Welcome to another installment of our “Defining” series, where we unpack various terms and identities.
Pronouns are words that are used as substitutes for other nouns (name words), like “she,” “he,” or “they.” Neopronouns are a category of new (neo) pronouns that are increasingly used in place of “she,” “he,” or “they” when referring to a person. Some examples include: xe/xem/xyr, ze/hir/hirs, ey/em/eir, and fae/faer/faers.
Neopronouns can be used by anyone, though most often they are used by transgender, non-binary, and/or gender nonconforming people. Like all pronouns, neopronouns are personal to each individual who uses them, but they all share one thing in common: people who use neopronouns do so to feel comfortable and have their humanity acknowledged and respected.
Often, people get hung up on pronouncing neopronouns. That’s okay! When I was first introduced to them, I was a little confused about the pronunciation as well. Here is my little guide for how to pronounce some of the more common neopronouns:
1. xe/xem/xyr - pronounced “zee/zem/zeer”
Used in a sentence: “Xe doesn’t want ketchup with xyr fries.”
2. ze/hir/hirs - pronounced “zee/heer/heers”
Used in a sentence: “Ze doesn’t want ketchup with hir fries.”
3. fae/faer/faers - pronounced “fay/fair/fairs”
Used in a sentence: “Fae doesn’t want ketchup with faer fries.”
4. ey/em/eir - pronounced “ay/em/heir”
Used in a sentence: “Ey doesn’t want ketchup with eir fries.”
While these are some common ways to pronounce these pronouns, there are many variations, so it’s always safe to ask someone how to pronounce the pronouns they use. Here is an example of how to go about asking someone: “Hi Kai! I saw that you use “x-e” pronouns, and I want to make sure I’m pronouncing them right. Can you tell me how you pronounce your pronouns?” It’s as simple as that!
When it comes to using neopronouns in your everyday life, I know that can be a struggle too. The thing to remember though is that neopronouns are used the same way that we use other pronouns for people—in place of that person’s name. For example, I use both “xe/xem/xyr” and “they/them/their” pronouns interchangeably. This means that when someone is talking about me, they have the option to refer to me in one of two ways:
1. Have you seen Kai today? I have xyr book and wanted to return it to xem; or 2. Have you seen Kai today? I have their book and wanted to return it to them.
If your child tells you that they use neopronouns, it’s important to affirm their identity and commit to using their correct pronouns. You will probably have questions, but remember that while your child may be able to answer why they chose their pronouns, how they pronounce their pronouns, or even in which settings they feel comfortable having their pronouns used, they are still your child, not an educator or a therapist. We’re here to help you if you’re struggling to adjust to these new pronouns—try reading this post about adjusting to new pronouns and check out these 7 tips to help you through the process.
For more practice, check out this incredible online app where you can practice pronouns!
Neopronouns aren’t real words.
False! Neopronouns come from transgender and gender nonconforming communities, and they are real because they carry meaning and are understood by others.
Some neopronouns were adapted from other languages (“ze” comes from the German word “sie”), others have been taken from science fiction and fantasy books, and more have been invented by transgender and gender nonconforming people who needed pronouns that were not deeply gendered and that made them feel comfortable.
People often use this “they aren’t real words” argument because our society tells us that for something to be legitimate, there must be some sort of “verified history,” one that originated from “experts” or people in power. The idea is that for people to take neopronouns seriously, we must prove that they weren’t invented out of thin air. But that’s the thing: some of these pronouns were invented out of thin air, and that’s ok.
Transgender and gender nonconforming people are the experts on our lives, and we invented these pronouns to make our gendered language more inclusive of us.
People only use one set of pronouns.
Wrong again! While someone often use only one set of pronouns, some people (like me!) use more than one set of pronouns. But why would someone use two? Well, for me it’s because both feel right, but also because “they” is easier to use in my professional life and saves me the trouble of constantly explaining how to pronounce and use “xe/xem/xyr” pronouns. Sometimes you just want to live your life without constantly explaining something that’s irrelevant to the task at hand!
Other people, however, aren’t “out” in all aspects of their life, and choose to use certain pronouns only when they are with people they feel safe around. Finally, gender fluid people may change between which pronouns they use, so always respect what they tell you. The general rule is to use whichever pronouns someone tells you to use. If someone uses two sets of pronouns and doesn’t say which one they prefer, you’re free to use them interchangeably. It never hurts to ask though!
Be sure to check out the rest of The Defining Series right here!
Kai River Blevins is a genderqueer/femme poet, community organizer, and graduate student from western New York who now lives in Salem, Oregon. When Kai isn’t doing homework or writing on their blog, Queer as Life. They love to read, color, cook delicious vegan food, and spend time with their loving partner and adorable fur-child, Sir Reginald, the Earl of Puppydom. Follow them on Twitter @queeraslife