Just as more and more people are getting used to the idea of a relatively new pronoun that is neither “he” nor “she” — the singular “they/them” used by many folks, including Demi Lovato, Indya Moore and Sam Smith, who identify as gender-nonbinary — there is now a newer, somewhat surprising pronoun rising in popularity among some LGBTQ youth: “it/its.”
“I feel neither feminine nor masculine. For me personally I just feel more comfortable with ‘it/its’ than ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her,’” Voxie, an Instagram user, tells Yahoo Life via DM. “When people use ‘she’ or ‘he,’ I feel some sort of disgust/anger because it’s not fitting. When people use ‘it/its,’ I feel some sort of happiness and comfort.”
Rouke tells Yahoo Life via Twitter DM: “‘It/its’ just are the pronouns that instinctually give me the most gender euphoria,” referring to an elated, opposite-of-dysphoria feeling. “When someone uses that to refer to me, I get so happy and excited."
One in 4 (26 percent) LGBTQ youth identify as nonbinary, according to recent findings from the Trevor Project, which provides national crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. And an additional 20 percent are questioning whether or not they are nonbinary.
That calls for a lot of nonbinary pronouns. And while 33 percent use “they/them,” according to the research, some stuck to “he/him” or “she/her,” whereas others used combinations (“she/they”) and some used other words entirely.
"We have noticed the use of 'it/its' pronouns among LGBTQ youth in our research, although this potential trend is still relatively small,” Trevor Project research scientist Jonah DeChants tells Yahoo Life.
“In our 2020 national survey of over 40,000 LGBTQ youth, only 50 reported using 'it/its' pronouns. That number increased to over 150 youth in our 2021 national survey — making it the second most commonly used set of neopronouns after 'xe/xem,’” he notes, referring to words created to serve as genderless pronouns. “However, only 5 percent of nonbinary youth reported exclusively using pronouns other than 'he,' 'she' or 'they.'”
In a recent New York Times explainer of neopronouns that ignited plenty of feelings, writer Ezra Marcus noted that the phenomenon, including the use of “it,” is far from brand new. “In his book ‘What’s Your Pronoun?’ Dennis Baron, an English professor at the University of Illinois, describes a series of attempts to create a nonbinary pronoun,” Marcus writes. “(In 1808, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested ‘it,’ which flopped; it is now beginning to have a small moment in the sun.)”
But isn’t "it" insulting?
The use of “it/its” does not come without some wincing, as many consider it a verboten term because of how the pronoun has been used historically as a way to denigrate transgender people. It still has a prominent place, for example, in GLAAD’s defamatory language guide— right alongside other off-limits terms such as “she-male” and “he/she.” As a GLAAD spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, “It is most commonly used as a pejorative and must be used carefully/only with the person's consent.”
Discussions around this aspect of “it/its” are ongoing on social media, with a recent TikTok user (Maeve.digital, below) responding to commenters who were too offended by the pronoun to ever use it. "It's ironic," it says, "because basically what you're saying is 'I want to respect you, therefore I'm not going to use the pronouns that you just told me to use.' And as someone who uses it/its pronouns, if I tell you that my pronouns are it/its and then you tell me no I'm not going to use that, then that doesn't feel very validating."
In another TikTok responding to a similar comment, this time from a transgender person, Maeve.digital notes, "As an actual transperson myself who has also been called 'it,' I understand where you're coming from. And I also use it/its as pronouns, so no need to invalidate me by saying that they're transphobic, because those are my pronouns… And I have chosen to reclaim those pronouns and use them for myself in a very non-gendered way and then when people call me an 'it' they're trying to invalidate me but they're actually using my correct pronouns."
Reclaiming the term from its defamatory history is also an important factor for others who embrace the pronoun.
"One young person specifically reported that they are only comfortable using it/its pronouns among other transgender and nonbinary youth, as a way to reclaim an otherwise dehumanizing insult,” DeChants reports of the Trevor Project findings, noting the start of a trend that’s similar to the way other LGBTQ terms including “queer,” “dyke” and “fag” have been powerfully reclaimed by many.
It certainly plays a part in Rouke’s choosing the pronoun — as does being autistic, it explains — because choosing the pronoun is the “reclaiming of dehumanization and ‘otherness’ through the positive use of pronouns typically used in a derogatory manner by others. It’s very similar to how I feel about using ‘queer’ as my identity.”
Others on TikTok address the rising use of “it/its” by demonstrating how to use the pronoun set in a sentence, such as: "It should be really proud of itself for trying on these new pronouns. I know I'm proud of it" and "It is such a great person."
Still others who use the pronoun are hyperconscious of its effect on others. "I know it/its is controversial because the terms are frequently used to dehumanize and degrade members of the community, and that’s unacceptable," Twitter user Sailor Moon, who uses it/its pronouns (and who, at 34, is evidence that the trend spills into other generations, as well), tells Yahoo Life.
"However," Sailor Moon continues, "it is important to remember that all pronouns have been used to debase and belittle trans people, and it’s not the pronoun itself that is degrading, but the way it is being used and the intent behind it. I don’t find 'it' to be dehumanizing or degrading, but rather an honest expression of who I am. We use 'it' to refer to the stars in the sky, to songs that make us weep, to our hearts. 'It' can be beautiful, and 'it' is who I am: a person, complete and whole, without gender."
It recently tweeted about the topic:
The comment was part of a long and thoughtful thread on it/its, started by a user, who goes by Lemon, arguing against the idea of “it” being diminutive or insulting, noting, “Little things are ‘it.’ Inferior things are ‘it.’ A rock is it. A pencil is it. They rarely consider that ‘it’ may refer to a mountain or music or the sun or love.”
Perhaps the most important aspects to understand about "it/its," explains the GLAAD spokesperson, is to follow the nonbinary person's lead. "Research shows how respecting pronouns and names helps save children's lives," she says. "New pronouns are constantly emerging, and some may reclaim power from those who use them to mock or demean LGBTQ youth — but they should only be used at the suggestion of the person and not applied to anyone you don't know personally."