Just call me they: Why pronouns are important to me by Jamie Windust

This year has seen several high-profile entertainers come out as non-binary, including Sam Smith and RuPaul's Drag Race UK's Divina de Campo. Divina has spoken out about the use of personal pronouns and the need to "be kind" when encountering these issues.

We asked Jamie Windust, a non-binary writer, public speaker and model, to give us their perspective on what it means to identify as non-binary and to explain why language is important to them.

Just call me 'they'

I identify as non-binary, which is a gender identity that doesn’t align itself with male or female, and allows me to identify outside of the binary of gender. For me, this means being able to exist in a way that allows me to create my own rule book, and really express myself in ways that I want to, without the pressure of stereotypes or expectations on how I ‘should’ be looking.

For example, I use they/them pronouns which means that when people address me or talk about me, they would say “Oh, have you seen Jamie, they’re not here yet?” or “Jamie’s gone shopping; they’re definitely going to spend too much money.” However, some people who are non-binary still use he/him or she/her pronouns, which is completely valid.

I’d rather be asked politely what pronouns I use than for someone to presume.

Jamie Windust
Jamie Windust

What is 'misgendering'?

What’s important to remember and recognise here is that if you’re ever in a situation where you don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can always – in a kind and appropriate manner – ask them. I’d rather be asked politely what pronouns I use than for someone to presume my pronouns, and for them then to continually use the wrong one. This is called ‘misgendering,’ and is when someone assumes your gender, and may use the wrong pronouns towards you. For example, if I were to be called he or she.

Some people are ok with more than one pronoun. For example, some non-binary people use she/they pronouns, which means they’re happy to be called either she/her or they/them.

Many people believe that they/them pronouns are plural, however the Mirriam Webster dictionary has just added ‘they’ as a singular pronoun, so even though many of us knew it was correct anyway, we now have the dictionary’s support, which is brilliant!

Why are pronouns important?

A great way to think of it is if you were with someone a lot of the time, and they continually got your name wrong.

Some people struggle to understand why pronouns are so important. A great way to think of it is if you were with someone a lot of the time, and they continually got your name wrong. That internal twitch inside of you that’s like, "hmm that’s not right," but also it’s a little bit awkward sometimes to bring up. This is what it feels like for me when someone uses the wrong pronoun towards me. Many people in shops, restaurants or general hospitality environments, are unaware of the use of they/them pronouns, so for me and others who use they/ them pronouns, being misgendered in this way is a regular occurrence.

Don't assume

How can we be better allies when it comes to pronouns? One way is to use they/them pronouns if you’re unsure of someone’s gender identity, instead of just assuming. You can also just politely ask! If you slip up and use the wrong pronoun, you can apologise swiftly before moving on with the correct pronoun.

Pronouns might seem like small, simple things, but to me and many others in the beautiful trans and non-binary community, they are incredibly powerful and meaningful. When someone makes the effort to use my preferred pronoun instead of making an assumption about how I identify, it makes the world feel like a safer place.

For information on RuPaul's Drag Race UK, visit here.

Where to find support

You should not feel pressurised to label yourself, your gender identity or sexual orientation. If you do feel you’d like to come out as non-binary or trans, and are safely able to, you can find support on how to start conversations, and further advice, at Stonewall.

It is always good to speak to someone you trust about the issues you might be facing, no matter how big or small. It can be hard talking about gender, sexuality and relationships, so if you are experiencing difficulties, don’t feel ashamed or different, and don’t feel you have to hide away from it. You can also find help on a range of issues at Young Minds.

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