What are pronouns?
Some people may not be all that familiar with the word “pronoun,” but nonetheless, they use them all the time! Pronouns are linguistic tools that we use to refer to people often in place of a proper noun, like someone’s name (i.e., they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his).
It is important to give people the opportunity to state the pronoun that they prefer to be used when speaking or referring to them.
Example: “Have you heard from Patty? She hasn’t reported to work.” She is the pronoun.
Why does it matter?
In English, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to a person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and cause stress and anxiety. For example, a person who was assigned “female” at birth may identify as a man and prefer pronouns he/him/his.
How you could ask:
“What pronouns do you use?”
“What pronouns would you like me to use?”
How you could share:
“I’m Jade, and my pronouns are ze and hir.”
“Leo, I prefer they and them, but he is fine too.”
“My pronoun is co.”
Most commonly used pronouns
Ze (or Zie) Zee (like “see” with a “Z”).
You already know this one!
You already know this one!
Yes, it’s okay to use this referring to a singular person!
Can also be spelled as xe. Example: Ze reminded zirself to pick up zir umbrella before going outside.
Other Approaches to Pronouns:
“Just my name, please.”
How to make language more inclusive
It is common to approach a group, using the phrase “Hey, guys!” or “Hey, ladies!" or "How are you, guys, doing?" But it would be more inclusive to uses the phrases, “Hey” or “Hello, everyone,” or "How are y'all doing?" or “How is everyone doing?”
Some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral, or third, gender pronoun available, and this has been criticized, since in many instances, writers, speakers, etc., use “he/his” when referring to a generic individual in the third person. Also, the dichotomy of “he and she” in English does not leave room for other gender identities, which is a source of frustration to the transgender and gender queer communities.
Although sometimes limiting it to informal constructions, grammarians for centuries have accepted they as a singular term that could be used in place of he or she, though some grammarians have argued against its use for various reasons.
Simply acknowledging this variance in gender identity and expression, and their associated pronouns, can help to create an inclusive space for all. When giving salutations in the group setting, I usually start with something similar to the following, “Hello, my name is Randy. I’m a Triangle LGBTQ Group organizer and facilitator; my pronouns are he/him/his.”
I’m signaling to others that we are creating a group culture where we exhibit a basic understanding and appreciation for gender diversity.
What if I misgender someone?
Everyone slips up from time to time. Often it can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But the best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to acknowledge the error right away, saying something to this effect, “Sorry, I meant (insert the correct pronoun).”
If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
If you notice someone else misgendering someone, it is best not to ignore someone using the wrong pronouns. Take an active role in correcting the error. This could mean you saying something like, “Lisa uses the pronoun she,” and then moving on.