When Sienna Ransfield was 17, they adopted they/them pronouns.
While lots of people respected this, there were many others who refused to try. Instead they would fight them on it, saying their pronouns were “ridiculous”, “stupid” and “awful”.
“It’s so upsetting,” Sienna says.
“Yes in your own mind you might not believe in something - but having an open mind and accepting what others need isn’t hard. It’s just respect.”
Sienna isn’t alone in this experience.
While over the past decade, many people have felt more comfortable expressing their gender fluidity, non-binary people that Re: News spoke to say they often experience resistance, dismissal, or even open hostility to their identity and pronouns.
In an interview with GQ Hype Spain last week, singer Demi Lovato talked about the mental toll it takes to constantly have to reaffirm your pronouns with people who forget or ignore them.
After adopting they/them pronouns in 2020, Lovato said they had readopted she/her alongside they/them because of how “exhausting” it was to constantly have to educate and remind people of their pronouns.
We asked non-binary people what their experience has been with pronoun acceptance in Aotearoa.
Most people said for every person in their life that used their pronouns correctly or tried really hard to, there was another person who ignored or dismissed them.
They shared with Re: News what their pronouns mean to them, the challenges they face in adopting them, and how they’d like to be supported.
Transitioning is exhausting - especially telling people over and over again that these are the pronouns you use.
You just want them to accept and understand.
Sometimes you want to give up and just accept it.
People ask me why I don’t correct others and it’s usually because I feel like I’m hurting their feelings.
I don’t think people need to do a course or anything, but just doing little things like asking what your pronoun is, or sharing yours and asking for others - it is decent and respectful, and makes me smile when someone does.
I work in youth development and had younger people in my groups who used they/them pronouns. It was new to me, but something about it made sense for me.
When I started experimenting with my pronouns, everytime I used they/them, I felt a wave of relief wash through me.
I was married and had kids when I started using they/them pronouns, and they were really accepting.
But my wider whānau and community has been clunky and not the best.
But I think intent matters. If people are putting in a concerted effort, when mistakes happen it washes over you.
But when people are aware and keep doing it, I feel like I’ve had the air knocked out of me.
My pronouns are one of the ways I feel most myself, so it hurts.
When I realised I most identified with they/them and it would make me happy, it was really freeing but also really scary.
I knew from other’s experiences that people aren’t exactly welcoming of they/them pronouns.
Most of the time people are totally fine with it. Maybe 30% of the time, they dismiss it, or are quite probing about it - they want to question me a lot as if to discredit my experience and identity. I’ve had someone ask me if it was a joke.
I hate having to be the person that corrects or reminds people when they misgender me. But if I don’t, I feel like I’m not advocating for myself and other gender fluid people.
And how someone reacts says a lot. There are a lot of people who get mad at being corrected, or say they’re “trying”.
But there’s a big difference between someone who is actually trying, and someone who is using “trying” as a cover for their dismissal of your identity and pronouns.
I’m Queer and in recent years have adopted the pronouns she/they.
Gender fluidity is a spectrum, and me and lots of other non-binary people identify in lots of different ways.
While I am a woman, the word has never really felt right to me and she/they fits that most closely.
Like, if someone said “ask that lady over there”, it makes me cringe so hard.
Essentially, I am a woman, but please don’t call me one.
But while she/they fits my gender identity most closely, I find it really disappointing that people take any opportunity to avoid using non-binary pronouns.
I would really like to hear people refer to me by they/them instead of defaulting to she/her.
Lola (asked to only use their first name for privacy reasons)
When I adopted they/them pronouns I found it really disheartening how little effort people made to adopt them for me.
They often made me feel like I was just doing it for attention.
Even though these pronouns feel right for me, I’ve really internalised a lot of that queerphobia and it often leaves me questioning myself. A lot of my friends have told me it does the same for them.
I accidentally misgender people sometimes as well. To train myself to do better, everytime I mess up I will compliment that person three times in my head using the correct pronouns.
I find it trains my brain, and in a really positive way.
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