Understanding and Using Correct Gender Pronouns
What are Gender Pronouns?
Gender pronouns are terms we use to refer to ourselves to reflect our gender identity. These terms may be: he/him, she/her or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them. When interacting with others and establishing healthy relationships, it is essential that we acknowledge and use correct gender pronouns. Knowing and using an individual’s correct pronouns fosters respect and inclusion, values their authentic self and affirms their gender identity. Actively choosing not to use an individual’s correct pronouns can be perceived as harassment and implies that intersex, transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people do not or should not exist.
There is a difference between sex and gender to consider despite, at times, being used interchangeably. Sex is the physical difference between what people refer to as female, male or intersex. Medically, sex is assigned at birth due to physiological characteristics such as genitalia and chromosome composition.
Gender is a construct and reflects the social and cultural role of sex within a given community. Individuals develop their gender identity and gender expressions either in response to their environment or through a gender-affirming process of self-reflection of their authentic selves. Western culture has defined gender as binary; however, gender is not only divided along binary lines of ‘man’ or ‘woman.’
As gender is a social and cultural construct, individuals may identify their gender as different to the sex assigned at birth, or they may not identify with any gender or multiple genders. These identities may include transgender, nonbinary, or gender-neutral. Only the individual can determine their gender identity, which can change over time.
Individuals who identify outside the gender binary often use non-gendered or non-binary pronouns. These include they/them/their used in the singular, ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he, and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her.
Importance of Using Correct Gender Pronouns
In organisations, it is important we support one’s use of self-identified first names and self-identified pronouns as opposed to assumed pronouns based on sex assigned at birth or their physical appearance. We need to be aware of the importance of pronouns in the LBGTQ community and understand how to be an inclusive workplace. Organizations can encourage all employees to put their correct pronouns in their email signatures and name tags. Also, employees can be encouraged to ask each other the appropriate pronouns to use and correct others if needed. These actions help make your workplace more inclusive of transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender non-binary people.
Misgendering is when someone uses the wrong pronoun for another person. When an individual is misgendered or misnamed, they may feel disrespected, dismissed or invalidated. When someone uses the wrong pronoun, it can be a painful experience, intentional or unintentional. It is hurtful because it communicates that the person’s gender and experiences are not valid or respected. When someone is misgendered over and over, it can cause emotional and psychological pain.
Misgendering has often occurred among transgender people. While many transgender people identify as either a man or a woman on a binary scale, some may refer to themselves as “genderqueer,” “gender fluid,” “non-binary,” or by other terms. These gender-expansive identities are considered part of the greater transgender community.
7 Tips to Better Understand Gender Pronouns and Affirm an Individual’s Gender Identity:
1. Don’t assume another person’s gender or gender pronouns: You cannot always assume someone’s gender pronouns by looking at them or their name.
2. Ask a person’s gender pronoun: If you don’t know what pronouns someone uses, you can do one of three things:
Use “They”: Use the singular “they/them/theirs” for this person until you can ask about their pronouns.
Ask!: It’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone what pronouns they use. When you ask about the correct gender pronouns to use, you show respect for their identity. A simple “Can I ask what pronoun you use?” would be acceptable.
Use their name: Use their name until you learn their pronouns.
3. Share your gender pronoun: When you share your gender pronouns, you normalise this for others. By sharing your pronouns, you are signalling to the other person that you are familiar with the concept of pronouns and may be safe to talk to, mainly if you’re speaking to a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, you are increasing the normalcy of sharing pronouns in public spaces and interactions. You can include them after your name in your signature, on your social media accounts or when you introduce yourself in meetings.
4. Apologise if you call someone by the wrong pronoun: We are human, and mistakes can happen. If you accidentally misgender someone, apologise and use the current gender pronoun.
5. Avoid binary-gendered language: It is essential to avoid addressing individuals and groups as “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls.” You can change this language by addressing individuals and groups as “everyone”, “colleagues” or “friends.” In the workplace, employers should try to use gender-neutral language in communications.
6. Help others: We can strive to help others use correct pronouns by correcting them.
7. Practice: If you are not accustomed to using gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” and “ze”, practising can help you get used to them.
If you are questioning your gender identity or wanting to explore your gender further, I can provide therapy to support your journey of exploration. Please contact me to arrange a consultation.