The English languages pushes people to use gendered constructions when referring to people, like referring to them as "she", "he", "him/her", or "hers/his". Many transgender people prefer the pronouns of a binary gender, which can be the same pronouns of their assigned birth sex, but is usually that of the "opposite" sex.
A lot of genderqueer people though, do not want to be referred to in this way, and instead prefer gender neutral pronouns.
The pronouns they/them/their can be used to refer to individual people. Contrary to what some people think, this usage is grammatically correct and has been used continuously since the mid 14th century. It is most commonly used in casual speech, when referred to a generic person, or a person whose gender is unknown, for example:
- "Someone left their umbrella."
- "What does that driver think they're doing?!?"
- "If anyone asks where I am, you can tell them I went next door."
More recently, nonbinary and genderqueer people have come to start advocating use of these pronouns to refer to themselves.
Singular they is currently the most widely accepted gender neutral pronoun, and it is the most common. Singular they is the safest way to refer to a person, the least likely to offend them, if you do not know their gender.
There are many other sets of gender-neutral pronouns. Some of the most popular ones include Ze, which can take the forms Ze/Zir/Zir or Ze/Hir/Hir, and the Spivak pronouns, ey/em/eir, which sound a lot like "they/them/their" but without the "th", or Xe/xem/xyr. Slightly less common are Ne/nem/nir and Ve/ver/vis.
Nonbinary and genderqueer people using gendered pronouns
Not all nonbinary people want to use gender-neutral pronouns for themselves. Some people prefer to stick with the pronouns of their assigned birth sex, out of familiarity, ease of use, or a desire not to impose on others. Other people prefer to use the binary pronouns associated with the opposite of their assigned birth sex, so as to emphasize their transgender status, or in an attempt to induce people to see or treat them more the way they want to be treated.
Cis and binary trans people using gender-neutral pronouns
There are also cis and binary trans people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns for other reasons, including political or ideological reasons, or just personal preference. Gender-neutral pronouns were actively advocated by some feminists for years before nonbinary gender identities became widely known.