Pronouns and Transgender Leadership
In my professional and personal circles, it’s common for people to state their pronouns in their signature line of their email, on zoom calls, or on name tags. Pronoun use has come under the scrutiny in our social circles and, for many of us, under scrutiny in our intrapersonal lives (that is, we have spent time considering our own personal pronouns). Increasingly, we are being asked to know and use the use pronouns for our friends and colleagues that they want us to use when we are talking about them in the third person (i.e.: even if they are not present). This is a sign of respect, and an acknowledgement that people’s personal identity matters.
I remember when I first was asked to use they/them pronouns for an individual; like many I had some resistance over using a plural pronoun for a single individual. One of my grown offspring is nonbinary and they have pointed out to me that using they as referring to singular pronoun has been in use in the English language since 1375 (see footnote). After it was pointed out to me, I did notice that I had used the pronoun they on occasion to refer to a singular individual. Te first person who I met who used they/them pronouns for themselves on a regular basis was someone that I really liked and respected; I soon got used their pronoun choice, and I have since also met people who use neopronouns, and people who use no pronouns at all. I have two grown children, and the one who is non binary presented as gender neutral as early as 2 ½ years old; I feel grateful that the current culture has ways to reflect their non-binary identification. I got a front row seat to gender transition when my (lesbian) partner and coparent announced that it was time to transition to being a man. That taught me a lot about gender, identity, and what it takes for a person to undergo a gender transition so they can show up for their truest self. I firmly believe in an individual’s right (and responsibility, really) to use the tools available to be their authentic selves, and there are certainly more possibilities than ever before.
So, what are my pronouns? I use she/her pronouns: I love being a woman and have found much solace and strength in the power of female spaces, goddess worship, and feeling my alignment with Mother Earth. I notice that people want to know my pronouns so they know how to talk about me and for them I can say you can use ki/kin pronouns if you wish to refer to me in a gender-neutral manner.
Ooooo, ki/kin pronouns, what is this? Ki/kin pronouns are rooted in the Anishinaabe and Potawatomi Nation languages, as taught to us by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work. You can find her article on ki/kin pronouns at https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/together-earth/2015/03/30/alternative-grammar-a-new-language-of-kinship or read about it in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. What I love about ki/kin pronouns is that it gives me a way to include All Life into my circle of care: not only other people (whose gender and pronouns I may not yet know) but also all life: birds, animals, trees, water, fish, insects…in short anything that is animate….any being I want to acknowledge without reducing kin to a gendered pronoun. Following the indigenous leadership of Robin Wall Kimmerer, using ki/kin pronouns is critical at this point in time when we are facing systems collapse because it honors life as sacred and worthy of our attention and care.
My partner Kara Huntermoon has written an article on using ki/kin pronouns that has a handy chart and several examples in usage (e.g.: look at those geese! Kin are flying South; This snail is large, ki has a beautiful shell; The river is high today, ki is rushing to the sea). I encourage you to check it out here.
People who have done the brave work of transitioning and asking all of us to think about pronouns have paved the way to make the use of ki/kin pronouns possible. What I love about this concept is that this is a pronoun choice I can make for myself for all beings that I want to talk about that I don’t have a reason to reduce to a gender binary. This could include the geese flying overhead, a beautiful tree that I am acknowledging during a hike, or a person whose pronouns are not known to me.
I have read that it can be harmful to assume another person’s gender. For me, I do not mind when someone reads me as a woman and uses she/her pronouns. If someone uses they/them pronouns for me I usually let them know my preference. I have noticed some heated opinions and dialog related to this subject, but my direct experience with people using they/them or neopronouns is that they are quite forgiving when someone accidentally uses the wrong pronoun, especially if it’s corrected and followed up with an apology. Using the right pronoun for individuals is a sign of kindness and care, a sign of respect for their individuality and their personal identification. It is my firm belief that we are all each other’s natural allies, and I love the combination of transgender and indigenous leadership that allows me to give a voice to those that don’t speak in human tongue and deserve our respect and attention.