to introduce yourself with your pronouns first. It helps the other person feel more comfortable. Try not to ask for a person’s pronouns in a group of people; this helps to curb an unsafe situation. Some people are still grappling with their gender identity and might feel uncomfortable.

2. What to do if you mis-pronoun someone who prefers gender-neutral pronouns

Mistakes happen! Especially with what we are not familiar or knowledgeable with. People tend to use the right pronoun the first few times because it is still fresh to remember. When this happens apologize, correct yourself, and carry on with the conversation. Do not profusely apologize or dwell on your mistake. It will make things a bit awkward and make the other person feel uncomfortable. When you hear someone else use the wrong pronoun for someone else do not jump in and correct them. Rather affirm the right pronouns in your speech and correct the person in private.

3. How do I get the hang of it?

Practising and educating yourself. Learning from your mistakes, and a willingness to understand. It shows great allyship to your friend, coworker, family member, or whoever you bump into that uses gender-neutral pronouns. Use it as an ice-breaker when meeting a group of new people. Introduce yourself with your pronouns first and ask everyone else to do the same.

This type of consideration may make a huge difference in someone’s existence and have a long-standing positive impact! Everyone wants to be visible as who they truly are, give people that POWER TO BE!

-Tiisetso Nhlapo

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