by Dannielle Owens-Reid, co-founder of The Parents Project

In August of last year I decided to grow my hair out to what I like to call “lady length.” I told everyone it was because I’d wanted to for a while, but in the past, once it hit an awkward length I’d always give up and cut it again. This time, I was going to stick with it! Plus, it didn’t hurt that the girl I was halfway dating thought I looked pretty with long hair. And I wanted to wear more hats because I love the way hats look with long hair. Annnnd it’s easier to work out if I can just put my hair in a ponytail and call it a day. These are all the excuses I gave everyone (and myself, to some extent). 

If you want to know the truth, I was tired of being called ‘sir’ at the airport. Every time I hit that TSA checkpoint someone calls me sir. There was a specific time at LaGuardia in New York where I had to go through the weird body-scan-radiation-machine twice because the gender they chose was ‘male.’ Since I was wearing a bra, the little screen had a red box right around my chest which obviously confused the person in charge of the machine. Eventually, another TSA employee said, “I think he’s a girl” and then winked at me. As if we were all in on a joke. As if saying “he’s a girl” is funny or comforting or cute in some way. 

We were not in on a joke. At all.

I fly a lot for work, and feeling uncomfortable and on the verge of tears at least once per month is not an ideal situation. 

This is why I decided, last August, to grow out my hair. I told everyone on earth that I liked it because the fact of the matter is, I liked that people weren’t confused about my gender. I liked that I could dress in clothes from the men’s section without being referred to as a man. I don’t know why this gender-confusion bothers me so much, but it does. It bothers me so much that I gave up having a haircut that actually feels more ‘me,’ because I wanted my outward appearance to let people know they should call me “ma’am” instead of “sir.”

I already spend countless hours feeling completely uncomfortable in clothing stores because I think women’s clothes look stupid on me, and men’s clothes never fit me. I feel just as uncomfortable in heels and a dress as I do in a men’s suit. I’ve managed to find a few things that sort of fit me the way I want, but how am I even supposed to figure out what I want? There are so few options for anyone who wants to dress in something that is not one of those two extremes. You have to choose between MEN and WOMEN, that’s it. Those are the options. You can wear lace or you can wear a jersey.  

So, there I was. And, here I am.

A few weeks ago I chopped all of my hair off again.

I’m still at a weird juncture with my appearance nearly every day because I don’t feel right in any of the clothes I can buy in stores or online, and because while I don’t want my appearance to match “ma’am,” I also don’t want to be referred to as “sir.” The length of my hair is a part of that confusion – and I am at a loss, even living in Los Angeles in 2014. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone in a similar situation who didn’t have even the few options that we do today.

There’s a cashier at Trader Joe’s who always calls me “buddy.” I’m 90% sure it’s because he has no clue what my gender is, and I really like that he doesn’t try to figure out whether my gender matches my face or my clothes. He’s just like “Hey, here’s a person I like. ‘What’s up, buddy?’” 

I really, really appreciate that

***

Dannielle resides in Los Angeles, and has been working with LGBTQ young people for over four years as the co-founder of Everyone Is Gay. She holds a BA in Theater Performance, and also worked extensively in the world of social media, heading up social interactions for Virgin Mobile on the Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour in 2012. She recently co-authored the book This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, with business partner, Kristin Russo.

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

- Question submitted Anonymously and Answered by parent-kid duo Kirsten & Lucy

Kirsten says:

Here’s the quick answer: You can’t—at least not at first. I surveyed a number of friends and relatives about this topic, and we all agreed—kids have a hard time talking to their parents about this stuff (and vice versa).  Gay or straight, teens are working to develop identities separate from their parents, establishing new boundaries about what they’re willing to share about their private lives. This can sometimes mean that the child who couldn’t stop talking about EVERYTHING seems way too quiet all of a sudden.

All that being said, you need to let your daughter know that you are open to talking about her relationships. But instead of peppering your daughter with a million questions, try to take it slow, and let the conversations unfold. (This is a total “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” piece of advice, by the way. Just ask Lucy – we call it the “Mom-quisition.”) Try talking about what your dating life was like as a teen. What made you nervous? Happy? Excited? I think it’s important to talk about what you want for your daughter in any relationship—that she’s cared for and happy and safe. And ask her what she wants in a relationship. What makes her happy about the person she’s dating? Keep the lines of communication open. You may not get a lot of information all at once, but over time, when she knows that you are interested and supportive, you may be surprised by what she’ll share.

A final tip: I think the car is a perfect place for these kinds of talks—it’s a pretty intimate space, but something about the relative lack of face-to-face contact makes it easier to have conversations like this.

Lucy says:

as an exceptionally queer kid (and a relatively young one), it’s pretty dang hard to find people to date. for the most part, i don’t want to date my friends who are queer, and outside of that group, it’s difficult to find other peers who are any kind of gay. while i don’t speak for all queer teens, i find this pretty irritating, as i want nothing more than to find a cute girl to hold hands and watch orange is the new black with.

while dating may be hard for teens for lots of reasons, i also think that it’s hard for any parent to have a kid in the dating world…and if the kid is queer, that has the potential to make it even harder, especially if the parent is uninformed about queer issues and the complications that come with openly queer relationships.

i have had the exceptional privilege of having very supportive parents who are also pretty well-informed (mostly due to my almost nightly rants about social issues), and in my dating experience (i.e. one pretty terrible relationship), the most important thing is to make sure you are able to have communication with the other party about what either of you may find challenging regarding the relationship.

i know that kids HATE talking to parents about relationships, and i know that a lot of the time, parents find it awkward to talk to their kids about dating and safety in dating, but that’s got to happen between any parent and their dating child. in summation…parents: make sure your kid knows what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and make sure they know that they have to keep themselves safe. kids: tell your parents what they need to know, and make sure you obey any guidelines or restrictions they give you. believe it or not, parents sometimes know stuff.

***

I’m Kirsten. I’ve been married to Richard for 20 years (!) and in addition to Lucy, we have 2 dogs and 4 ¾ cats (one of them only has 3 legs!). I work full-time at a non-profit social services agency. I’m basically addicted to Instagram and I love to read, bake, and make art. I’m dying to get a new tattoo. Suggestions? Find me on Instagram or Twitter @kjerstieb.

i’m lucy, i’m 14, and i mostly like girls (with an occasional boy thrown into the crush cycle for good measure). you should talk to me! Instagram: @bandsbandsbooks | Tumblr: typical-suburbian-queer

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

Have an advice question? Click here to submit!

Vivek Shraya is an award-winning author whose first book, God Loves Hair, is an autobiographical collection of twenty-one short stories following a tender, intellectual, and curious child as he navigates the complex realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and belonging.

*****

One of the things I often get asked after book readings and presentations is: How did you get through junior high and high school? How did you survive daily verbal homophobic attacks?

I grew up in a time before there were Gay Straight Alliances and rainbow flags in high schools, before the word “homophobia” was so widespread. Without language, without being able to name what was happening to me, it was hard to ask for support at school and at home. Without support, like so many queer kids, I dreamt of suicide.

I wrote goodbye letters frequently, always in dramatic red ink, and even planned out my suicide outfit—not too flashy, not too plain, but rather an understated elegance. But the reason I didn’t go through with it—the number one reason I stayed alive—was my mother’s love. Thinking of suicide was often comforting, especially as relief from another day of torment at school, but only to the point of imagining my mother finding my lifeless body. Then I could imagine life leaving her body too.

The older I get, the more respect and awe I feel for a woman who was then a full-time mother, full-time employee, and part-time student—especially on days when I’m too lazy to cook my own dinner. It would be easy to romanticize my teenage years, but this was a turbulent time in our relationship, when we were often at odds about my early curfew, my close friendships with white girls, and my blasting Tori Amos. Obedience was a prime value in our home, and disobedience was often dealt with strict punishment. But despite this— despite how much we argued, despite not knowing how I was going to say the word “gay” to my conservative parents and if they would even know what it meant, and despite that when I eventually did talk to my parents about what was happening at school, their response was “everyone gets picked on,” I never doubted that my mother loved me. Every gesture of care—preparing our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; nagging us about our homework; asking about our days; picking up all my holds from the library; encouraging me to sing; tucking us in at night; waking us up with a song; hugging us before school—was another reason not to hurt myself.

In recent years, my mother has expressed regret for not doing more for me during that time. The truth is, there is no way my mother could have done everything—no way she could have completely saved me from what was happening at school. And I didn’t have the language to fully express what I was feeling. Ultimately, what mattered most was knowing that there was one place in the world my life did matter—in my mother’s heart.

***

Vivek Shraya’s first book is a collection of twenty-one short stories following a tender, intellectual, and curious child as he navigates the complex realms of sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and belonging. Told with the poignant insight and honesty that only the voice of a young mind can convey, God Loves Hair is a moving and ultimately joyous portrait of the resiliency of youth.

The stories are accompanied by the award-winning full-colour illustrations of Toronto artist Juliana Neufeld. God Loves Hair was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, won the Applied Arts Award for Illustration, and is currently being used as a textbook at several post-secondary institutions.

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

<3 

Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3 Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3 Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3 Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3 Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3 Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!
We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all &#8212; this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!
Read more on Scribd!
Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!
&lt;3&lt;3&lt;3

Book Excerpt #2: The Introduction!

We are so excited to share these tiny pieces of our book with you all — this tells you a little bit about who we are, our experience with Everyone Is Gay and why we wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids!

Read more on Scribd!

Pre-Order Your Copy Here! Yayyy!

<3<3<3

everyoneisgay:

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle and Kristin answered a question from a parent on Everyone Is Gay this week! 

- Question submitted Anonymously and Answered by Broderick Greer 

Broderick Says: 

Dear Devout Christian,

Your scenario and question embody the uncomfortable corner many conservative Christians find themselves in today: a theology of human sexuality that doesn’t match their lived experience. If you would, please take a moment and imagine your son on his first day of school: his mini backpack, sneakers, and lunch pail. Remember the hopes you had for him, the joy you felt toward him, and the delight you had in him. In that watershed moment of development, did it ever cross your mind that your son might be a sinner in God’s eyes? I highly doubt it. If anything, you probably thought something like, “God, thank you for the gift of this child and for the life and goodness and beauty he exudes.”

As you savor your son at age five, ask yourself what has changed about him for you now. Does he bring you any less joy, awe, or pride? Does the disclosure of his sexual orientation chip away at your fundamental feelings of affirmation and hope for him? If so, your heart is worth searching. God does not think any less of your son because of his sexual orientation. If anything, your son’s coming out opens up a new dimension of access to God’s infinite, limitless love. Your son is not a sinner in God’s eyes. Your son is a masterpiece of divine handiwork who deserves your merciful attention. If you continue to give him the space to explore himself in honest ways, you will help lay the foundation of a hopeful, generative future for him.

As far as marriage being between a man and a woman, I agree—in part. I know many straight, married couples. However, I also know many married couples of the same-sex whose relationships engender mutuality and joy. A same-sex couple who have been together for 15 years are housing me for the summer. They are hospitable and generous in every way possible. They ask me about my day and if I need anything. For me, this summer, they are fleshing out Jesus’ command to love the stranger. If they are sinners in God’s eyes, then you need to change your definition of sin.

Sincerely,

Another Devout Christian

***

Broderick Greer was reared in Texas, went to college in Tennessee, and is now a master’s of divinity student at Virginia Theological Seminary. He enjoys jogging, traveling, Beyoncé, politics, and vanilla milkshakes.

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

QuestionI'm a mom. My daughter started questioning her sexuality at 11 when she fell in love with her 10 yr old friend. She is now 13 and tries to pass off girlfriends as friends so she can have sleep overs, unsupervised time together. She wanted to be alone to kiss, cuddle and sleep in the same bed with her 10 yr old friend when she was 11. I can't get the distinction across to her that early sexual involvement is my concern, not her orientation. Any advice? No one ever answers this question. Answer

Hi there!

This is an AMAZING question — and we have received it a couple of times, in various forms… so we know so many parents have it! We have an awesome mom and daughter team tackling the tricky issue of sleepovers in August, so stay tuned!

That very question is also in our new book, This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids! BOOM!

Thanks for reading, and for supporting our work :)

Kristin & Dannielle

- Question submitted Anonymously and Answered by Lisa 

Lisa Says:

No matter who we are, we have all been in a situation where someone says something offensive or something we don’t agree with. Sometimes we speak without thinking, so it is good to think about situations you may encounter in order to prepare an answer that makes you comfortable. For me, I would think about different responses to this situation depending on who is saying the remark and your relationship with that person, always keeping in mind that you don’t want to out your child.

I am a music teacher at a small private school. One day, another teacher and I were discussing our own children and where they may go to college. In the discussion, she commented that she did not want her son going to a particular college as there would be a lot of gay kids there. She went on to say that she felt gay kids should all go to the same school so it wouldn’t confuse straight kids. Being the parent of a gay child, I was taken aback by her ignorance. I did not know how to respond at first. I was quiet, and even though she does not know my daughter, I didn’t want to say anything that would out my kid. But I couldn’t say nothing as I was insulted by her comment and didn’t want to be passive. I couldn’t live without at least letting her know that I was in support of the gay population.

What I finally said was, “I know lots of gay kids, and there is no reason to segregate. We can all learn from each other’s differences. Now I know you may not feel that way, but it’s more important that your son is comfortable in the environment.” In that situation, I was letting her know that I was accepting and that I did not agree with her view in the hope that she would not continue to be disrespectful. By saying, “I know lots of gay kids,” it pulled the focus off of our own children. At the same time, it gave her a reason why I felt the way I did without causing her to question whether or not I had a gay child.

Other times I have encountered people who have completely different religious and political beliefs than me. My friend Tommy, who has met my daughter a handful of times, just loves to bring up hot-button issues when he is around, just to start an argument. If someone like this says something disrespectful about gay people, I would not want to engage with them in a discussion. It’s not even about outing my child at this point. Instead of engaging, I’d suggest you say something like “We can just agree to disagree on that.” This closes the conversation. It also makes it clear where you stand on the issue, without outing your child or engaging in an argument.

You may also find yourself in a discussion with a really good friend who knows your child well. Because your child isn’t out, defending gay people may make the person wonder whether or not your child is gay. This is a difficult situation. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be silent. When I have been in this situation in the past, I have always brought up Robert, the boy I dated in high school. Robert is gay, but at the time I did not know it. I usually mention to my friends how difficult it must have been for Robert in the era we grew up in, and I’m so glad that things are changing. This lets my friends know where I stand on the issue in a personal way. It gives them something substantial to think about and lets them know how strongly I feel about the subject without giving them any reason to think that my child is gay. So if you have a close friend or family member who is openly gay who you can speak about, I would suggest focusing the conversation on them in order to explain how you really feel without outing your child.

I think the best thing you can do is have an idea of what you’d say, because it’s different for each person. By preparing a script, if you will, you can avoid saying something during the heat of the moment that you may regret later on. In addition, discussing these scenarios with your child may even help your child be better prepared if and when these situations occur for them. Good luck!

***

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

Watch: “Gay and Muslim in America”

This special report by Edward Wyckoff Williams explores the unique challenges facing openly gay, American Muslims—and the double consciousness that comes from being a dual minority.

See more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

by Dannielle Owens-Reid & Kristin Russo, co-founders of The Parents Project

Recently, our friend Meagan, who is also a parent to two young children, told us about a moment she shared with her kids:

"It’s very important to me that my kids grow up understanding that there is no ‘normal,’ from how marriage is defined to who we love to how we live.  Without giving my kids any detail, I said at one point that all babies come from a mom.  A mom carries them in her belly and then they’re born.  Fast forward a few months later when I was explaining to them (ages 4 and 3) about how some kids have a mom and dad, some just a mom or just a dad, some have two moms or two dads.  They had very little reaction to any of this, until a moment later when my daughter said, "for the kids with two dads, where’s the mom?"  Shit, she had been listening earlier!  So I told her that them mom isn’t in the picture.  And my son said, "what picture?"  So then I had to describe euphemisms and suddenly we were down a wormhole."

Many parents wish to communicate the many structures of family, and the many identities in the world around them, with their children… but just aren’t sure how. A great place to start is by making sure your kid’s library has books that show this variety — the more they see differences in the world around them, the more comfortable they become in expressing themselves freely.

So, as a starter, here are five awesome LGBTQ-friendly books for young children!

1. The Family Book by Todd Parr

The Family Book celebrates the love we feel for our families and all the different varieties they come in. Whether you have two moms or two dads, a big family or a small family, a clean family or a messy one, Todd Parr assures readers that no matter what kind of family you have, every family is special in its own unique way.”

Why We Love It: This book is bright, colorful, and incredibly tangible for young kids! It stresses the important fact that families come in many different shapes and sizes and combinations, while highlighting that the love felt in all families is important, powerful, and strong. 

2. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

"Dyson loves pink, sparkly things. Sometimes he wears dresses. Sometimes he wears jeans. He likes to wear his princess tiara, even when climbing trees. He’s a Princess Boy. Inspired by the author’s son, and by her own initial struggles to understand, this is a heart-warming book about unconditional love and one remarkable family."

Why We Love It: Well, first of all, we’re suckers for real life stories. What’s more, books that allow for expression outside of societal expectations of gender are rare — and so it isn’t often that kids get to see anything beyond the pinks and blues that are all around them. Understanding that gender isn’t something that fits in one of two boxes is incredibly important for young children!!

3. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson

And Tango Makes Three is a 2005 children’s book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole. The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo.

Why We Love It: Yay! Another true story! What’s so great about this book is that it highlights, again, a different family structure — but it also shows that these structures are all around us. Not only do some kids have two moms or dads, but penguins, too!

4. Oliver Button Is A Sissy by Tomie dePaola

"A little boy must come to terms with being teased and ostracized because he’d rather read books, paint pictures, and tap-dance than participate in sports."

Why We Love It: Tomie dePaola is an incredible writer of children’s stories, and we are even more in love with him knowing that he created this book in 1979. *standing ovation* This book masterfully handles prescribed gender roles, and, through beautiful illustrations and simple text, shows that Oliver Button (and any kid) can do what they love most, and still find the support of their family and friends.

5. Jack and Jim by Kitty Crowther

"When Jack, a blackbird, ventures out of the woods to see the ocean for the first time, he meets Jim, a gregarious seagull. They fly together all day, and become fast friends. But when they visit Jim’s village, their fun ends. They are met with stares and rude remarks. The other seagulls don’t like Jack because he looks different. Then Jim discovers that Jack can do something no other seagull can — he can read! It is the strength of Jim and Jack’s friendship — and the remarkable power of story — that eventually opens the minds and changes the hearts of the village seagulls."

Why We Love It: The ambiguity of this story allows it to address differences that go beyond just gender and sexuality. Through the tale of these two birds (why is it always birds?!), we see the power of love and friendship, and the ability that others have in learning and growing in their understanding of those different from themselves.

***

Read more on The Parents Project, a first-of-its-kind digital resource for parents of LGBTQ kids.

everyoneisgay:

Please Support: Same Difference

'Same Difference' is a documentary film about two young people, Graeme and Justin, who both identify as gay. They go to two different schools, Graeme thriving in his environment and Justin without the support of others. The film highlights bullying and the lack of support in Justin's school and offers solutions to handling gender issues in schools overall.

As you might imagine, this is a much, much needed conversation.

Check out Same Difference’s Indiegogo Campaign!

More #ThisIsOurBook Pictures!
These photos make our hearts melt into puddles. Share what family means to you, and use our #ThisIsOurBook tag so that we can find them and share with our readers!Less than two months until This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids is released! AHHH!Click here to pre-order now! More #ThisIsOurBook Pictures!
These photos make our hearts melt into puddles. Share what family means to you, and use our #ThisIsOurBook tag so that we can find them and share with our readers!Less than two months until This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids is released! AHHH!Click here to pre-order now! More #ThisIsOurBook Pictures!
These photos make our hearts melt into puddles. Share what family means to you, and use our #ThisIsOurBook tag so that we can find them and share with our readers!Less than two months until This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids is released! AHHH!Click here to pre-order now!

More #ThisIsOurBook Pictures!

These photos make our hearts melt into puddles. Share what family means to you, and use our #ThisIsOurBook tag so that we can find them and share with our readers!

Less than two months until This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids is released! AHHH!

Click here to pre-order now!

by Cara Giaimo

*****

Language plays a huge part in how we understand and describe the world around us, and how we communicate that understanding to others. Because of this, it can be easy to forget that the dictionary isn’t some infallible, unchangeable document handed down from on high— but it isn’t! Words are actually tools created by humans to help with those aforementioned jobs. The version of the English language that most of us grew up using has pronouns that refer to two particular genders because it reflects a culture that has also, historically, only recognized those two genders. And as our cultural understanding of gender expands, our language expands too, in order to make room for it.

It can be easier to take all of this in—and to see gendered pronouns as culturally created—if you’re aware of their history. So, without further ado, here are Four Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Gender and Pronouns!

1. “Gender” was a grammatical term before it meant anything else. When you hear the word “gender,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably the cultural definition —put most simply, “the characteristics that a society delineates as masculine or feminine.” But the word wasn’t used that way regularly until the 1950s. Before that, it was actually a linguistic term. About one-fourth of the world’s languages—German, Spanish, and Icelandic, to name a few—have what’s called grammatical gender, which means their nouns are sorted into different categories called genders.

And although many of these gender categories fall along a masculine/feminine/neutral divide (as in, for example, Spanish), some don’t! Take Dyribal, an aboriginal Australian language with only a few dozen native speakers left. Dyirbal has four grammatical genders, which linguists refer to as male, female, edible, and inanimate, but even that is pretty approximate. For example, Class II, the “female” class, actually contains women, fire, things related to water, things related to fighting, and most birds.

2. English used to be a gendered language.

Gendered third-person pronouns in English are the vestiges of a language that used to be entirely gendered. According to linguist Anne Curzan, Old English indicated grammatical genders using suffixes (think “-o” vs. “-a” in Spanish). Old Norse did the same thing, but used slightly different suffixes than Old English. When the Vikings began invading Northern England around the late 11th century, speakers of both languages were running into each other a lot, and probably trying to communicate. Since the two languages had a lot of roots in common, in order to understand each other better, “people may have deemphasized these inflectional endings, which were already weak, and then maybe they just dropped away,” taking their grammatical gender signification with them. The only gendered words that stuck around? Those pesky third-person pronouns, which were too short to be affected.

3. Gender-neutral and nontraditional pronouns have their own rich and varied history.

English speakers of all stripes have long been frustrated with the language’s lack of gender-neutral pronouns. A look back at press records reveals public complaints from,newspaper copyeditors wrestling with inelegant phrasing, as well as police commissionerswho were unsure whether or not they could arrest women under a law that only used masculine pronouns. Feminists as far back as 1882 disliked the standard practice of using “he/him/his” as a fallback pronoun, and advocated for a gender-neutral word instead. Those who noticed these problems often provided alternatives. For example, in 1884, a lawyer named Charles Crozat Converse proposed the word “thon,” which was popular enough to make it into several dictionaries. Casey Miller and Kate Swift, who have writtenseveral groundbreaking works on gender-biased vocabulary, suggested “tey.” More recently, people who identify outside the gender binary have resurrected some of these terms for their own personal use, as well as coming up with others. Some of the most common include “ze,” “e,” and the singular “they,” but the sky’s the limit—here’s the most complete list I’ve found.

4. Using someone’s preferred pronouns really makes a difference.

If you think about it, a pronoun serves as a synopsized version of a person, and no one wants to be condensed down to the wrong essence. Respecting someone’s pronouns—by asking which ones that person prefers, using those consistently, and apologizing if you slip up—is a great way to show that you respect who that person is. As Lauren Luben recently shared in zir “Why Change Names and Pronouns?” video, “when someone uses a gender-neutral pronoun, I feel like they are identifying who I am as a being.” Another person I spoke to told me that “I could give you a precise list of every single genderstraight ally I’ve ever witnessed using my pronoun correctly—that’s how much it means to me.” Still others have said that being referred to correctly makes them “absolutely giddy with joy,” “so completely happy,” and “makes me suddenly want to hug them.”

Learning any new vocabulary word can be challenging, and incorporating it into your daily speech might take a little while. But in the end, it’s worth it, because knowing and using that word has broadened your understanding of the world, as well as your ability to describe and communicate that understanding. Non-traditional pronouns are no different!

For more information on the history of gender and grammar, I invite you to check out mythree-partseries at Autostraddle, as well as Gretchen McCullough’s recent piece for The Toast.

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Cara Giaimo is a Boston-based writer interested in words, gender, and the push-pull of identity construction. She also likes rock’n’roll and biking around. You can find more of her work at Autostraddle and Case Magazine.

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