What are pronouns? Pronouns are words we use to refer to someone in the third person. Examples include they / them, she / her, and he / him.
What does gender have to do with pronouns? In the English language, pronouns have historically been gendered, meaning they convey information about the person’s gender, whether that information is accurate or not.
For many of us whose identity sits outside the binary or whose gender does not align with sex assigned at birth, being called by the wrong pronoun is uncomfortable and sometimes hurtful or traumatic.
It’s important to not make assumptions about a person’s presentation or identity based solely on what pronouns they use.
Can you use more than one pronoun? Yes! For instance, someone may use they / she pronouns, typically meaning they use a combination of these pronouns.
Sharing pronouns Sharing your pronouns is a friendly way of opening a conversation and inviting the person you are talking with to share theirs. Here’s an example: “My name is Alex. I go by ‘she/her’ or ‘they/them.’ What pronouns do you use?”
If they are unfamiliar with the question, use the opportunity to teach them why you are asking. Try, “I like to ask people what pronoun(s) are most comfortable for them. It’s a great way to be respectful to everyone.” If someone doesn’t want to share, don’t force them, sometimes it takes time to be comfortable disclosing!
What if I make a mistake? Mistakes happen! Apologize and correct yourself then move on. Don’t belabor the point with over-the-top apologizing.
*Remember! Gender identity is complex, and
pronouns don’t tell you everything about a person’s gender!
- Julia Cosentino-Tich is communications manager for special projects at Chase Brexton Health Services