intermediate pronoun studies: multiple pronouns

figure with a yellow jacket, purple hair, and glasses pointing at a blackboard that says “pronoun studies: question time!”

Question one: how well do I know this person?

Near-strangers

Vague acquaintances or distant colleagues

Chummy acquaintances or closer colleagues

  • ask in private, not in front of people. Do not put Venus on the spot at the huge monthly meeting about this!
  • don’t make it weird. Do not ask Venus about their gender or transness or anything — none of your business! Ask what you actually need to know: do they have any particular preferences about pronouns beyond what’s listed in their zoom handle?
  • keep this casual, don’t ominously pull them aside or formally invite them to a special zoom meeting about it or something.
  • keep it short. This can be a four-message conversation on slack or whatever, and you can fold it into a normal work-related chat.
  • ask if you can ask. Before actually bugging them about this, do a quick check-in: “Hey can I ask you a quick question about your pronouns?” Be willing to take a ‘no’ on this.

Pretty good friends!

  • Are there any specific settings where you want me to use she over they, or vice versa? Are there any times when I should absolutely avoid one or the other?
  • Do you feel differently when different people use she or they for you?
  • What are some times when someone used a pronoun and it made you really happy? Has there ever been a time where someone used a pronoun about you and it really upset you?
  • If someone messes up or uses a pronoun about you in a way I haven’t heard before, is there anything you want me to do about it? What pronoun use would you want me to correct someone about?
  • this is not a conversation about gender or transness. She’ll bring that up if she wants to talk about it with you, but you don’t need to bug her about it.
  • don’t be pushy about it. As above, I suggest you ask if it’s okay to ask about this topic before getting into it, and be willing to take a ‘no’ for an answer.
  • don’t make it weird. Approach the conversation with neutral curiosity, as a way of bonding with your friend and learning more about each other. Don’t treat Venus as an oddity, don’t vent to them about stuff you find difficult or confusing about pronouns or any related topics.

Your best friend, your lover, your silly rabbit

  • sometimes a pronoun is okay in jokes, but not in seriousness. Pay attention to how your new beautiful partner Venus reacts to she when they’re being silly and campy versus when they’re in a deep philosophical conversation.
  • sometimes we want variety. Venus might actively want (and may ask!) for you to switch it up — if you end up using they all the time, she might ask you to throw in a little more she for example.
  • parents are a weird case. Don’t necessarily expect that Venus will want you to act the same with her parents as with your close mutual friends that you met while falling in love (slow-burn, friends to lovers, office AU, 150K). A lot of people have slightly different preferences for immediate family (parents, children, siblings) than for friends they have made as adults. If you’re lucky enough to meet Venus’s parents, probably ask them ahead of time what pronouns you should use, and what pronouns the parents are likely to use.
  • be aware of closets. If you are Venus’s closest confidant, you might be privy to more private information about her whole gender deal than anyone else. If Venus is using she/they because they’re trying out a nonbinary identity, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to go public with it just yet.

Question two: does this person have strong preferences about how these pronouns are used?

“I really don’t have a preference between these.”

“I feel slightly differently about when cis people use that pronoun.”

“I list both because it’s just easier for other people, but I really prefer one of these over the other one.”

“I list both because I’m ideologically really invested in singular ‘they,’ but I don’t really want to have conversations with my boss about it.”

“I list multiple sets because I don’t want to be mistaken for (cis, binary, straight, etc.)”

Question three: how might the setting influence which pronoun I use?

Don’t Fucking Out People

  1. they will tell you, or
  2. there will be Clues

Sometimes you just gotta go with whatever’s legible

Please use the gay ones when we are in gay world

Ah yes, my work drag

I’m making my professor call me ‘they’ out of spite

Conclusion and TL;DR

  • how well you know this person (which will tell you whether you should ask, and how deeply to talk about it)
  • what this person’s feelings are about their pronouns (which can vary a LOT)
  • how the context affects which pronoun is most appropriate (or actively welcomed)
  • a VERY SHORT primer that is aimed at how to do the absolute minimum when you use pronouns about anyone!
  • pronouns 101 is an introductory guide on how to start using new pronouns for someone
  • pronouns 102 is about what to do if you’ve been trying for a while, but are still really struggling
  • a very short post on why it’s not okay to pressure someone to share their pronouns
  • a post on what to do if YOU want to try new pronouns, but aren’t sure you’re trans

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Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.

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Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.

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