Written by: Coach Lou
You might have noticed our staff wearing pronoun buttons, or your child might have come home from class talking about them. I’m here this week to break down what pronouns are, how to use more respectful & inclusive language, and why this matters to your child's education and well-being.
What are pronouns?
A pronoun is a substitute for a noun that you don’t know the identity of, or a shorthand when the person/place/thing you’re talking about is understood. For our purposes, we’re talking about pronouns for people. In English, we can use gendered or gender neutral pronouns to talk about people. The most common sets of pronouns are:
How do you use pronouns?
It’s pretty simple, this is the explanation we use with the kiddos:
If you identify as a girl, your pronouns are she/her/hers.
If you identify as a boy, your pronouns are he/him/his.
If you identify as both or neither or you’re not sure, your pronouns are they/them/theirs.
The only way to know a person’s gender and pronouns is to ask. It would be pretty strange if we called every kid “Sam” because it’s easier than asking every student their name, but that’s exactly what it’s like when you assume someone’s pronouns. I know that it might feel weird at first, but I promise it’s not nearly as scary or hard as you think. You can use this script from A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns:
"I'm (your name), I use (whatever pronouns your use). What pronouns do you use?"
As one of my 5-year-old's told their classmate who was complaining about our pronoun discussion, and telling me that it’s weird that I’m not a boy or a girl, “It doesn’t matter if you think it’s weird, you just have to be nice.”
Did you know?
A recent study found that nearly 2% of high school students identify as transgender (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). We have 450 students at LIC Kids, which means that statistically, at least 9 of our kids will identify as transgender at some point in their lives. A study in California found that 27% of teens identified as “gender non-conforming” and 6.2% identified as “highly non-conforming”. By that standard, 120 of our students will identify as “gender non-conforming” and 30 will identify as “highly non-conforming”. Based on this simple math, it’s important to ask pronouns because we are interacting with kids who may be questioning their gender identity or may currently identify as transgender or non-binary.
By age 3 kids are already beginning to notice social groups. Our 3-year-old's are noticing what traits are “ok” for girls and boys, and how they are “supposed” to perform their genders. By age 4, kids start to identify as their gender. This means that children as young as Pre-K may know that they are transgender. This doesn't mean that all children know if they are trans at this point, but that they will be able to identify themselves as a gender when asked. They will most often identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, because that is what they have been taught, but if they tell you otherwise, you should listen and give them room to explore their identities.
At around age 6, girls begin to think boys are smarter than them. Researchers learned this by showing images to children and asking which drawing they thought was smarter (i.e., female doctor vs. male doctor). Prior to age 6, children tend to pick the image that reflects their own gender. After age 6, both girls and boys tend to select “men” as being smarter. It is up to the adults in their lives to question these gender stereotypes and get kids thinking about gender with an open mind.
Talking about pronouns with kids can help save lives. Nearly 50% of transgender youth attempt suicide before the age of 18 (American Academy of Pediatrics). As scary as it is to think about, that’s 5 of our 450 students at LIC Kids. The main reason that young people attempt suicide is because they feel alone. By normalizing discussions about gender and giving kids autonomy over their identities, we can help them build a trusting and supportive community where questioning and exploring gender identity is encouraged. By allowing kids to interact openly and honestly with transgender and gender non-conforming adults, they will start to experience diversity first hand and see that there are others like them.
Why are they important?
You might be wondering why this is such a big deal. You might be thinking “they’re just pronouns”. As a non-binary transgender person, I can tell you that pronouns are really important. My pronouns make me feel seen and validated in my identity and my body. Discovering my pronouns has helped me discover myself. Being misgendered not only hurts my feelings, but it makes me feel physically ill and exhausted. Archie does a great job of describing the feeling here:
Asking someone’s pronouns and respecting them is an easy way to make a transgender or gender non-conforming person’s day. Plus, it’s way less weird than calling everyone “Sam.”
At LIC Kids we want to create a space where kids can be honest with adults and know they will be heard without judgement. We want everyone to know that they are welcome and supported here no matter how they identify. While talking about pronouns is great for creating inclusive spaces for gender-diverse folks, it is also important to teach our cisgender students to be good allies and inclusive leaders. Let’s raise the kinds of kids who will stand up to bullies and be there for their friends in need.
Check out the resources below to help you learn about more about gender and for ideas about how to talk to your kids about gender:
Tips for Inclusive Language:
Our favorite: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
List of great books with gender expansive children: https://bit.ly/2kSSlDd
"How to Talk to Transgender Youth": https://nbcnews.to/2CK6HQ8
"They is a Singular Pronoun": https://bit.ly/2B6lF34
"All Your Questions About Gender-Neutral Pronouns Answered": https://bit.ly/2qvjhwm
"How to Use Gender-Neutral Words": https://bit.ly/2wPpJll
"How to Break Away From the Gender Binary": https://bit.ly/2CKwho5
GLSEN - https://www.glsen.org/
Gender Spectrum - https://www.genderspectrum.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality - https://transequality.org/
PFLAG - http://www.pflagnyc.org/
Ackerman Institute: Gender & Family Project - https://www.ackerman.org/gfp/
The Center - https://gaycenter.org/recovery-health/health/tgnc/
Q-Center - http://lgbtnetwork.org/q-center
Brooklyn Pride Center - http://lgbtbrooklyn.org/
Their Kids - https://www.theirkids.com/
Resources used for statistics: