Pronouns Matter, using them with respect saves lives

by Sarah Gardiner

Pronouns matter. Apart from name, they are the main way we address other humans in conversation, thought, and identity. So understanding them and getting them right is vital.

Let’s start by defining the concept. Pronouns are the words we use when referring to another person. The three sets you will hear most often are:

The feminine: she/her/hers

The non-binary/gendered: singular they/them/theirs

The masculine: he/him/his

While other sets exist, these are the ones by far most utilized in everyday language. The feminine and masculine are the most commonly used because of the ingrained binary that society has faced prior, but it can be harmful to guess pronouns. If you have not been expressly told someone’s gender, do not assume it.

The singular “they” (which has a long history of non-gendered use within the English language, dating back to the 1400’s and used by authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare) is the most commonly adopted gender-neutral noun, though others do exist. We already use “they” in everyday language. Think of the phrases: “Who do they think they are?” or “You showed them!” We use this language daily, so we have all the skills already. We just need to learn to use them.

Learning new pronouns when your brain has been wired to the binary normative of feminine and masculine can take practice, but learning and growing are an important part of our community and being a human in general. Don’t be afraid to mess up — messing up is part of life. As long as you learn from mistakes, get better, try harder, and be more considerate.

Pronouns are some of the most fundamental ways we can be good allies and considerate humans. To respect someone’s pronouns is to respect them, their experience, and their identity. Pronouns can evolve as well, both situationally and because of the fluidity of gender. Respecting pronouns is one the simplest, easiest, and most fundamental ways to show respect and consideration for others.

Listen and respect when someone tells you how to refer to them and understand that they owe you no explanation if their pronouns or identity do shift. Believe and respect what people tell you. It is not for you to question. It is not yours to decide. What people say about who they are is valid. No questions asked.

Manhattan visits Kentucky, reflects on southern roots

Queer? To be completely honest, the meaning of the word Queer has been a bit of a conundrum. The definition, personally, changes daily.

When I was initially introduced to the concept of what I think Queer is today, which I think is something quite radical, I didn’t think I was radical enough. What I’ve come to associate queerness with are people who don’t have rigid, black and white definitions of their sexuality and gender.

That’s exactly where I find myself, in a grey area. I prefer humans who identify as men, that’s not to say I’ve never felt attracted to someone who identifies as a woman, sexually. If I have to tick a gender box, I would tick male. However, I don’t subscribe to the stereotypical ideas of what society would consider to masculine. I don’t identify as female, but I certainly am effeminate. For me, this is my queerness.

I would say these are ideas and notions I’ve come to recently. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi where the culture is very binary. Gay vs Straight – Man, Woman. I’ve lived in New York for ten years, I think this has changed slightly back home.

However, when I was coming of age I didn’t have any references for anything beyond the stereotypes. It was a constant struggle to find where I fit in.

After my recent visit to Kentucky, I’m noticing a change in the south. I think with dawn of social media more people in rural and conservative areas have access to representation and like minded individuals that one may not have known existed. It’s allowed LGBTQIA+ community to form a more global network which is beautiful. Especially for young people – if I had the knowledge that people like me existed in the world when I was coming of age, or examples of people living their life beyond societies definition, everything could have been different.

It’s all so overwhelming, I wish that boxes and definitions and binaries didn’t exist. Can you imagine a world where people just exist freely as they are? No need to create subcultures and sub-subcultures and communities within communities for protection and identification?

I’m not sure I’ll ever see this problem solved as long as we’re human but if we’re aware it’s a start. What’s wild is it’s all just a human attempt to belong but in this attempt to belong we create new communities or scenes that become exclusionary.

The best example that comes to mind is high school, there are kids that don’t identify with the mainstream so they refuse to conform and choose to rebel. In their rebellion they join the goth scene or alt scene, now their rebellion has become about conforming with a new group of like minded individuals that reject a group of people that they feel rejected them.

As it relates to Queers specifically, this behaviour was for protection and safety, mental and physical. I think it’s important and healthy to respect the past, but we have to look towards the future and build on ideas that are actually inclusive.

Gay cis white men have gained a lot and move through the world with much more ease, what’s important now is to use that privilege support and uplift more marginalized members of our collective community.

He’s beautiful


Tyler, Edmonton, Kentucky

Queer kind of just means I can do whatever I want. If I want to be butch one day I can butch it up. If I want to be femme I can. It contains no boundaries.

It’s a word that means freedom. You can do whatever you want

I kind of grew up in a bubble. I didn’t have to come out, I wasn’t the first person to do it in my family either. It was always understood that I was gay. All my friends were older and I was around people that made it OK for me.

I had an ideal group around me and I never felt out of place or unwanted. It could feel a little alienated in my hometown because of being the only one open about being gay.

A major issue right now with the current political environment, young people and kids see this administration and what is said about Queer culture and its detrimental to them. They’re just bombarded with negativity on who they are. If kids are thinking that something is wrong with them, I hope they realize that NOTHING is wrong about them. Some of the stories we see in the media right now could be hard for a young Queer person to interpret.

My identity used to run how I carry myself.

I thought, “Oh I’m gay. I have to be a twink. I have to be skinny.”

I felt that I had to fit specific stereotypes. As I’ve gotten older everything is more authentic. I know myself now more than I ever had. I do what I want when I want and I don’t ever think about how that fits into my identity.

The “mainstream” Queer community is not a part of our community that I choose to partake in. I don’t like how vapid it is. I feel like that side of the community tends to be very egotistical and self-centered. I love being around people who are genuinely weird without trying to be. I always feel more at home at alternative Queer spaces.

I am the happiest when I’m out of my comfort zone. I like the unknown of it. For me if something scares me, I’m going to do it and it’s never as scary as we make it out to be in our heads. I’m really happy when I’m by myself too. I love being social, but I am a loner. I love traveling alone, eating dinner alone, etc.

If something will make you happy and it doesn’t physically hurt people do it, because life is short, and you can’t live for others. As long as it’s authentic for you, people will respect you more because you’re living your truth as opposed to hiding.

femme is so underrated


Deantre, 20, Cave City, Kentucky

To me, Queer is a more intellectual term. It’s more to describe a broad range of sexualities. I identify as a femme non-binary person.

I don’t really have a certain pull towards a gender of sorts. I consider myself more femme because I feel like I take after my mother and the women I was raised around.

I’ve been blessed to have four mothers. Two grandmothers and two mothers. Seeing them, all black women, knowing all they went through and they always had a smile on their face. They’re the strongest and best people I’ve known to date. They’d go through the fucked up shit through the week, but get their makeup on and little heels and get their ass to church on Sunday.

I find femme as strong and powerful.

There was a reading that enlightened me about it, Femmes are the people that will put out 20 dollars in your books when you’re in jail, feed you when you’re sick and always take care if you. I find those qualities in myself and femme is so underrated.

It’s more of the performance of my identity of how I carry myself, rather than my identity alone. Sometimes I’ll wear eye shadow, lipstick, or just to go bare-faced. My identity plays a part in my politics, my interests such as being a Pan African studies major.

I don’t see a lot of black people talking about the Queerness., like myself. My identity also plays a part in my intellectual choices and romance.

My identity is more of a part of my life than I actually thought about.

When you have all these identities (non-binary femme person) you have to have these questions like, “Is this place safe for me?”

There is a lot of fetishization with my black queerness navigating that can be difficult.

I wrote a thesis paper on “BBC culture,” which was so funny because I got to say “big black cock” throughout the entire piece.

One of my sources was a porn website called “Thug Watcher,” where a group of white men go to “the hood” and find thuggish black men to fuck. This is the kind of expectations or stereotype of black men. Outside of my blackness, my femmeness will get fetishized.

I’ve been in Louisville for a few years, but I was raised in Cave City, Kentucky. Some of my neighbors even had confederate flags.

However I actually feel more unsafe in Louisville than cave city because Louisville has a lot of structural racism and that’s a whole lot scarier. Everyone knew my mom and family in Cave City; it’s a small town. I felt like a person there and I feel like another statistic in Louisville.

The system at play in Louisville is more powerful and older than in my home.

Cave City is just more comfortable. There isn’t conversation about what sides of the city need this or that …like grocery stores.

I’ve been in Kentucky whole life and people shit on the South, but I love it. It’s a hidden cultural Mecca. Louisville has a lot of potential with lots of people doing good thing. And I will stay in the South.

I’m sure there are many Queer people struggling in the south, but trust in your magic. Whatever it is, it’s gonna be alright you’ll figure everything out. Coming out is not a one- stop shop. I feel myself constantly coming out to myself or other folks. My family knows but it’s something they don’t talk about or celebrate. I don’t think they have the language to do so. (i.e. Understanding Queer terms)

On the topic of Queer education, we as a society have a bigger problem with not having a comprehensive sexual education program across the country. I think this leads to more sexual assault in our Queer community, especially for gay men.

The only type of Queer culture I saw growing up consisted of bars, bath houses, and bookstores.  I didn’t know that being gay encompassed anything else other than fucking. Without education, we’re leaving young gay men out because they have no idea and  have no cultural competency. All they’re coming into is sex and highs and it’s unsafe.

We don’t teach them what sexual assault consists of in schools.

Education is so important to me.

In the classroom is where I feel my absolute best or in any educational type settings. I love meeting up with friends to shoot the shit and then we’ll be talking about research and societal topics. Education is where I feel the most comfortable. We’re able to leave the identity or the bodily aspect of yourself out of the conversation and be able to just talk about cognitive aspect of ourselves.

However, I also love being in the disco lights. Just something ethereal about dancing.

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