Culturally Specific Pronouns

From the moment we’re born, we’re told by (usually) a doctor that we’re a boy or a girl. We learn to be a boy or a girl depending on what the doctor said and are treated as such by everyone around us. You follow a boy path or a girl path and you are not supposed to stray. Your parents, friends, teachers, and everyone around you are watching you and trying to keep you on that narrow path that you were assigned to by a doctor at birth with no divergences allowed. And then you’re expected to find someone from the other recognized gender path to engage with romantically and sexually.

As a trans person, I don’t fit into the role given to my by the doctor. The norms that produced these strict, policed gender roles enforced from birth stem from colonialism. Western European superiority over all other peoples is justified through “civilized” culture of patriarchy, gender normalcy, and heterosexuality. These gender norms are far from natural. They are taught and imposed and are used to enforce that half of my family are inferior.

I choose to sometimes use the pronouns, “ta” and “tade”. (Pronunciation: “tah” and “tah-duh”) Unlike neo pronouns such as ze/xe/fae/vae, the pronouns, “ta” and “tade” are actively used by many people. They’re Chinese.

I grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin, spoken pronouns all sound the same. The only difference between pronouns is how they’re written. I recall a time my mom referred our pregnant cat as, “he”. This is because everyone is referred to as “ta” and she never fully internalized how English uses gendered pronouns.

Ta is written in three ways. When the subject is male, ta is written as 他. When the subject is female, ta is written as 她. When the subject is an animal or object (regardless of the animal’s gender) ta is written as 它. Therefore, 他 translates to he/him, 她 translates to she/her and 它 translates to it.

Tade is the possessive form of ta. Tade is made up of one of the three ta’s (他/她/它) and the character “de” 的. This means 他的 translates to “his”, 她的 translates to “hers” and 它的 translates to “its”.

The translation between Mandarin and English isn’t perfect though. The pronouns “ta” and “tade” don’t quite work with reflexive pronouns. Him/her/itself translates to 他/她/它自己 which is “taziji” (Pronunciation: tah-dzi-gee). I just use taself because I’m not confident that non-Chinese people could remember it. I also believe that language evolves with time. A number of English words have enmeshed their way into Mandarin lexicon and slang so why can’t I do the same to English?

I choose to sometimes use ta/tade pronouns because it connects me to the other half of my culture and better embodies how I understand my gender identity. I identify as a trans woman for safety/political reasons but at the same time, I identify somewhere on the non-binary spectrum. I like the term transfeminine because it acknowledges that my gender is fluid while recognizing that I am trans woman.

I spent a good 6 years of my life identifying as genderqueer and I made the decision to medically transition because I realized I needed to change to feel right in my skin. Due to how transmisogyny functions, I made the decision to conform (at least somewhat) to conventional femininity norms. It’s not safe to be read as assigned male at birth and wear makeup. I was threatened with physical violence and sexual assault early in my transition. Passing, although problematic, was and is a survival technique for me as well as a privilege. Since I started consistently passing for female, I experience fewer threats although I still have to contend with cat calling, stalkers, unwanted sexual contact, objectification, and the devaluing of my skills in the workforce. I rather enjoy not being threatened with physical violence and sexual assault so I’m fine with being assumed to identify as female. It’s close enough to how I identify that I’m fine that it’s not 100% how I think of myself.

In this current moment in history and geography, I don’t feel that the ways we conceptualize gender can contain me. Regardless of how feminine I am and how I conform to many feminine gender norms, I still don’t feel female. I feel alienated and try to find ways to bridge the fragmented parts of me together. For this reason, I am trying to reclaim parts of my cultural identity through my pronouns. I don’t know if it’ll work, but it’s something I’m trying because it feels okay and right to me.

I would encourage other TPOCs to explore their own language, culture, and try to find authentic ways to be themselves. We have as many ways of understanding ourselves as there are stars in the sky. Under the norms that we’ve internalized and pervade every aspect of our world, shards of ourselves can and often are stolen or warped. I want to try to get mine back.

Resource to try out different pronouns


3 thoughts on “Culturally Specific Pronouns”

  1. Again very reflective and a comprehensive break down of how western pronouns do just that ..attempt to break down at compartmentalize people into easily understood categories. The catch is they are anything but easy and in there lies the paradox what if we just are? Also great convo on language and gendered/gender ing of language and then of course the geographical boundaries of language…


  2. Thank you so much for this! Similarly, I grew up with my father using “he”, “she”, and “they” pronouns interchangeably (he still does). I used to feel embarrassed when my White friends would take offense, but I find that I am starting to appreciate how he is situated culturally (also Chinese) and value his wisdom (and quirks). You helped to illuminate yet another pearl of wisdom that I overlooked in my father, for this I am most grateful to you!

    Love ❤ ❤ ❤


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