A Survey Shows That Kids’ Pronouns Matter. It’s Time for Adults to Listen.

Non-binary youth are more likely to attempt suicide when people don’t respect their pronouns.

The pronouns a child uses — whether that be he, she, they, or something else entirely — are extremely personal. Pronouns says something about who a person is at their core, and hearing people use the correct pronouns can literally be life-saving for non-binary youth, according to a new survey.

Non-binary youth whose pronouns aren’t respected at all attempt suicide at 2.5 times the rate of youth who are surrounded by people who all or mostly all respect their pronouns, according to the survey, which was conducted by the non-profit The Trevor Project and was released just in time for International Non-Binary People’s Day on July 14.

Of the non-binary youth who reported that no one respects their pronouns, 27 percent had attempted suicide in the past year. That number dropped to 15 percent for kids who said that a lot of people respect their pronouns and 10 percent for kids for whom most or all people respect their pronouns.

‘Non-binary’ is an umbrella term that refers to anyone who isn’t strictly male or strictly female. Non-binary youth may also describe themselves as gender non-conforming, genderfluid, genderqueer, androgynous, agender, demigirl, demiboy, genderflux, and/or bigender. Half of non-binary youth consider themselves transgender. Rates of being non-binary are comparable across races, the survey found.

More and more young people are feeling comfortable identifying as non-binary. Of the 34,759 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-24 who were included in the survey, one in four said that they’re non-binary. Another one in five are questioning whether they are. Because there’s an estimated nearly 2 million LGBTQ youth aged 13-17 in the U.S., that means there’s a lot of non-binary kids out there who aren’t getting the respect and support they deserve.

Non-binary people can use any pronouns, but a third of the surveyed youth use they/them pronouns exclusively. Only 3 percent use he/him, and 2 percent use she/her. Many use combinations of pronouns, such as she/they, he/they, or she/he/they. Some also use pronouns outside of these three, such as ze/hir and e/em. Five percent exclusively use these types of pronouns, which are called neopronouns.

“Young people are using a variety of language to describe the nuances of their gender identity outside of the binary construction of gender,” said Jonah DeChants, a research scientist for the Trevor Project and a postdoctoral fellow for Inclusive Excellence and Health and Well-being Disparities at Colorado State University. “These data emphasize that, while there is certainly an overlap, youth understand ‘transgender’ and ‘nonbinary’ as distinct identity terms — and you cannot assume one’s identity simply based on the pronouns they use.”

The surveyed youth reported that the best way other people can offer them support and bring them joy in their non-binary gender is by using their correct name and pronouns. One person said, “It makes me extremely happy when people respect and use my correct pronouns, and I could literally happy cry.” Having an affirming relationship with family was another frequently reported source of happiness.

“These findings emphasize the need for policies that affirm nonbinary youth in their identities, such as respecting their pronouns and allowing them to change their name and gender marker on legal documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates,” DeChants said.

Non-binary people have always existed across a range of cultures, but they’re now getting more representation and acceptance in popular culture. Despite this, many are misgendered often. It can be hard for adults who didn’t grow up knowing about non-binary identity and gender-neutral pronouns to start using them. But putting in the effort is not only worth it but absolutely necessary when it reduces the risk of a child attempting suicide.

So practice, practice, practice, in your head or aloud, so you can get the name and pronouns of non-binary people right and support the non-binary kids and adults you will almost certainly meet one day.