Recently, a friend of mine said they did not like when people say the phrase “preferred pronouns.” I can’t see what is wrong with that.

This is a great and messy question. How can the phrase “preferred pronouns” be hurtful to some people? 

Words and rhetoric are powerful and they matter. Every individual word choice can change how the message is received. The word “preferred” implies that there are other appropriate pronouns available. This is not true — a person’s pronouns are their pronouns. There is no preference. They just are. By saying they are preferred, it takes away from the validity of those pronouns. This is why the phrase “preferred pronouns” is offensive or problematic — it is an invalidating phrase to many transgender people. 

Some may not understand why pronouns even matter to begin with. Pronouns are almost like someone’s name. They are connected to one’s identity and express their gender. 

Pronouns don’t have to make sense to you because they are not for you to understand, but they have to be respected. Pronouns are not meant to be subjected to debate or personal opinion because there is nothing to feel about them. You can’t tell someone else what their identity is, which is why you cannot tell someone what their pronouns are. 

As a black woman, it would be like someone telling me I am not black and calling me white — it just would not make sense. All things considered, it is honestly a very senseless thing to purposely use the wrong pronouns for a person.

It’s also important to remember that language is constantly evolving and changing to adapt to culture. It is perfectly acceptable to mess up. Keep trying and learning. Educating yourself is one of the greatest acts of all-ship and self-empowerment. 

It’s also worth mentioning that everyone has lived different experiences, so labels and words mean different things to different people. Everyone has different boundaries. 

Take, for example, the word “queer.” This is a loaded word that comes with baggage and historical context. For some, it is not an OK word to use. It still carries demeaning memories and trauma for some people. For others, the reclamation of the word queer is empowering. As you can tell, language varies. 

Ultimately, most words in the community are personal, and it is vital to ask questions and check in with others to make sure they are comfortable. 

Have questions? We have answers! Send your questions via email (lgbt@ohio.edu or oulgbtcenter@gmail.com); via Tumblr (oulgbtcenter); via Twitter (@oulgbtcenter) with the hashtag #qaqueer; or post/message to Facebook (oulgbtcenter). So bring it on, do it to it and query a queer.

Destiniee Jaram is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University and is the Query a Queer writer for Ohio University’s LGBT Center.