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Concerns We’re Heading For ‘Misgendering Crisis’ As 61% Of Brits Never Ask About Pronouns

by : Emily Brown on : 25 Jun 2021 18:19
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Though conversations about identity are becoming increasingly common, new research shows there is still a lack of understanding around pronouns, highlighting the impact of getting them wrong.

Pronouns are often attributed to a person at birth, when newborns can be labelled ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her’ depending on their biological sex. Despite a wealth of progress on the matter, many people still have a habit of assuming a person’s gender and pronouns.

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To highlight these issues, Instagram partnered with Mermaids, one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities, to conduct a study of 2,000 UK adults and find out how many people are open and accepting to acknowledging a person’s pronouns.

Of the 2,000 participants, 61% said they never ask someone their pronouns when meeting for the first time, paving the way for misgendering in the future. In comparison, just 6% said they ask each new person they meet what their pronouns are.

When asked to explain why they do not ask what a person’s pronouns are, 45% of respondents said they simply did not feel the need to ask, while 22% presumed a person’s pronouns based on physical or sex-based characteristics.

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What’s more, it seems many participants may not honour a person’s pronouns even if they were made clear to them, as 36% said they do not recognise non-binary pronouns such as ‘they/them’ or ‘it/its’. A further 56% believe people can’t refer to themselves using multiple pronouns, as might be the case when someone identifies with more than one.

Mermaids Instagram post explaining importance of asking pronouns (@mermaidsgender/Instagram)@mermaidsgender/Instagram

This lack of understanding, or perhaps in some cases refusal to learn, has led to 85% of Brits not knowing the meaning of the term ‘neopronoun’, which refers to a set of singular third-person pronouns typically created with the intent of being a gender neutral pronoun set.

Many people may believe that referring to someone as, for example, ‘he’ or ‘she’ rather than ‘they’ may not have much of an impact, with Instagram and Mermaids finding that 31% believe using the wrong pronouns would simply ‘cause offense’ to the person in question.

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A further 86% of Brits do not understand one of the most likely impacts of misgendering someone is negatively affecting their mental health.

Discussing the matter, a teenager who has been supported by Mermaids said it ‘really stings’ when someone ‘can’t be bothered to try’ and use the correct pronouns because ‘it’s too much effort for them’.

They commented: ‘It feels like I am not being heard, and that they don’t take me seriously, and they think that this is a phase that I’ll soon get over… that hurts, and it feels very uncomfortable… It makes my heart sink.’

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Mermaids CEO Susie Green, who uses the pronouns ‘she/her’, said the findings show we are facing a ‘misgendering crisis with the UK public not understanding the mental health impact that using the wrong pronouns can have on young minds.’

She continued:

Normalising the pronouns conversation is the first step in helping people to accept the identity of others, and creating a more inclusive society where everyone can be authentically themselves.

Though there is still a long way to go in educating people about the importance of pronouns, Brits have shown willingness to learn, as 38% agreed pronouns are an important part of a person’s identity. While a quarter said they do not understand why people change their pronouns, 18% would like to understand more or learn how to have conversations on the topic.

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Lorcan Bevan Niss, a genderqueer creator who uses the pronouns ‘ze/zir’, stressed that being misgendered can have ‘incredibly damaging effects on your mental health’, and pointed out that the ‘only reason for misgendering boils down to somebody being ignorant on the subject or actively misgendering as a hostile act’, neither of which feels safe.

Lorcan continued:

I use ze/zir pronouns to claim my identity on my own terms. I encourage everyone to have open discussions on what pronouns people use, as a simple way to show that you’re aware of trans and nonbinary identities, and want people to feel safe enough to exist as themselves in your presence.

Lorcan Bevan Niss (Supplied)Supplied

In an effort to help people learn more about pronoun usage, Instagram and Mermaids have launched an ‘Insta Allyship Guide’ on the @mermaidsgender account to offer information on ‘how, what and when to ask’ about pronouns, as well as the mental health impacts of misgendering.

The guide includes posts, opinions and perspectives from a wide range of transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse creators, with Instagram and Mermaids also calling for more people to think about their pronouns and discuss the topic using the hashtag ‘#ShareWithPride’ to help normalise the conversation.

The launch comes after Instagram added the ability for users to include their pronouns on their Instagram profile, allowing them to immediately make them clear to anyone visiting their page.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence you can contact a trained member of the Mermaid’s team from Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm on 0808 801 0400, or visit their website.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Featured, Instagram, LGBTQ+, Mental Health, no-article-matching, Non-binary, Pronouns