Choosing they/them pronouns instead of he/him or she/her pronouns is a personal decision. Each person has their own reasons why certain pronouns are right for them. But a reader asked me this question and I wanted to address it.
Why use they/them pronouns instead of he or she?
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They/them pronouns are different than she/her or he/him pronouns because very few people are assigned they/them as a baby. An adult who uses they/them most likely made an intentional decision to use a gender-neutral pronoun. So why would someone express themselves in a gender-neutral way?
First, let’s consider the default male and female gender roles in our society. This gender binary (“you must be either male or female based on what we tell you that you are”) is enforced by our families, employers, schools, and our government. It used to be illegal to “cross dress” in places in the US, meaning the police could arrest you for not wearing at least three pieces of clothing of the “correct” gender.
Enforcing a gender binary is closely entwined with colonialism and patriarchy. Many cultures do not have such an expectation that everyone should be a man or a woman.
So why am I getting into all this? Because the question — why would someone use a gender neutral pronoun — assumes that everyone fits into a gender binary. Limiting our language to only he or she pronouns is one aspect of our culture attempting to enforce the gender binary.
Possible reasons why someone might use they/them pronouns:
- “she” and “he” each feel too gendered
- People don’t perceive you as the gender you identify as, and it’s easier to ask people to use “they” than a different binary pronoun
- You wish to refer to yourself in a gender -neutral or nonbinary way
- It feels good when people refer to you as “them”
- It feels better than other pronouns when people refer to you as “them”
- You want to let people know you are trans or nonbinary in the language you use for yourself
- A friend started using they/them pronouns for you and it stuck and started to feel right
- Perhaps you use “she” “he” or “whatever” pronouns most of the time because it’s easier but you have a few safe community spaces where you ask people to refer to you as “they”
- You’ve considered neopronouns such as ze/zem but decided they/them would be easier to explain to the general public
- You could use both they/them and he/him or she/her (one doesn’t exclude the other)
- Some other personal reason! Everyone is different and makes their own choice about what language feels affirming
Deciding what pronouns to use can be a gut decision, not a logical brain decision. So it may be hard for your friend to explain precisely why they use the pronouns they do. I wouldn’t ask an acquaintance about the nuances of deciding on their pronoun because it could be a difficult question to answer.
Hopefully this article gives some general ideas why people might choose to use they/them pronouns. Regardless of why someone uses they/them pronouns, it’s important to show respect for that person by using their correct pronouns.
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