Pronouns Good or Bad: Attitudes and Relationships with Gendered Pronouns in Gender-Diverse Undergraduates
Pronouns are small words used to replace nouns in sentences (“Pronoun,” 2020). Gendered pronouns, in English, are third person pronouns that match the gender of the referent. The most common third person pronouns in English are “he,” “she,” and “they.” “They” is commonly and widely recognized as a plural and singular pronoun (“They,” 2019). In the context of gender, pronouns are commonly notated as he/him, she/her, and they/them.
Trans people choose new names and/or pronouns that better reflect their gender identity. Use of chosen name and pronouns is associated with improved mental health (Russell, Pollitt, Li, & Grossman, 2018), whereas refusing to use chosen name (commonly known as deadnaming) or pronouns (misgendering) is associated with lower affect (e.g. anxiety, depression, McLemore, 2015) and mental health outcomes (Russell et al., 2018).
However, beyond mental health outcomes and general acknowledgment of importance, relationships with pronouns have not yet been closely examined. In this study, we develop and administer a survey measuring congruence and comfort with pronouns. We also bring in existing measures of gender congruence and trans inclusive behaviors. This allows us to compare pronoun congruence with other aspects of gender congruence and attitudes and comfort with sharing pronouns to how intentionally one supports transgender people.
0.1 Research Principals
The author is a Chinese-American woman who is transgender and a butch lesbian. In a previous period of her life, she identified as non-binary. Much of the research and design of this study has been guided by her experiences with gender. In this literature review, there were several guiding principals that she used to evaluate and include pieces of literature.
Firstly, the author believes that gender is infinitely multifaceted, and, importantly for the purposes of this study, does not fall into a binary or trinary system. While there is certainly value in labels and identities, she does not believe that gender can be described with a single axis. That is to say that, while there is value in identities such as masculine and feminine and identities that fall in between or combine the two, it is vital to not confine oneself to a single system.
Thus, research that treated gender as a binary was excluded. This includes measures such as the Utrecht Gender Dysphoria Scale (Schneider et al., 2016), which, while important as a start into giving clinicians tools to care for trans individuals, still treats gender as fundamentally linked to genitals and sex characteristics that can be neatly divided into a binary. This scale fundamentally fails non-binary patients and patients who may feel euphoric about certain aspects of their body and gender, but not others.
This is, of course, an imperfect effort. Limitations in language used to discuss gender may still presuppose a gender binary. For example, the term “non-binary” can be used to describe anyone whose gender does not fit into the categories of “man” and “woman” (Richards et al., 2016). However, the term exists in opposition to “binary,” thereby presupposing the existence of “binary” gender categories. The term “non-binary” is critical to this study. However, the author has made a deliberate effort to not treat “binary” as a coherent class of gendered experience.
Secondly, the author believes that gender identity is entirely separate from sex assigned at birth. While it’s true that cisgender people may have a hard time believing this, as their experience of gender has been entirely or mostly congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth (Holleb, 2019), for trans and non-binary people, this narrative can be casually harmful at best, to deeply violent at worst. Sex and gender assigned at birth was intentionally excluded from this study, as the author believes that present gender identity should be the sole focus in studies of gender identity and gendered social experiences.
Finally, the author believes that there are no fundamental differences between cisgender men and women and transgender men and women. That is, there is nothing “essential” that cisgender people possess and know about their gender that transgender people fundamentally cannot also know or experience. Even arguments that center reproductive organs, or certain bodily functions, break down when sex is framed as construct and intersex people are recognized (Ezie, 2010). Therefore, research that centered sex assigned at birth or presupposed fundamental differences between trans and cis gender identities was excluded.