Gender Identity vs Gender Expression: The Thing with Pronouns





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Diet Queer Feminism
Gender Identity vs Gender Expression: The Thing with Pronouns
By Sotonye Ame • Issue #2 • View online

Gender is a spectrum: I’m hoping you already knew that.
Gender identity is who you are. Who you are could be male, female, or nonbinary (which is both a gender identity and an umbrella term for people who don’t identify with either of the binary genders). Gender expression, on the other hand, is how you choose to show who you are. This could be by your clothes, hairstyle, or your pronouns. For this letter, my focus will be on pronouns.
A while ago, someone asked me a question about pronouns, so I thought to write about it here. Contrary to what cis(het) Nigerians believe, everyone has pronouns. When a person is female, their pronouns would usually be she/her, and there’s he/him for people who are male. Other common pronouns are they/them for groups of people or when a person’s gender is unknown, and it for inanimate objects. We all learnt this in primary school, or at least I did.
With the mainstreaming of nonbinary identities, they/them, which have always been gender-neutral, became a gender marker for nonbinary people. And this is where things get confusing for some reasons:
1.   Not all nonbinary people use they/them pronouns
2.   Not all people who use they/them pronouns are nonbinary
3.   Some people have multiple pronouns
I’ll explain. Although pronouns have been used as gender markers for probably ever, pronouns aren’t necessarily gendered. So people who are female can decide to use they/them or he/him pronouns (he/him lesbians are valid btw), or even any of the neopronouns if that’s what they’re comfortable with.
Pronouns are mainly for grammatical purposes; it’s easier to explain this using other languages so let’s take Spanish for instance. In Spanish, pretty much everything is gendered. “El” and “La” are masculine and feminine gender markers that translate to “the” in English. So, I would say “el carro”, meaning “the car”, and “la playa”, which means “the beach”. In French, “person” is a feminine word and it is used even when talking about a man.
Pronouns can be a pointer to how a person identifies, but that isn’t always the case. People sometimes choose pronouns because they identify in some way with the gender the pronoun represents, but they could also choose them because they like the way it makes them feel. For instance, I am a ciswoman and I use she/her and they/them pronouns. I started using they/them pronouns because I feel affirmed when people refer to me using those pronouns.
An androgynous or transmasc person can use she/her pronouns, it doesn’t take away from their androgyny and doesn’t mean they are in any way fem aligned. Pronouns, like clothes, are just another means of gender expression and aren’t gendered per se.
TL;DR Pronouns aren’t gendered. Pronouns and gender don’t always align. It’s okay to be confused, ask questions, and don’t misgender people.
With love and everything nice,
Did you enjoy this issue?
Sotonye Ame

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Lagos, Nigeria.