Being able to describe who we are and how we feel is something we all need (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

In Iceland we’ve started expanding our language to include a third pronoun with great success. Words in laws and regulations are being updated to reflect the diversity of gender and identity and – unbelievably to some – the sky hasn’t fallen and no one’s identity or being has been erased.

But this little change has made a massive difference to so many people.

I grew up in Iceland and the majority of the language is incredibly gendered.

All nouns are either feminine, masculine or neutral. All adjectives also take on a gendered form – for example, when someone says they are hungry, they have to make the word ‘hungry’ masculine or feminine according to their gender.

While most people might not view this as much of a problem in their everyday lives, it can be a real issue for those of us who come out as transgender – especially those who, like me, are non-binary and don’t want to be referred to as men or women when communicating with others. 

To this day, I still have people I know refer to me in my native tongue using gendered language. This ranges from certain family members to strangers online. 

As someone who is very confident and resilient, I’ve learned to take it in my stride and correct those worth correcting, but when I was a lot more vulnerable and recently out, it made me feel incredibly bad every time it happened.

Language is an incredibly important tool we use to signify meaning, express how we see other people and how we express ourselves. Being able to describe who we are and how we feel is something we all need, but if we don’t have the words to speak about our experiences, we feel as if our core self isn’t being expressed fully and authentically. 

When I was first coming out as transgender I only told a few close friends. They were incredibly understanding and almost immediately started to use different pronouns for me. 

But as I wasn’t fully out to everyone, it became quite tricky for both me and them to speak to others, as our language forces us to constantly gender ourselves and other people. 

I’d refer to myself with certain pronouns around close friends, while using different ones with others – I soon discovered that speaking about people without using pronouns or gendered language was almost impossible in Icelandic and became quite peculiar.

It is a cause for celebration that language is constantly evolving and new terms, words and norms are made every single day.

It was when I came out to everyone that I truly felt free to use language to fit how I saw myself and wanted to be referred to. I no longer had to hide anything or be forced to use words that hurt me or made me feel invisible. 

Thankfully English isn’t gendered to the same extent, even though it still often lacks terms and words to refer to people in a more gender-neutral fashion. 

Over the last few years, there has been a lot of talk about gender neutral-pronouns such as the singular ‘they’ and using language like ‘people’, ‘folks’, ‘everyone’ and ‘dear guests/passengers’ as opposed to ‘ladies and gentlemen’, ‘boys and girls’, and so on.

Language surrounding reproductive health has also been brought up, and the fact that trans men can menstruate, get pregnant and don’t necessarily want to be referred to as ‘mothers’ of the children they give birth to. 

Words like non-binary and gender non-conforming are also been increasingly discussed, albeit always with a tinge of contempt if not outright hostility, at times.

But by expanding our vocabulary this way, it doesn’t mean we are getting rid of words like ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘mother’ and ‘father’. It simply means the meaning of words and the gendered implications they have are growing. People are still going to be all those things and can be proud and safe to say they are – while others are going to be included and respected for who they are. 

It is a cause for celebration that language is constantly evolving and new terms, words and norms are made every single day. We have to be able to have our language reflect our cultural changes and find ways to describe and express new things and ideas. 

Otherwise our words will become defunct and fewer people will be inclined to use them effectively. This is particularly true for less spoken languages. 

The fact that Icelandic, which is only spoken by around 360,000 people has managed to adapt a third pronoun is a really important step towards recognising gender diversity. It means that non-binary people and those who wish to use it can do so, and they have become a part of the language. That’s not only important for the evolution of language, but also important in raising awareness and combating toxic attitudes and prejudice.

English also needs to become richer when it comes down to gender and expression, and we need to start evolving the English language to keep up with changes, too. 

Words matters and the least we can do is adapt them, and use them with kindness and compassion, to create a kinder, safer and more accepting society. 

Richer and more descriptive vocabulary isn’t only beneficial to marginalised groups, but it’s something that will benefit us all, and our interactions and communication with each other as people living together in the same society. 

If you’ve always had the words to describe who you are, it’s not strange that you might not understand the need for gender-neutral language, or different terms to describe our gender identities. 

It’s a privilege you’ve been afforded due to the way language is structured and the fact your gender identity fits with the gender you were assigned at birth. But this simply isn’t the case for everyone, which is why we all have to be more mindful of the language we use – especially the gendered implication our words can have.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing platform@metro.co.uk

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