New pronouns can be hard to wrap your head around if you’re experiencing them for the first time, or are trying to use something new with an old friend. And if they use an uncommon pronoun (xe/ze/they/etc.), it might seem overwhelming.
It’s OK to be insecure, but don’t let it get in the way of using the correct pronoun for your friend. A trans* person probably isn’t going to expect you to get the right pronouns immediately, but they’ll expect you to try.
“But I keep messing up, and now I’m scared I’ll never get it right!” you might say. Don’t be scared, it’s just about practice. Pronouns are learned, and can be unlearned.
Here are some ways to practice your friend’s new pronoun:
1. Write about your friend and then read it aloud
This might feel weird to do at first, but it will really help you to practice not only writing and reading their pronoun, but to speak it. Your tongue has an amazing memory, and when spoken aloud your ears will also latch onto the pronoun. Writing things by hand is also known to boost your memory. Utilize all of your senses.
2. Talk to friends
Chat about your friend whose pronouns you’re trying to learn. Even a simple, “Hey I met this really cool person, they have brown hair and blue eyes,” or whatever will put your mouth into practice. It’s also a safe space for you a make a mistake, if you’re afraid of that. Your friends won’t know the difference. But also…
3. If you make a mistake, verbalize and correct.
Instead of trying to ignore your mistake, correct it immediately. Even if the friends you’re talking to don’t know the difference, verbalizing the correction will help you get it right the next time. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed about making a mistake, simply move on and try again.
4. Don’t be afraid.
You might be afraid to hang out with your friend for fear of misgendering them. This is a relatively natural feeling because of the way we’re socialized. We don’t want to appear insensitive about gender or sexuality, so we avoid it all together. This is similar to not wanting to appear racist. Instead, gird your loins and jump in. If you mess up, correct yourself, and move on. Ask questions, and listen to the answers.
5. Don’t be overly apologetic.
This isn’t an obvious thing to remember, but it’s important. If you mess up someone’s pronoun, and you realize it immediately, your gut instinct might be to apologize until you feel better, or until they tell you that it’s OK that you misgendered them. This makes your trans* friend feel bad. They start to feel guilty for making you feel guilty, and this is a vicious cycle. It’s not about you, it’s about them, so don’t apologize to make yourself feel better, apologize to make them feel better.
5. Educate yourself.
Don’t wait for other people to tell you what’s right or wrong. Google things for yourself. Google things that seem embarrassing like, “How to use xe/xem pronouns” or “How to be a good ally“. Read, ask questions, listen, read some more. It will pay off, I promise.