Gender pronouns are words that people use to refer to others without using their names. Using a person’s correct pronouns fosters an inclusive environment and affirms a person’s gender identity.
This article will discuss what gender pronouns are, why they are important, how to be inclusive and respectful, some common gender pronouns, and what to do if a person mistakenly uses the wrong pronouns.
Pronouns are words that people use to refer to others. They are a useful way to replace nouns such as names. Some examples include:
- Sally went to the shops to buy herself some snacks.
- Fred went to the shops to buy himself some snacks.
- Ash went to the shops to buy themself some snacks.
Pronouns are useful tools, but it is important to remember that some people may use different pronouns in different situations, and some may not use pronouns at all.
People will be less likely to make assumptions and mistakes about another person’s pronouns if they ask which pronouns they should use and share their own when introducing themselves.
Pronouns are important because, by using a person’s pronouns correctly, other people are showing them respect and forming an inclusive environment.
It is important to never assume a person’s pronouns. By assuming a person’s pronouns, it is possible to send an unintended message that people must look a certain way to be able to use their pronouns.
Using the wrong pronouns can be offensive or even harmful. Ignoring a person’s pronouns can also imply that people who are under the transgender umbrella — such as those who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming — do not exist.
By using a person’s pronouns correctly, people can reduce the adverse effects of social oppression.
One 2016 study found that affirming a person’s pronouns — and, in extension, their gender — lowers depression and raises self-esteem. A person affirming another’s pronoun use can help others feel comfortable with their external appearance and their gender identity.
Sex and gender
Some people may use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, but they mean different things. Gender is a social construct and merely denotes the social and cultural role of sex within a given community.
Gender is not neatly divided along the binary lines of “man” and “woman.” For example, some people do not identify with any gender, while others identify with multiple genders. Only the person themself can determine what their gender identity is, and this can change over time.
No one should assume another person’s gender or gender pronouns.
There are several ways that people can be inclusive and respectful to other people’s pronouns.
One way is to not assume a person’s pronouns. For example, the LGBTQIA Resource Center suggests using “they” when one does not know a person’s gender.
By using gender-neutral pronouns, people are not making assumptions about another person’s gender, nor are they making stereotypical assumptions about job roles — such as using “he” pronouns for a doctor or “she” pronouns for a receptionist.
Another way to be inclusive is for a person to share their own pronouns. People can introduce themselves by their name and their pronouns in every setting, not just in LGBTQIA+ spaces.
Adding pronouns to email signatures and business cards can also help normalize the importance of using correct pronouns and fostering an inclusive environment.
One of the most important ways to be inclusive and respectful is to ask a person what their pronouns are.
Some people may use different pronouns in different settings, such as at work or at home. Asking a person what their pronouns are and when and how to use them helps create a supportive and respectful environment.
Some common pronouns that people use include he, she, and they. Examples of how to use these pronouns include:
- He laughed with his friends, enjoying himself.
- She laughed with her friends, enjoying herself.
- They laughed with their friends, enjoying themself.
Although these are some pronouns that people may hear the most, there are many other pronouns that people may use.
The following table has a non-exhaustive list of pronouns:
Using the same example sentence as above, examples of how to use these pronouns include:
- Ze laughed with zir friends, enjoying zirself.
- Xie laughed with hire friends, enjoying hirself.
- Co laughed with co friends, enjoying coself.
Despite a person’s best efforts, mistakenly using the wrong pronouns can happen. If a person mistakenly uses the wrong pronouns, they should apologize, correct the pronouns, and carry on with their dialog.
However, overapologizing can be harmful. It may put the other person in a position wherein they feel they have to say that it is OK to stop the apology. Overapologizing can also draw more attention, putting the other person in the spotlight when they may not want that.
In some situations, if a person feels comfortable and safe doing so, they may correct another person’s mistake.
For example, if two people are talking about a third, and one of the people uses the wrong pronouns for the third, one of the two can gently correct and educate the other.
It is important to make sure that the third person is comfortable with others knowing their pronouns and with people correcting others.
There are some general rules that people can follow when using pronouns. These include the following:
- Do ask a person which pronouns they use.
- Do practice a person’s pronouns in private to reduce the chances of making a mistake.
- Do apologize for mistakenly using the wrong pronoun.
- Do not ignore mistakenly using the wrong pronoun.
- Do not assume a person’s pronouns.
- Do not assume that a person’s pronouns remain the same.
- Do not refer to pronouns as “masculine” or “feminine.”
By following these general rules, people are less likely to make assumptions about another person’s pronouns and less likely to mistakenly use an incorrect term.
Gender pronouns are an important part of how people communicate. They take the place of nouns such as names and allow people to easily share information about themselves.
Although many people use he, she, or they pronouns, there are many other pronouns that people may use.
It is important to ask a person what their pronouns are and to share one’s own pronouns to foster an inclusive environment.