WHAT ARE PERSONAL PRONOUNS AND WHY DO THEY MATTER?
In English, whether we realize it or not, people frequently refer to us using pronouns when speaking about us. Often, when speaking of a singular human in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied — such as “he” to refer to a man/boy or “she” to refer to a woman/girl. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.
Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions aren’t always correct, and the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message — that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not.
Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT YOU GO BY A SET OF PRONOUNS I’VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE?
It means that if you refer to me using a pronoun instead of my name that you can use the pronouns from the set of pronouns I provided. Although you might have been given an abbreviated pronouns set (e.g. “ze/zir” or “he/him” or “they” or “ey/em/eirs”), every set of third person pronouns in English has five forms (though sometimes certain forms are the same). So, for example, he/him pronouns refers to he/him/his/his/himself as the five forms. Ey/em/eirs might actually refer to ey/em/eir/eirs/eirself as the five forms.
The term “neopronouns” tends to refer to pronoun sets developed from the 20th century (or sometimes 19th century) to today. Many of them are actually not that new. A few examples of these are described in greater detail on Wikipedia, where you can also find examples of how to use some of them in sentences.
Visit mypronouns.org for more information and resources.