Many trans and non-binary people use gender-neutral pronouns, and you might have also noticed an increasing number of cis people with he/they or she/they in their social media bios and email signatures.
So why are some cis men and women now choosing to use gender-neutral pronouns for themselves?
‘Masculinity has never welcomed me’
Steve* is a straight cis man who says he has “interrogated” these parts of his identity in the context of having a mostly queer social circle.
“Masculinity has never welcomed me, even though on paper these labels fit,” they say.
Steve uses both he and they pronouns, which he calls “a non-radical way of opting out of the privilege I walk around with”.
“I’m casual enough about my gender identity that it doesn’t need to be reinforced by others,” Steve says.
They also use non-binary pronouns in an effort to destigmatise them for others.
“Normalising they/them as the default would cut down on misgendering, in my opinion,” they say.
“There are few non-medical contexts where that would matter.”
Steve notes that being neurodivergent may also be a factor in their relationship with gender.
“Many of my neurodivergent friends have similar attitudes towards their gender, and the majority of trans people I know are non-neurotypical,” he says.
‘A respectful default’
Dwan is a queer cis person who began using she/they pronouns after long being mindful to use they as a default for others.
“After much discussion with beloved non-binary and trans folks in my life, I’m of the mind that they is a respectful default if preference is unknown,” they say.
Dwan says she is “not that worried” about her own pronouns.
“I don’t identify as he/him at all, but past that, I’m not worried how pronouns are applied to me,” they say.
“On the other hand, I’ve never liked Miss, Mrs, or ma’am at all. That may factor into things.
“This lack of specificity is also why I prefer and self-identify as queer.”
Rebecca* is a straight cis woman who has always identified with the queer community.
“I identify as queer because I don’t fit into the social norms around sexuality and relationship, being kinky and polyamorous and a sex worker,” they say.
“When the Q was added, I thought, thank god, something I can fit under.
“I’ve been told fairly forcefully by some members of the LGBTIQ+ community that I’m not entitled to claim ‘queer’ and consider myself part of that community.
“That’s still painful for me because I’ve spent most of my life fighting for the rights of these communities.”
‘It’s not relevant’
After initially using she/they pronouns, Rebecca has begun exclusively using they.
They say that they had long resisted adopting gender-neutral pronouns for fear of being seen as “usurping a trans space”.
“I don’t know that I know any other cis women who use they pronouns, so my journey has been pretty much on my own,” they say.
“Several years ago, I started consciously trying to de-gender my language, and that raised a lot of awareness for me about how pervasive gender is in our language and how much non-binary and female gender are excluded in language.”
They say that they had spoken to trans and intersex friends about adopting they pronouns in determining what was right for themselves.
“I really want to be respectful, and I want to be honest, and that’s when I started using she/they,” Rebecca says.
“Largely, people kept calling me she.”
Rebecca says they wanted to disengage from “some of the stereotypes that come along with [feminine] pronouns”, such as being referred to by colleagues using loaded epithets like “young lady”.
“[I thought]: It’s not who I am, and please stop assuming that about me,” they say.
“I started being a bit more assertive about: no, I’m they.”
Rebecca says their gender is “something that’s relevant in different ways in different contexts”.
“It’s not relevant in most conversations – before I’m a gender, I’m a human being,” they say.
“I like they because it takes gender out of the front and centre.”
*Not their real names.