Pronouns and Inclusive Language

Pronouns and Inclusive Language

Below is a brief overview of pronouns and inclusive language. This is by no means an exhaustive guide to treating trans people equitably. We recommend that those who are interested in diving deeper attend our Educational Workshops linked here. 

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are linguistic tools that we use to refer to people.  (i.e. they/them/theirs, she/her/hers, he/him/his). We believe that it is important to give people the opportunity to state the pronoun that is correct to use when referring to them.

Pronouns are integral to who we are, and we share pronouns because we want to avoid assuming someone's pronouns based on factors like appearance. By sharing our own pronouns routinely, we encourage others to do the same and demonstrate that we understand the importance of sharing pronouns. Using someone’s correct pronouns is an important way of affirming someone’s identity and is a fundamental step in being an ally.

Common pronouns include she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs. There are other nonbinary pronouns. It is important to ask people what their pronouns are. If you have questions, politely ask the person if they feel comfortable giving examples of how to use those pronouns.

Examples of Pronouns:

(This is NOT an exhaustive list. Any combination is possible!)

___ laughed.

Ask ____!

That’s ____ pen.

That pen’s ____.

Did ___ enjoy _____?

co

co

cos

cos

coself

en

en

ens

ens

enself

ey

em

eir

eirs

emself

he

him

his

his

himself

she

her

her

hers

herself

they

them

their

theirs

themself

xie

hir ("here")

hir

hirs

hirself

yo

yo

yos

yos

yoself

ze

ve

zir

vis

zir

ver

zirs

ver

zirself

verself

Example: Ze reminded zirself to pick up zir umbrella before going outside.

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.”

Try to avoid using the phrases “preferred pronouns” or “preferred name” as these suggest an element of flexibility or that someone’s identity is less than valid. Someone’s name and pronouns are not suggestions and are not preferred over something else. They are inherent to who we are.

Keep in mind some people may use certain pronouns in some contexts and not in others due to a variety of factors, including safety. For example, a person may be openly transgender or trans* at work but not at home with their family. Some people use different names and different pronouns depending on the context. It can be helpful to clarify in what situations someone uses certain pronouns. Remember it is up to each person how and when they choose to share part of their identity with others.

Other approaches to pronouns:

“ Just my name, please.”

“ No preference!”

“It’s better if you mix ‘em up!”

“No pronouns for me!”
 

They/them/theirs pronouns:

While we might typically think of “they/them/theirs” as a plural pronoun, we actually use they to refer to an individual all the time without realizing it. When we refer to a person whose gender we do not know, we might use they as the pronoun.
     “I got a call from the doctor today.”
     “What did they say?”
     (In this example, “they” is used as a pronoun to refer to an individual.)

 

Ways to make language more inclusive:

“Hey, everyone”  or "How are all y'all doing?" in a group setting instead of “Hey guys!” or “Hey ladies!" or "How are you guys doing?"

“They are a first year” when referring to a scholar instead of “they are a freshman”

Notice when someone refers to another person by their occupation if you naturally use a particular pronoun.  (i.e. Person A: “I just got back from the doctor’s office.”  Person B: “What did he say?”)

 

Make a habit of introducing yourself with your pronouns, not just in LGBTQIA-specific situations. This makes sharing pronouns routine, instead of singling out certain people or communities.

     “Hi, my name is Hanna and my pronouns are she/her/hers.”

At the start of work meetings, make it a habit to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves and their pronouns if they feel comfortable. One can emphasize that sharing pronouns is an important part of respecting each person’s identity and is part of creating an inclusive space.


Adding pronouns to your email signature and business cards are an important way to show you understand the importance of pronouns. Here are some examples:


     Dan Alvarez
     They/Them/Theirs
     Administrator

     Kay Miyazaki
     Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
     Office Manager

 

Why can’t I just assume someone’s pronouns by looking at them?

By assuming someone’s pronouns based on how they look, one is implicitly reinforcing harmful stereotypes about gender expression. For example, that masculine-looking people always use he/him/his pronouns. This is not always the case, and it is important to understand and respect each individual’s identity. This is why we want to ask, not assume, someone’s pronouns and make a habit of introducing ourselves with our pronouns.


What if I make a mistake and use the wrong pronouns?

While we want to do our best to use someone’s correct pronouns, mistakes can happen. If this does happen, it is best to apologize, say what pronoun you meant to use, and move on without dwelling on the mistake.


If someone apologizes profusely, it brings attention to an already awkward situation. Overly apologizing then puts the other person (the person who was just misgendered) in an uncomfortable position. Some people in this position might feel pressured to say, “It’s ok” even though it’s not - using the wrong pronouns can be incredibly harmful. If a mistake happens, apologize, correct yourself, and move on.

     “She- I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘He got the files from the office.’”

This guide was created in part with information from MyPronouns.org and the Trans* Ally Workbook by Davey Shlasko.