Cultural Considerations: They/Them Pronouns & Nonbinary Identity

Recently, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary updated their definition of the word “they”. This new entry explicitly recognizes they as a pronoun to refer to a person whose gender identity is nonbinary.

“Emily Brewster, a senior editor for Merriam-Webster, said factors like the growing practice of soliciting or giving out one’s pronouns, the growing number of people who identify as nonbinary, and the acceptance of the nonbinary ‘they’ pronoun in a wide variety of texts all coalesced to make the new addition an obvious choice.

‘We are always aiming to reflect usage,’ she said. ‘It’s very clear that this is fully established in the language at this point.'”

About Nonbinary People

Nonbinary people identify their gender as neither exclusively male nor female. Some examples include genderqueer, gender fluid, agender and bigender. Within non-Western cultures, individuals from groups such as Two Spirit people, Fa’afafine, or Hijra may or may not identify as nonbinary or transgender.

Research is limited, but is estimated that nonbinary people make up 25-35% of transgender populations. Much of what is known about nonbinary people’s experiences is based on personal accounts, such as blog posts, personal essays and social media. The lack of research and cultural visibility can make the identity development and coming out process more difficult for nonbinary individuals. We can support nonbinary people by:

  • educating ourselves and others (see the resources below as a start),
  • practicing the use of singular they/them pronouns and other gender-neutral pronouns,
  • avoiding making assumptions about someone’s gender based on how they look, and
  • remembering that gender identity (one’s sense of self as it pertains to gender) is not the same as sexual orientation (who one is attracted to).

For more on they/them pronouns and nonbinary individuals, check out the resources below.

Texas CASA is committed to our goal of ensuring the highest quality advocacy possible for all children in the child protection system, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, or disability status – that’s why we are highlighting resources to support the CASA network’s journey to becoming more inclusive, welcoming, affirming and culturally considerate. Explore more Cultural Considerations articles.