About The Pronoun Project

In Feburary of 2018 I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a mentor at Trans Tipping Point, an amazing writing conference outside of Victoria, BC for trans youth to be able to explore and refine their writing as well as make friends and find support from other trans youth and adult mentors. I myself am queer; a non-binary, genderfluid person, and it was fantastic to get to know everyone at the conference. I don’t have many opportunities in my life to be around other queer folx, and it felt good to have that sense of community. As a mentor for the program it was also interesting to chat with the kids and hear about how they too wished they had that sense of queer community all the time. Some talked about how they wanted more representation and validation in the mainstream and that’s why they started writing; to create worlds with people like themselves, so that they or people like them wouldn’t feel so alone. Some spoke about how it can be difficult, even if you are in a supportive situation, with friends and family who are well-intentioned, who try to support and validate you as a queer youth, because often they don’t know how to be supportive, or they don’t realize how much within themselves they need to unlearn, and things can still be isolating, and even hurtful.

For more than 10 years I taught preschool, and in that time I had a few other queer co-workers. I always made sure to have the children call people by their correct pronouns, and I have never seen a child misgender someone, or struggle with the concept of gender or sex. But for many adults, including other teachers, support staff, administrators, etc it could get to be a big deal just making sure to respect someone who’s pronouns were they/them. You’d hear transphobic comments again and again veiled behind proper grammar, proper linguistics, just wanting a child to fit in, etc. However children know to be kind, loving and respectful of others. When a coworker was deliberately misgendering and deadnaming another adult at school once, a child in my class spoke up and said “That’s not how you call them. That’s not their name. That’s not what’s inside them. Everyone is different, and some bodies are like one way and some bodies and like a different way, and its ok and so we talk to people the right way to say I love you.”

Lately, I had several friends come out to me as queer, needing support, feeling afraid to tell their families, feeling nervous about the political climate, feeling uncertain how much support and validation they could expect in general. This percolated in my mind with some of these other past experiences and I had an idea. What if people didn’t have so many toxic ideas to work through and unpack before they could be supportive of their trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, polygender, aliagender, and intersex friends, family, and community members? What if instead of learning a strict gender binary that permeates everything from the way we dress to the way we act to the art we’re allowed to enjoy to the way we speak, we were taught from a young age that gender is none of those things. Gender isn’t our clothes, is isn’t our genitals, it isn’t our haircut, it’ a social construct and whatever gender we or anyone is is valid and deserving of respect?

This is how the Pronoun Project started. It’s purpose is two-fold: first it’s meant to educate people, especially young people. To help them see past our cultural indoctrination into a hard, binary world. To help them have the tools to support and love people who don’t fit into that binary, including maybe themselves. How can people respect pronouns if they aren’t familiar with any? How can people move past unconscious bias toward trans people and regard them as people who are equal, if they have never even seen any representations of those people due to cultural erasure?

The other aspect of the Pronoun Project is trans empowerment and celebration. With the books that include neopronouns, characters loving, respecting, and validating one another, and charts in each book so that others can learn to properly use pronouns, the books are a positive representation of queerness, including QPOC (queer people of color), QBPOC (queer black people of color) and QIPOC (queer indigenous people of color). The Rainbow Collective series is intended to be intersectional, and to honor the diversity of what queerness is.

Other parts of the Pronoun Project include neopronoun fabric, which could be used to make anything from pendants or pillows for a bedroom, Hawaiian shirts to shout out loud and proud who you are (I made a scrunchie, and am currently working on a romper made from one of the fabrics) or even an awesome non-binary gender quilt! Not just for queer folx either, but imagine being a cis person, having a baby shower or even a classroom of preschoolers like I did, and making them a quilt, pillows, or doll clothes from that fabric to help them grow up in a world where they aren’t confined to the binary.

There are also a first set of coloring pages, with possibly more to come and potentially other cool things as well. Paper dolls? Sewing patterns? We’ll see, but this is definitely a project I’m very excited about so keep checking back for all the great things to come out of the Pronoun Project!

Ariel Shultz

artist, educator, environmentalist, sailor