Image is an arm reaching up from the bottom of the image writing them/them on a chalkboard in white chalk for a post about how to explain they/them pronouns.

How To Explain They/Them Pronouns

gender-neutral non-binary parent support pronouns transgender Feb 19, 2024

When my son Leo was in college, he had friends who used gender-neutral pronouns. As he began to share with us about these friends, he would tell us their names, gender, and pronouns. For example, "I was with my friend Max, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. We were eating ice cream and Max said they call soft-serve icecream 'a creamy.' Isn't that hysterical?"


By modeling for us what it looked like to use gender-neutral pronouns, Leo taught us how they were used in conversation. Leo regularly talked about his friends, and the exposure to those pronouns made hearing them a regular part of our discussions. It also made it less awkward when talking about his friends with him.


Because Leo modeled for us what it looked like to use gender-neutral pronouns for so many years, it made it less complicated to switch when our oldest began using they/them pronouns exclusively.


If your child is using gender-neutral pronouns of any combination, you may be wondering how to explain their use to other people, especially people who are elderly. Here are some tips.


1. Keep it simple. They/them/their replaces the pronouns they are already using. They replaces He/She: HE is, SHE is, THEY are, SHE will, HE will, THEY will, SHE can, HE can, THEY can. Them replaces her/him: I am going to see HER, I am going to see HIM, I am going to see THEM. I went to the mall with HER, I went to the movies with HIM, I went bowling with THEM. Their replaces his/her: Jack is going to HIS house, Jill is going to HER house, Max is going to THEIR house.

2. Remind them of ways they already use gender-neutral pronouns. Most people use gender-neutral pronouns when talking about someone they don't know. For example, "Someone left their wallet on the counter after they checked out." We don't know who left the wallet, so we use they and their to substitute for gender-specific pronouns.

3. Practice with them. Learning to use gender-neutral pronouns, like anything else, takes time. Your friends' or family members' brains have spent a long time building the muscle memory of referring to your child by one name and set of pronouns. They won't be able to switch to a new name and set of pronouns overnight. As they work on learning a new way of speaking and writing about your child, help them practice.

By keeping it simple and using language they understand, it will be easier to explain how to use gender-neutral pronouns to people who are having a difficult time understanding them.


Remember that it takes time to learn new pronouns, so be patient with your friends and family members. Remind them to go slow and to practice as often as they can. Be encouraging when they succeed, and gently correct them when they make mistakes. Pretty soon, they'll be wondering what all the fuss was about.



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