Pronouns

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Personal pronouns are used every day in speech and writing to take the place of a person, place or thing. A pronoun is a word used to replace a noun. Examples of pronouns are: he, him, she, her, we, us, them and they. We use pronouns so we don't keep repeating the same name, word or nouns. For example:

  • Mikey went to the doctor because Mikey wasn't feeling well.
  • Mikey went to the doctor because he wasn't feeling well.

Some pronouns are gendered (she, her, he, him) and others are gender neutral (I, you, ze, hir, they, zey, ey).

Why are pronouns important?

Using the right pronoun is a sign of respect. If you are automatically called by your correct pronouns, then introducing yourself using your pronoun or asking someone's pronoun might seem unnecessary or unimportant. However for someone who needs to work to get others to use their correct pronouns, it is a big deal to have the space to identify your correct pronoun. Ultimately, asking someone what their pronouns are is really about asking someone what the respectful way to refer to them is (if you are not using their name.)

Misgendering someone (referring to someone by using the incorrect pronoun) can feel like disrespect and can be hurtful for someone who has worked hard to come out and be themselves. A person's identity is important and when people use the correct pronouns to identify someone, that person feels like they are being themselves - and being understood as that person.

People think carefully about the pronouns they want to use and why.

How can I incorporate pronoun 'etiquette' into my life?

Include your pronouns in your email signature at work.

Introduce yourself using your name and pronoun (e.g. Hi, I'm Alicia and my pronouns are 'she', 'her', their' or 'them').

If you are leading a group discussion, ask everyone to share their pronoun in a "pronoun round" - this normalizes sharing of pronouns and doesn't single anyone out.

Saying "I don't care what pronouns you use for me" can make someone else's need for particular pronouns feel silly or unimportant. Instead, explain that you don't feel strongly about a certain set of pronouns, say "all pronouns are fine" or think about the set of pronouns that most people use for you and that you are comfortable with - and share these.

Avoid using the term preferred pronoun. Labelling a pronoun as 'preferred' makes it sound like it's optional and unimportant. Pronouns are important and reinforce a person's identity.

Question if gendered language is even needed.

No one should ever feel pressured to share their sexual orientation or gender identity. Do not assume that someone's pronouns are the same as their gender identity (a person could identify as female and prefer the pronouns 'he', 'him' and 'his').

How can I avoid assigning someone the wrong pronoun?

Ask someone what their pronouns are! And if you can't or don't feel comfortable doing so, use gender inclusive pronouns like 'they', 'them' or 'their(s)'.

You might make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun and if you do, you might feel ashamed, guilty or awkward. Don't get upset with the other person or make it a big deal. Instead, simply make a quick apology, correct yourself and continue with the conversation.

Where can I learn more?

BuzzFeed Presents: Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People

Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools: Why Pronouns Matter

Minus18: What Are Pronouns?

SOY H.E.A.T.: Kids Explain Pronouns

The Body Is Not an Apology: Pronoun Round Etiquette: How to Create Spaces That Are More Inclusive

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