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 to give examples of how to use the pronouns.
“Justice is my friend. They are a great colleague and identify as nonbinary. I really like
them. My office is next to theirs.”
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.)
Sharing Your Pronouns
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.”
Asking Someone Their Pronouns
Here are some respectful ways to ask someone their pronouns.
“What pronouns do you use?”
“May I ask what pronouns you use?”
“When I refer to you, what pronouns should I use?”
“Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns?” (to make sure we are not pressuring
people to “out” themselves)
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.
Why can’t I just assume someone’s pronouns by looking at them? I’m usually correct in my assumptions.
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 are some other ways to make sharing pronouns a regular part of our work space?
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:
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.’”
Make sure to practice! You can practice using pronouns by telling simple stories to your partner or friends.
“Monique and I gave a presentation today. They designed many of the slides. It was their idea to include a short video in the presentation. I like working with them.”
This guide was created with information from MyPronouns.org and the Trans* Ally Workbook by Davey Shlasko.