When our children tell us they are changing their pronouns, it can come as a surprise if they tell us they want us to use multiple pronouns. This can look like they/she or they/he or they/them/theirs and she/her/hers or they/them/theirs and he/him/his.
Some people are okay with both pronouns. Others prefer the first one listed. Some use one pronoun in public and another at home or with people who don't know they have changed pronouns yet.
If someone shares with you that they use multiple pronouns, it's important to ask if they prefer one over the other.
Using multiple pronouns for your child can be tricky, but it's not impossible. Like anything new, it takes a lot of practice to get used to.
If your child has asked you to use multiple pronouns, here are some ways to honor their request.
- Ask how they would like you to use their pronouns correctly. Do they prefer to use one set in one context and the other some other way? Some transgender people use they/them pronouns only when they are in LGBTQ+ places or if they feel safe. For now, your child may feel more comfortable using one set of pronouns around family and friends.
- Alternate between the two pronouns when writing or talking about your child. This can look like every other pronoun or every other sentence. Try not to default to the same pronoun each time or show preference for one over the other. For example: "Mike is having a great year at college. He is on the swim team and is first in his class. I can't wait for them to come home for fall break. It has been such a long time since they were home. We hope he will go with us to visit their grandparents." This sentence shows both examples. The first four sentences are examples of switching between sentences, and in the last sentence, I alternated between pronouns. This takes a lot of practice and can confuse people you speak to if they don't know your child uses multiple pronouns. It is helpful to give that disclaimer if you need to before you start your conversation.
- Be flexible. How your child uses their pronouns now may differ from how they choose to use them in the future. Gender is fluid, and so is gender expression. This includes the use of pronouns. Your child may feel comfortable using multiple pronouns now and decide to switch to a single set later. Or, they may share their pronouns with only a select group of people until they feel more comfortable in their gender expression.
The best thing you can do to get used to using multiple pronouns for your child is practice. In this post about Using Proper Gender Pronouns, I share ways you can practice using new pronouns. All these tips are helpful for learning to use multiple pronouns.
Using someone's pronouns correctly is a sign of respect. Using your child's pronouns correctly is a sign of love.
The most important thing is to remember that it takes time and patience. You've been referring to your child with one set of pronouns for a long time. Now you have two new sets to get used to using, which is more complicated than learning one. Go easy on yourself, but don't give up. The more you type, write, and say the pronouns out loud, the easier it will get.
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