Pronouns are how an individual is referred to in third person when not using their name. These pronouns such as "he" and "she" have implied genders associated with them. "She" for example is usually implied as a feminine or female pronoun. Every day individuals assume other people's genders based off appearances. Though the majority of the time they will be correct, these assumptions are harmful -- because it sends a message that people have to appear a certain way to be validated as a their gender.
Why Pronouns Are Important?
Using someones personal pronouns shows them respect, just as using someone's name is respectful. Assuming or intentionally using the wrong pronouns can not only be offensive but can be seen as harassment. This is called "misgendering". Intentionally misgendering people also implies that transgender, intersex, and genderqueer people do not and should not exist. Pronouns are a way of honoring someone's gender identity and helps make spaces more inclusive of all identities.
How Are Pronouns Used?
He is laughing.
I called him.
His eyes sparkle.
That is his.
He likes himself.
She is laughing.
I called her.
Her eyes sparkle.
That is hers.
She likes herself.
They are laughing.
I called them.
Their eyes sparkle.
That is theirs.
They like themselves.
Ze is laughing.
I called zem.
Hir eyes sparkle.
That is hirs.
Ze likes hirself.
Please note that “ze” is usually pronounced with a long “e” and that “hir” and its forms are usually pronounced like the English word “here.” Some people instead go by "ze/zir" pronouns because of the more consistent pronunciation and spelling.
You can introduce yourself with your pronouns like this -
"My name is Oliver. I use she/her pronouns."
"My name is Taylor, and my pronouns are they/them."
You can also make spaces more inclusive by having people introduce themselves with their name and pronouns as explained above. Also by addressing the group as "Guys, Gals, and Non-binary pals" or "guests" instead of "ladies and gentlemen".
What If I Mess Up Someone's Pronouns?
That's okay. Be aware of when you could misgender someone. It may seem scary to ask someone what pronouns they use but most people are becoming more familiar with what it means and many of the people in the transgender community appreciate you asking rather than assuming. If you do mess up just let it pass and correct yourself in the moment. Don't make a big deal about it. If you do you are just attracting more attention to the mistake.
"That was his-- their idea."
"Her name ... I mean his name is Alex."
If you notice that someone else has been misgendering someone you know then you can subtly tell them. It is better to be subtle about correcting the individual because the person they are misgendering may not have told them about their gender pronouns. If the person you know has told you that it is okay to actively correct someone who is misgendering them than you should take the educational approach.
Person 1: "I really like April. She is so smart!"
Person 2: "Yes, they are smart. They are going to come study with us later."
or the educational approach
Person 1: "I really like April. She is so smart."
Person 2: "They are going to be studying with us later. They are also using they/them pronouns."
If you have noticed that you have been misgendering someone after the fact apologize to them and focus on not misgendering them again in the future.
How Do I Ask Someone About Their Pronouns?
First start by sharing your own pronouns, this helps to encourage other people to share their pronouns. If they don't understand what you mean by pronouns explain that most people use "he/him" or "she/her" to help them understand some of the most common choices that are available. Never force anyone to share their pronouns. In group setting you can ask people to add their pronouns to name tags or have them share their pronouns while introducing themselves. You may have to explain why pronouns are important and how they are used. Be patient with them, this is not something that is as common as it should be.
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