Another day, another tiring pronoun debate. Pronouns are simple, they have been around for centuries and yet, people are acting as if they are a brand new concept—when they aren’t using them as political and bullying fodder, of course.
This time the hot-button topic is being discussed not because of some horrible remarks from bigoted politicians or a terrible tweet from a certain She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), but because singer and performer Demi Lovato announced they are using “she/her” pronouns now in addition to the “they/them” pronouns they already utilize.
Lovato opened up about this development in their gender identity journey in an interview with Spout podcast. “Recently, I have been feeling more feminine and so, I have adopted her/him again,” said Lovato. “I’m such a fluid person.”
Lovato came out as non-binary in May 2021 with a video and Twitter thread, that informed the public they would be going by they/them pronouns. “Today is a day I’m so happy to share more of my life with you all—I am proud to let you know that I identify as non-binary [and] will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them moving forward,” Lovato wrote on Twitter.
During the interview with Spout podcastLovato reflected on this coming-out journey and also explained why they are now expanding their pronouns to include “she/her.”
“I felt like, especially last year, my energy was balanced in masculine and feminine energy,” Lovato said. “When I was faced with a choice of walking into a bathroom and it said ‘women’ and ‘men,’ I didn’t feel like there was a bathroom for me. Because I didn’t feel necessarily like a woman, I didn’t feel like a man, I felt like a human. And that is what they/them is about for me, it’s just about feeling human at your core.”
Lovato’s Instagram bio has been updated to include all their pronouns: “they/them/she/her.” What is so shocking about this? Gender identity—much like sexuality—can be a very fluid thing. Having more than one pronoun is also extremely common in the non-binary community. I am non-binary myself and go by similar “she/they” pronouns. The interesting thing here is less Lovato’s gender journey—which is their business and their business alone—but the clear biases of the news media machine.
There were misleading headlines about how Lovato “reverted back to ‘she/her’ pronouns” (Daily Mail). (The Mail has since amended the original headline.) Glamor UK also ran a similarly incorrect headline, that has yet to be fixed. Some people even called out Buzzfeed‘s coverage for only referring to Lovato as “she” in the story and making it sound like “she/her” are their only pronouns. Several news outlets had good, sensitive headlines, like Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety and a whole slew of others.
Then there was the social media chatter. Responses varied from “who cares” to downright bigotry to non-binary and queer people pointing out that updating pronouns is super-normal. Many within the queer community and their allies were quick to note that Lovato did not stop using “they/them“ pronoun and encouraged people in and outside of the media to understand the difference.
Sadly though, when you search Demi Lovato on Twitter, the more prejudiced posts come up first. Noted transphobe Matt Walsh was quick to jump on the news as an example of someone “switching their gender identity” (Lovato did not) while also dangerously spreading misinformation about gender-affirming surgeries. A few transphobic individuals used Lovato’s non-news as a way to further stigmatize gender-affirming surgeries. The word “de-transitioning” even thrown around—even when what had happened was, in fact, one individual expanding their pronoun use.
“Lovato still identifies as non-binary, they are merely updating their pronouns to reflect where they are now on their gender journey.“
Lovato did not “revert back to she/her pronouns,” they simply added “she/her” to their list of pronouns. There’s a huge difference. Lovato still identifies as non-binary, they are merely updating their pronouns to reflect where they are now on their gender journey.
Painting their words as “reverting back” or any variation of that phrasing gives validity to a favorite argument among bigots, which is that being non-binary is just a phase or a fad. Or that Lovato was somehow reverting back to being what their idea of a “real woman” is, safely boxed back into her gender binary.
To be clear: being non-binary is not a phase and it is not a choice. Gender identity is fluid and that means people can add or subtract pronouns, and they can even change how they identify if they want to. It doesn’t give any less validity to the identity, it is just all a part of the journey.
Why is someone updating their pronouns even in the news? I don’t see news stories about cisgender celebrities proudly claiming to go by “she/her” or “he/him,” so why are we putting non-binary celebrities on blast? Like coming out—another tabloid obsession—pronouns are a personal matter for someone, not your clickbait.
Pronouns have always been a part of our human vocabulary, but recently have become a political pawn for the far-right and transphobic bigots. But everyone has pronouns—even the straightest, most cisgender human on this planet has pronouns. Surely the point is, just out of basic human decency, to respect someone’s choice of pronouns and grow up about it.
For non-binary people, we can have many pronouns and this is because we don’t identify as a singular gender or any gender for that matter. There are some non-binary people who want to only go by the pronouns “they/them.” Some non-binary people go by “they/them” but also go by “she/her” or “he/him.” It depends on the person, so the best policy is always to just ask and never assume.
“If their pronouns change, then call them by those pronouns. It’s really not that challenging of a concept. It is basic decency.“
Personally, I go by either “they/them” or “she/her” and it’s not because I define myself as a woman, because I don’t. I still go by “she” because I went by “she” for 27 years of my life and it’s easier for both myself and probably others in my life to still use that pronoun. The thing is, non-binary people don’t need to explain to anyone why they go by a certain pronoun—just be respectful and call people by the pronouns they go by. And if their pronouns change, then call them by those pronouns. It’s really not that challenging of a concept. It is basic decency.
Currently, this country faces more transphobic bills and laws than ever before. Pronouns have become a major topic in political speeches and platforms. Blatant transphobia and homophobia have reached scary heights and show no signs of slowing down. It’s scary to be non-binary right now. It’s scary to be transgender right now. It’s a scary time for all LGBTQ people. The media should cover matters such as gender identity with sensitivity and responsibility—because when headlines and social media chatter get it wrong—as some were about Lovato—the validity of many people’s identities are undermined.