We are often taught gender pronouns early in life and it is easy to not think about them throughout the day as we get older. However, this gendered language has an impact on the lives of agender, gender queer, intersex, nonbinary, and trans people.
In order to affirm each person’s gender identity, experiences, and their lives, it is important to ask and check in with others about their pronouns. This simple effort can make a profoundly positive difference in the experiences of safety, respect, and support for those who do not identify with the gender binary.
Understanding Gender Pronouns
A pronoun is a word that is used as a substitute for nouns or noun phrases (e.g. a person’s name). Common examples include:
|First Person||I||Me||My / Mine||Myself|
|Second Person||You||You||Your / Yours||Yourself|
|Feminine||She||Her||Her / Hers||Herself|
|Plural||They||Them||Their / Theirs||Themselves|
Outside the Binary: Gender Inclusive Pronouns
What are gender inclusive pronouns?
There are many variants of gender inclusive pronouns that are commonly used among agender, gender queer, intersex, nonbinary, and trans people. Many of these pronouns may be words you have not seen or used before. Some common examples are:
|Ze(zee)||Zir||Zir / Zirs||Zirself||“Ze walks zir dog.”|
|Zie(zee)||Hir(heer)||Hir / Hirs||Hirself||“Zie walks hir dog.”|
|They||Them||Their / Theirs||Themselves||“They walk their dog.”|
|E/ey (ay)||Em||Eir (air) / Eirs||Emself / eirself||“Ey walks eir dog.”|
Furthermore, some people prefer not to be referred to with pronouns and ask to only be reference by name only. For example: “Bob is going to Bob’s house. I would like to go with Bob.”
What makes pronouns important?
Understanding pronouns beyond the gender binary creates an inclusive space for those who identify as agender, gender queer, intersex, nonbinary, and/or trans. For centuries, we have been taught to adhere to gender norms and assume people’s pronouns based on our own perceptions of the person in conjunction with how they look and act. Using pronouns from the gender binary may not be done with bad intention, but it can be disrespectful, hurtful, and oppressive. When someone is mispronounced, it can make the person you are referring to feel disrespected, alienated, dysphoric, or invalidated.
Being an Ally
Which pronouns do I use?
We do not always need to know the pronouns of strangers or people around us. However, if you do not know the pronouns of someone you connect with regularly, it is best to ask.
How do I ask about pronouns?
It can be as simple as asking “what pronouns do you use?” This question can provide an opportunity for someone to offer their preferred pronouns. Other options include: “how would you like for me to refer to you?” or “how would you like to be addressed?”
Another option is to begin by offering the pronouns you use. For example: “I use they, them, their pronouns. May I ask what pronouns you use? I want to make sure I respect your identity.”
What if I mess up?
It is okay to mess up! We all do it. If you mess up when using someone’s pronouns, make sure to apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Making a big deal out of a mistake makes the situation uncomfortable and awkward for everyone.
- In meetings, ask everyone to share pronouns when they introduce themselves
- In class, instead of calling role, ask students to introduce themselves with their name and preferred pronouns
- List your pronouns in your email signature
- If your event uses nametags, ask attendees to put their pronouns on their nametags
- Put your pronouns on your nameplate for your office or residence door
This video from BuzzFeed does a great job of explaining pronouns and their importance! We encourage you to check it out.