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Preteens, Pronouns, Millennials & Making a Difference as an Ally

| Apr 4, 2022
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Eden Carlsen

I volunteer with a teen girl youth group a couple times a week. The things they talk about always blow my mind; I may only be in my 30s, but it’s amazing how fast you forget what it feels like to be 12 or 13. (The focus of this particular group is at its core a feminist & girl power movement, so for clarity sake, I’m going to use female-based pronouns and vocabulary to describe the members. 

What is the most interesting conversation that regularly comes up for these girls is pronouns and gender identity.

It’s a sign of the times and a sign of where our society is going which is really exciting. I love watching how they talk about it, and how their conversations go. Quite often, it’ll start with a conversation with a question: What does non-binary mean? What is an AFAB? How do I know if I’m cis? If you’re gay, does that mean you’re cis? 

Usually, one girl will ask the question, and someone else will pipe up and say that they know someone, have a friend, etc. and explain the definition. Very rarely do I have to step in to clarify or correct something that’s blatantly wrong — these Gen-Z’s and Gen-Alpha’s know what’s up.

I love seeing the honest acceptance and understanding these pre-teens and teens have: they’re loud, they’re proud, and they’re ready to stand up to defend their friends breaking the binary. 

A couple of times one girl has been really confused and that has lead to a longer discussion, and usually, these conversations are about pronouns and gender fluidity. It’s clear the girls as a whole have a really good understanding of what it means to be transgender or bigender, but exploring that further sometimes takes some coaching.

I myself regularly rock a super-short hair cut (I’m talking Jamie Lee Curtis short), and a couple of the girls have followed suit with edgier short cuts as they experiment with their own style as teenage girls do. I always use this as a springboard moment: have you ever been misgendered because your hair was short? How did it feel? Usually, they’ll say they just correct the statement and move on, but every once in a while, one of the girls will have a deeper reaction to the statement. Voila! More understanding about misgendering and its harms! But what does that have to do with pronouns? 

Well, how can you solve the problem? By introducing yourself and what you would like to be called! Just like if a girl prefers to be called Cassy instead of Cassandra, it’s just as easy to introduce yourself with your pronouns and make it clear right off the bat. And from there, it’s an easy discussion: what are your pronouns?

What then becomes interesting is the discussion of they/them pronouns. Almost everyone is friends with or knows someone who uses they/them pronouns, so often it becomes a discussion about what it means if “she” or “he” doesn’t feel right, maybe some of the time and maybe all the time. And before you know it, the girls have a strong understanding of they/them. Victory!

This enthusiasm and discussion these teens & preteens have is something I feel is really missing in us older generations (oops, sorry Millennials, that’s us too). It seems like as a whole, Millennials are more accepting than previous generations, just like Gen-Z’s and Gen-Alpha’s are ahead of the curve compared to Gen-X’ers. It means that being a voice for an ally becomes more important. We’re of the age where we’re getting past spending rent money on something ridiculous (new shoes, a night at the bar, the list goes on) and moving in to the age of routines and career goals. Some of us are even parents of teenagers now. What it means is that Millennials are quickly becoming stuck in those routines. Humans are creatures of habit, after all.

Luckily, it also means that we can have some influence on our coworkers, our parents, our grandparents, and our friends. We’re young enough to be hip, but we’re also old enough to talk with authority and influence thoughts. Millennials are in an age where we can wield some power in the conversation.

The girls of my youth group remind me constantly of something amazing: When you ask questions, you learn something. Asking questions with enthusiasm gets a better result, too. You never know who has a personal experience that they can share. Sometimes, it takes some time for someone to share their personal experience, but talking about a topic gives them an opportunity to share their voice and feel more confident in the moment.

Anecdote time. I recently got to put this in to practice at a dance class of all places. Near the end of class, we were all sitting in a circle making our introductions. Someone had introduced themselves and followed with their pronouns, and I happened to catch a couple students rolling their eyes at the pronoun part of the introduction. Deal breaker. Just like the girls in my youth group sticking up for their friends, it was time to stand my ground!

Luckily, I was the next person to make an introduction, so I quickly said my name and how excited I was to see everyone sharing their pronouns because I feel it’s very important (and for the record, she/her.) I could visibly see a reaction in some of the other students who were feeling uncomfortable. Every person after made their introduction with their pronouns, with the exception of one. There was a full spectrum of pronouns in the room, and after class I heard a student mention how it felt good to know that they weren’t the only person using they/them pronouns.

Would we all have introduced ourselves with our pronouns? Honestly, probably not. It’s just not common practice — yet. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be. Showing enthusiasm and excitement for something as simple as introducing yourself with your pronouns can be very welcoming. Since then, I’ve been putting it in to practice at every opportunity, and I’ve found that it’s something that leads me to a lot of discussions with Gen-X’ers and Baby Boomers about why they’re important. It’s a step in the right direction to help make pronouns more normal, and not just something on your LinkedIn or Instagram profile.

What I’ve learned is that I need to make more of an effort to include my pronouns when meeting people, and to use it as an opportunity to educate when needed. It’s my duty as an ally to help break the mold by affecting change in my circles, so we can create acceptance everywhere. And it’s something I learned from a group of 13 year olds who just wanted to talk.

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About the Author ()

Eden’s love for all things feminine has been a major part of her life, and her career as a certified fitter with The Breast Form Store is a perfect match. Eden began coaching one-on-one after more than a decade of experience working to help trans women and crossdressers feel more safe, confident, passable and beautiful when presenting en femme. She launched her first course on confidence and femininity in April 2021. You can find her on social media as @findyourfemme.

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