It's past time to cancel the gender binary, y'all. According to a 2020 survey conducted by The Trevor Project, they/them pronouns are on the rise, which makes education on the use of non-binary gender pronouns more essential than ever. In fact, 25% of those surveyed (which included approximately 40,000 LGBTQ people between the ages of 13 and 24) said they use pronouns other than exclusively he/him or she/hers. For those who use pronouns that fall outside of the gender binary, 16% use combination of he, she, and/or they, while 5% use they/them exclusively. Another 4% of respondents use "neopronouns," including ze/zir, xe/xim and fae/faer, or combinations of the terms with other pronouns.
An individual's pronoun expression is a reflection of their identity, which is something cisgender people may take for granted. Respecting the preferred pronouns of LGBTQ youths isn't just a courtesy — according to The Trevor Project, it can be a matter of life or death, especially for those who are transgender and non-binary (TGNB). The Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that TGNB youth whose preferred pronouns were "respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected."
The Merriam-Webster dictionary may have updated the definition of "they" in 2018 — recognizing it as a singular pronoun for non-binary people — but that doesn't mean the preferred pronouns of gender nonconforming individuals are always respected. The first step in creating a supportive environment is to confirm a person's pronouns rather than making assumptions. According to The Trevor Project Guide to Becoming an Ally to Transgender and Non-binary Youth, an effective way to do this by introducing yourself with your preferred pronouns and giving others an opportunity to share theirs in return.
As The Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey revealed, only one in five TGNB youths has their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their life. Needless to say, that's not enough. Something as simple as asking for a person's preferred pronouns can make a big difference, because gender is nuanced, and everyone deserves to have their gender identity recognized.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.