Clearing Up Gender Neutral Pronoun Usage
Pronouns are a part of speech that are used to refer to people in place of their name. Traditionally, pronouns also include a reference to gender such as he or she. People tend to make assumptions about a person’s gender based on their name or appearance. Of course, as diversity is being embraced more widely, the world is starting to understand that these assumptions are not always right or helpful. Actually, making assumptions about a person’s gender identity can be harmful or damaging in relationships.
Using a person’s correct pronoun helps create an inclusive environment and one that demonstrates you care for and respect others. You wouldn’t want to make up a nickname for someone that they didn’t like. It’s just as upsetting and disrespectful to refer to a person using an incorrect pronoun. It is simply harassment to purposefully choose to not use pronouns a person has stated they prefer to go by. It is indirectly implying that intersex, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and transgender individuals do not or should not exist. It’s a shame.
How to Use Pronouns
When a person shares their pronouns, it indicates how they desire to be referred to in third person. Of course, first person (I, we) and second person (you) pronouns do not change. Third person pronouns are where the confusion comes in because there are only pronouns indicative of two genders. (him, he, his, she, her, hers) But there are other gender neutral pronouns that have been used for years in the non-binary community. Gender neutral pronouns such as they, xe, ze, and others are not associated with the genders of a woman or a man. Gender neutral pronouns are useful and appropriate when a person doesn’t know the gender of the person they are talking about. For example, you may say, “The pizza delivery person is here! Give them a good tip!” Most people have options when sharing their pronouns. Just ask.
Never assume a person’s pronouns. Most people still prefer him/he or she/her, but you never know by looking at a person what their preference is. Pronouns often carry gendered association, but anyone of any gender may prefer specific pronouns they fill fit for them. Remember that everyone has pronouns; not just intersex, nonbinary, and transgender individuals. Also keep in mind that some individuals may use more than a single set of pronouns to refer to themselves.
What if I am not sure what pronouns a person prefers?
If you are unsure of what pronouns an individual prefers, you can do one of several things. For instance:
- Use “they” until you have a chance to ack about their pronoun preference.
- ASK THEM! It is acceptable to ask a person what pronouns they use.
- Just use their name. Until you learn their pronoun preference, just use their name. Just be aware that this can be challenging. It takes a little bit of practice. If you continue using a person’s name after they tell you their pronouns, it is still misgendering.
What’s the right way to ask about pronoun usage?
If you are not sure which pronoun to use, the easiest way to find out is simply ask. One easy way to learn about another person’s pronouns is to share your own. For example: “Hi, my name is Jeanie and I go by ‘she, her’ pronouns.” When you open the conversation, you communicate that you are familiar with the proper use of pronouns and that you are safe to talk to. You also increase the normalcy of sharing pronouns with others in public places. You are also creating an opening to ask them about their pronouns. You may follow up your own introduction with questions like “What pronouns do you use?” or “How would you like me to refer to you?” These types of open questions help create opportunities for someone to reciprocate and share their pronouns of choice. When you lead, it can ease awkwardness and prevent hurtful mistakes.
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