Preferred Gender Pronouns

By : Lowrah · August 10, 2013

We recently had a really good discussion about gender pronouns at Grease Rag, and I wanted to share some of the things we talked about.  Please feel free to add to the conversation!  This is by no means meant to be a complete resource.

Preferred Gender Pronouns are Important!

If you have ever been to a Grease Rag open shop night, you know about the 8pm "go-around."  For the uninitiated, we like to take a moment in the middle of open shop to stop, put down our projects, and get to know each other a little.  We gather in a circle, share our names, preferred gender pronouns if we feel comfortable sharing them, and answer a short question.  It is a nice break from our projects that allow us to connect.  I love go-arounds!

What is a Preferred Gender Pronoun?

Examples of preferred gender pronouns are "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," "they/them/their," and "zie/zim/zir*."  Did you know that "female" and "male" are not the same as stating actual pronouns?? When we say that our preferred gender pronouns are "female," or "feminine" (instead of saying "I prefer 'she' and 'her'"), we are (unintentionally) reinforcing the gender binary.  By stating our preferred gender pronouns we are not only allowing people to let us know how they identify, but we are also recognizing that there is a gender identity spectrum that includes, but is not limited to men and women.

Why Do We Ask for Preferred Gender Pronouns?

We ask for preferred gender pronouns because we want to allow people to define themselves. We realize that the vast amount of people at GR may be cisgender, we want to de-center that perspective by stating our preferred gender pronouns. As a cis female (born with female sex organs and identifies as female gender) I have a lot of privilege in that people assume "she" is my preferred pronoun, and they are not wrong. Our trans and gender queer friends don't have that some kind of privilege, and we want to respect their gender expression, as well as acknowledge there are more genders than the male/female binary would like us to believe!

Which Genders Are Allowed at Grease Rag Open Shop Events?

At Grease Rag we make a sincere attempt to not judge people's bodies, because gender identity does not always match our assumptions!  This is exactly why we use the term "WTF" to describe us.  Rather than define Grease Rag is for "women" or "transgender" cyclists, we thought WTF (women/ trans/ femme) is more playful and open to our two-spirit, gender-queer, and trans* friends.

We do not have strict rules on what genders/ bodies are allowed at Grease Rag. We prefer to allow people to define themselves, so you are very much welcome to attend our events if you do not benefit from cismale privilege and will respect our safer space for WTFs.  (Although we are flexible about gender identity we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexist or transphobic bullshit.)  Please email if you have any questions or concerns. 

 *Zie/zim/zir-whaa? What Is a Gender Neutral Pronoun?

Someone asked, "Could you tell me a little more about zie/zim/zir and also about the us of they? I understand that using they avoids using he or she but the English magor in me has a little difficulty understanding they as a singular pronoun.  Thanks!"

What does English need a new pronoun for, anyway? Many people have expressed the need for a singular gender-neutral third-person pronoun: that is, a pronoun to use when someone’s gender is unknown or when the individual neither identifies as male or female. Such instances occur when addressing transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable being addressed with male/ female pronouns, computers or robots with artificial intelligence, sexless fictional creatures, angels, and the God of many monotheistic religions.


zie/zim/zir is a gender-neutral pronoun.

4. Ze/Hir and its derivatives

(ze/hir/hir/hirs/hirself) (zie/hir/hir/hirs/hirself)
(ze/zir/zir/zirs/zirself) (zie/zir/zir/zirs/zirself)

Ease of pronunciation: 3/5

Distinction from other pronouns: 2/5
Gender neutrality: 2.5/5

“Ze and hir” is the most popular form of gender-free pronoun in the online genderqueer community, derived from the earlier “sie and hir,” which were considered too feminine/female-sounding since “sie” is German for “she” (among other things), and “hir” was a feminine pronoun in Middle English. The current forms are still leaning on feminine, by using the same declensions as “she.” “Hir,” although it’s supposed to be pronounced “here,” is read as “her” by many people unfamiliar with the term, and the less-gendered alternative, “zir,” along with “ze” itself, often runs into problems when it follows a word ending in an “s” or “z” (or “th”) sound, sometimes sounding just like “her” and “he.” For example, read this sentence aloud: “As ze looked up at the stars, ze realized that this was zir favorite moment of them all.” This isn’t as much of a problem with “ze,” which doesn’t follow words ending in s/z terribly often, but the problem occurs much more often with “zir” than it did with any of the declensions of “ne” or “ve.”

"They" can be an acceptable singular pronoun.

However, the singular they is widely accepted in written British English, and it is well documented in the works of many great writers, including Auden, Austen, Byron, Chaucer, Dickens, Eliot, Shakespeare, Shaw, Thackeray, and Trollope. It was the singular pronoun of choice in English for hundreds of years before, in 1745, an otherwise-reasonable grammarian named Anne Fisher — yes, a woman — became possibly the first person to champion he as the universal pronoun of choice.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.” Meanwhile, R.W. Burchfield, editor of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and Bryan A. Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, predict the inevitable dominance of the singular they.


For some history, evaluation, and examples of gender neutral pronouns I find this FAQ really interesting!

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Would probably be better, more inclusive, and more accurate to say "if you don't benefit from cismale privilege." Making a blanket statement about "male privilege" most definitely excludes more masculine-reading trans guys, something that even "trans-friendly" spaces are notoriously not so great at. 
Posted by Eleonore on
Thank you for the info, Eleonore.  I appreciate your perspective.  I have made the suggested correction in the post above!
Posted by Lowrah on
 Declaring pronouns are a scary thing. I learned that as young person. I was very young when I discovered that although I had a male body I had a feminine personna. I was in a situation where you lived in either as a female or male. That meant as femininity or masculinity. I was emotionally and physically abused because of parental problems. It was brutal for me according to my older sister. That was so without them knowing of my gender  issues. Even today I don't believe in the scope of gender.  What is trans?? Is it a male or female changing sex or is it either deciding to live in the same body going with the personal inside. I knew I was Tina Marie in junior high. I believe that nature dictates the form you have but not who you are inside. I always thought of myself as a she or her but I was always super scared to declare it for safety reasons. Males in particule are very violent towards males who are feminine. I've always wanted to look more like the person inside without changing sex. I wanted to be pretty and look feminine. I went to professionals but they were discouraging. It was ok to change the body totally to another sex but not partially to look like other sex. I've been so afraid my whole life and its hard still not to be afraid. I'm still scared but proud to be Tina Marie a feminine person and a Miss. I'm just glad and happy to meet greaserag who accept tina.
Posted by tina marie whittaker on
Our, "What Does an Ally Look Like?" post might be of interest to you:
Posted by Lowrah on
I'm proud of you, Tina Marie!  Thank you for sharing.  You are very brave to have survived abuse and violence, and I'm so happy you've found safer spaces to express yourself as Tina Marie.  It is hard to identify as something other than cis male or cis female, like what you said about it being acceptable to "change the body totally to another sex but not partially."  Hopefully it is getting better every day, especially at places like Grease Rag.  If you ever notice ways in which we can do a better job of respecting your gender identity, please know that you can always come to me, or any of the other facilitators, or email  We don't want you to feel scared to be you when you're with us!
Posted by Lowrah on
But more often what seems to happen is that the PGP Check will happen, and myself and the likely one or two other trans folks in the room will state what pronouns we prefer, and a few of the other people will state what pronouns they prefer. And then, without fail, about half of the cis people in the room say, "Oh, well, I prefer male/female pronouns, but really you can call me whatever you want."And so, time after time after time, what started as an attempt to make the space more trans friendly becomes another display of the cis privilege I will never have. We go around that circle and I am given my opportunity to beg the people around me not to misgender me, and in return they are given the opportunity to remind me that they don't have to care about that silly gender stuff, that they have never had their identity called into question (or worse, denied outright) with those tiny little words, that this most basic piece of our language has never been wielded as a weapon against them. No, really, you can call them whatever you want, cuz unlike this tranny, they have the confidence to know that nothing bad was meant of it. Just don't call them late for dinner! (Yes, someone makes this joke every single time.)
I seriously wonder if I could call them whatever I want. If I could spend an entire meeting calling that oh-so-confident woman across the room from me "he," and she really wouldn't care. And maybe she wouldn't. Cuz seriously, it's just me doing it. It's not the entire room, it's not the woman at the grocery check-out, it's not the guy who delivers your mail, it's not your boss and co-workers, it's not the cops, it's not your government identification; it's just little old me, so of course you don't care.

The comments are worth a read!  
I still advocate that we do go-arounds during Grease Rag Ride & Wrench events, but this is allowing me to be critical about that practice, and more sensitive and thoughtful in the answers that I give.
Posted by Lowrah on