Education, conscious awareness, and reflection are needed to understand gender identity in a new way. In this PopSugar article, Mindpath Health’s Leela R. Magavi, MD, provides strategies to help your family understand the importance of using the correct pronouns. 

Finding your correct pronouns is an important milestone, but getting the rest of your family to use them can feel like a whole separate battle. Odds are, not everyone in your family shares the same values or perspectives, which can make the task of explaining gender-neutral pronouns feel daunting, especially when talking to older generations who grew up within a strict gender binary. 

Fortunately, there are some ways for you to help even the most traditional family members understand who you are and how they should refer to you, without having to endure disrespectful behavior or constant misgendering. If you feel ready to share your pronouns with your family members, here are some strategies to make the conversation a little bit easier. Because everyone deserves to have their identity validated and respected — especially by the people closest to them. 

How do I start a conversation with family about my pronouns?

When explaining gender-neutral pronouns to someone for the first time, Leela R. Magavi, MD, a Hopkins-trained adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health, said it’s a good idea to start with the basics. That means opening up the conversation by talking about what gender identity actually is, and how it may or may not align with a person’s sex at birth.  

When talking to older family members who aren’t familiar with gender-neutral pronouns, “it may be helpful to explain to them that some individuals struggle on a daily basis as they are uncertain about how they perceive their gender, and this affects their self-esteem and confidence level,” Dr. Magavi said. Covering this kind of information can make it easier for parents and grandparents to understand what pronouns actually are and why they matter. 

If they can understand that, they may be more willing to put in the work and embrace your identity. Dr. Magavi added that emphasizing the benefits of correct pronoun usage could also be an effective talking point. “Relaying that use of the right pronoun could potentially prevent the emergence of depression and anxiety may encourage reluctant grandparents to modify their stance,” Dr. Magavi says. Whatever details you decide to include, letting your family know why pronouns are important to you can help move the conversation in a positive direction. 

Remember that leading with patience and compassion is also important, but you don’t need to sacrifice who you are just to keep the peace. If you’re having a hard time getting through to your family at first, send them helpful resources, like readings and videos, which can allow them to process the information more privately. 

What do I do if my family still won’t use my correct pronouns?

If your family members still refuse to use your gender-neutral pronouns, it’s important to take care of yourself first before worrying about how to fix the situation. That means being compassionate with yourself and your needs before trying to move forward with your relatives. From there, you can start to work on directing compassion toward your relatives, especially if you value your relationship with them. 

It’s likely that a relative who refuses to use your correct pronouns doesn’t understand their importance — which is why it’s helpful to make the conversation about respect. In a situation like this, more time might be needed, but you could also try framing the use of your pronouns as the foundation for a healthy relationship.  

If you’re still feeling disrespected or hurt at this point, it might be time to set up some boundaries until more progress can be made. Remember to protect yourself and your mental health and don’t be afraid to draw the line if you feel disrespected. 

Ultimately, your family should be able to realize that your identity is valid and something that should be respected, whether it fits on a binary or not. Asking your family members to use your proper pronouns is not a trivial endeavor. It can take time, and there may be lots of frustration and anxiety throughout the process. Despite all the pressure, there is a lot of good that can come out of these conversations.  

Read the full PopSugar article with sources. 

Leela Magavi, M.D.

Newport Beach, CA

Dr. Leela Magavi is a native Californian and Hopkins-trained psychiatrist committed to providing compassionate, evidence-based care to individuals of all cultural, political, religious, sexual, and socioeconomic backgrounds. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at Georgetown University Hospital, during which time she also had the invaluable experience of caring for veterans at Washington, D.C. VA. As a resident, she was awarded ... Read Full Bio »

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