Language changes according to the needs and changes that society is undergoing. We see this happening in every field and context with expressions, expanded vocabulary, but also in how we address one another. Some changes might happen faster than what we can understand, and this might make language complicated for us as adults, but also for younger generations.
This does not mean that it is impossible to track changes and educate ourselves to give our children a better understanding of the world that surrounds them.
Gender identity and gender identity pronouns are not a trend. They are a deep change in our society and people's identities, and it is substantial to understand and acknowledge them by being curious and interested in the changes that are currently happening.
These topics can seem very foreign to some, even difficult to talk about. But it is essential to get acquainted with the topics we don't know about in order to be able to support our children and their questions.
In this article, we will review the basic concepts related to gender identity and the use of pronouns and how you can support your children to navigate this topic.
What is gender identity?
Gender identity is a person's own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is woman, man, neither or both. Gender identity differs from gender expression in the fact that it is not always outwardly visible to others.
For most people, gender identity aligns with the sex they are assigned at birth. However, recent queer movements are questioning the rigidity of how gender is assigned at birth without the person's consent or decision. Because gender identity is a deeply personal experience, where they feel and sense their body in a certain way that not every person feels that their gender corresponds to their sex assigned at birth.
This is because gender and sex are not the same.
- Sex refers to the physical differences between people who are female, male, or intersex. It is usually assigned at birth as a physiological characteristic, this includes their genitalia and chromosome composition.
- Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with men or women and the relationship between them. However, several scholars and queer activists explain that these attributes, opportunities, and relationships are socially constructed and are not exclusively binary. Meaning, they are taught and learned through socialization processes, they are context and time-specific related, just like language. This is where pronouns play a role in gender identity and how we address one another nowadays in society.
Pronouns and their role
Gender pronouns are the terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity (not necessarily their sex!). Knowing and using a person's correct pronouns fosters inclusion, respect, makes people feel valued and recognizes their gender identity; that's why they are significant when addressing people in our everyday lives.
The current pronouns might be she/her, he/him or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them.
- She/her: usually, people that identify as female use this pronoun.
- He/him: people who identify themselves as male will use this pronoun.
- They/them: people who identify outside the gender binary most often use they/them/their to refer to themselves in the gender-neutral spectrum of gender identity.
Every person has the right to use gender pronouns that feels and match their personal gender identity. These do not necessarily match their gender expression–how a person dress, looks or behaves, nor their name or sex.
Pronouns different iterations
Pronouns change based on how they are used in a sentence, that is why they are presented as she/her, he/him or they/them/their. This can sometimes be confusing for younger children who are still learning about language grammar and sentence structure.
How to address gender identity and pronouns with your children?
The best way to address the topic of gender identity with your child is to first create a safe space, where they feel safe or encouraged to ask all the questions they want and express themselves within the family. Being allowed to ask and have the tools to communicate is essential to start discussing any sensitive or difficult topic.
Be curious and open
Part of the beauty of being a parent is that you are allowed to be curious with your child. Thus, being open and honest about the things you are still learning as well teach them vulnerability, an important element to support your child. If you feel that some topics are overwhelming, you can always search resources online or in different queer organizations to review before discussing the topic with your child.
Another way, is to find support and information is with a mental health specialist or therapist with gender identity, transition, and youth specialist. Some schools also offer this extracurricular help to families and their kids.
The right pronouns matter
Parents often make the mistake of postponing challenging conversation, but this is only detrimental to you and your family. Especially because you never know if your own child is having doubts about their own gender–called gender dysphoria, and understanding of the pronouns and how, they want to be addressed.
Gender dysphoria is a serious psychological distress that results from an incongruence between the child's sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, but those who do might experience it at varying levels of intensity, sometimes provoking mental disorders.
Being misgendered is as negative as being misnamed, it can leave a person feeling disrespected, excluded, misunderstood or invalidated. Supporting your child in understanding gender identity and pronouns will help them navigate their social and cultural environments without being judgmental of others, but also to develop a healthy identity themselves.
Other tips to practice with your children
Young people are more open to explore new things and understand concepts that might seem foreign to some older generations. Your child might be more aware of the gender diversity that exist around them. They might even be the one to teaching you some concept such as, transgender, gender-fluid, cisgender or gender nonbinary.
Meanwhile, here is a basic orientation on how to affirm someone's gender identity. If your child sees you applying this, they most probably will do it as well and have a soft introduction to the concepts of gender identity.
- Do not assume another person's gender or pronouns. Remember that not everyone's gender identity matches their gender expression.
- Ask a person's gender pronoun. Asking about a person's gender pronoun respectfully and privately will show respect for their identity.
- Share your own gender pronoun when introducing yourself. Be part of the change, normalize the sharing of gender pronouns when introducing yourself. This will help people who use pronouns outside the gender binary to feel included and understood.
- Apologize if you called someone by the wrong pronoun: mistakes happen, but always apologize in order to continue a conversation.
- Refrain from exclusively using binary-gendered language. Especially in group dynamics, where not everyone will identity as cisgender.
- Help others. When you hear someone using an incorrect pronoun, you can kindly correct them to continue without excluding anyone.
- Do talk in generalities about gender and sexuality. When talking positively about gender identity and pronouns, your child will see and hear that you are supportive, making them more inclined to speak up and ask questions.
Remember that we all need to feel understood, respected and included in order to keep a healthy environment. This is particularly important for young people as they grow up. Learning how the language changes according to our societies' changes will enhance self-awareness and the deconstruction of the gender bias and stereotypes associated with gender.
If your child is coming out and transitioning, ask them the pronoun they would like to use and actively use it. You can also write them a love note. Letting your child know you love them unconditionally gives them the extra support they need from you and your family.
The platform that connects tutors and students