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Beyond 'he' and 'she': 1 in 4 LGBTQ youths use nonbinary pronouns, survey finds

They/them is the most popular nonbinary option, but 4 percent of those surveyed report using "neopronouns," like xe/xim and ze/zir.
Atypical" actor Brigette Lundy-Paine, actor and singer Janelle Monáe and "Queer Eye" star Jonathan Van Ness all identify as nonbinary.
Atypical" actor Brigette Lundy-Paine, actor and singer Janelle Monáe and "Queer Eye" star Jonathan Van Ness all identify as nonbinary. Reuters/ Getty Images

One in 4 LGBTQ youths use pronouns other than he/him or she/hers, according to a survey released Wednesday by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization.

The survey of about 40,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13 to 24 found that 75 percent of those who use pronouns other than the gender binary choose a combination of he/him, she/her and they/them to express the nuances of their genders. For example, a person might use "he and they" or "she and they" or "he, she and they."

The survey also found that 4 percent of respondents use "neopronouns," including ze/zir, xe/xim and fae/faer, or combinations of the terms with other pronouns.

For a society that has long been accustomed to only two sets of pronoun choices — she/her and he/him — the past several years have resulted in widespread education on the use of nonbinary gender pronouns, particularly they/them, which 5 percent of the surveyed LGBTQ youths reported using exclusively.

Merriam-Webster updated its definition for the word "they" in September to note that the word can be used as a singular pronoun for nonbinary people. also has a page defining the neopronoun "ze." The Associated Press Stylebook, a set of style guidelines used by many major news outlets — including NBC News Digital — recognized the use of "they" as a singular, nonbinary pronoun in 2017.

Nonbinary visibility also came in the form of actors and musicians who challenged the gender binary in Hollywood. Just days before Merriam-Webster updated its definition for "they," Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sam Smith announced that they would use they/them pronouns.

"After a lifetime of being at war with my gender, I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out," Smith wrote in an Instagram post. "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering, but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now."

The announcement came six months after the singer came out as nonbinary, saying in March 2019: "I'm not male or female. I think I float somewhere in between."

After Smith announced their use of they/them pronouns, the AP published a story that went viral for misgendering them. While the article discussed Smith's pronoun change, it referred to them as "him" throughout. AP corrected the article.

Other celebrities who identify as nonbinary include actor and singer Janelle Monáe, "Queer Eye" star Jonathan Van Ness, "13 Reasons Why" actor Tommy Dorfman, "Pose" star Indya Moore, "The Hate U Give" star Amandla Stenberg and "Atypical" actor Brigette Lundy-Paine, although their preferred pronouns vary across the board.

In this week's report, The Trevor Project emphasized the importance of respecting preferred pronouns for those in the LGBTQ community, referring to its previously released National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020, which found that people whose preferred pronouns were "respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected." The nonprofit also noted that one way to be an LGBTQ ally is to introduce yourself with your pronouns regardless of whether you're trans, nonbinary or cisgender.

"An individual's pronoun expression, or even the decision to avoid them altogether, is a very important reflection of a person's identity," the survey said. "Respecting pronouns is part of creating a supportive and accepting environment, which impacts well-being and reduces suicide risk."

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