Pronouns: What are they and how do we use them?

15 November 2022 | Author: Julian Motha

Respecting people's pronouns is a way we can help respect people. When we assume another person's pronouns based on how they appear, we run the risk of misgendering them. Misgendering is referring to someone with incorrect pronouns. This can cause distress to another person because they can experience this as their gender identity being invalidated or disrespected.

One way of rectifying this is to ask other people what their pronouns are. The trouble with this is that people may unintentionally only ask gender-diverse people what their pronouns are. Rather than single out any singular group, we can share our pronouns with others.

Introducing yourself using your pronouns normalises the sharing of pronouns and makes it easier for others to share their own. For example, "My name is Julian, and my pronouns are he/him".

Here are just a few of the pronouns people may identify with:
- He/him
- She/her
- They/them
- Ze/hir

A common myth is that they/them should only be used when referring to a group of people. In reality, they/them has been used for hundreds of years as a singular pronoun. They/them can be used when you don't know someone's specific pronouns yet, or if that is how they prefer to be addressed.

Ze/hir are examples of neo (new) pronouns. These are two of many gender-neutral pronouns used to refer to people. This is because not everyone he/him, she/her and they/them do not suit all people. While nobody is expected to know all neopronouns, they should be respected as a way of respecting those who use them.

Just because someone presents a certain way or has a certain gender identity, that does not necessarily mean they use certain pronouns. Having respectful dialogues about sharing pronouns normalises it and takes the pressure off others.

Using pronouns in emails

More and more, people are including their pronouns in their email signatures. This accomplishes two things; firstly, it gives people the clarity to use the correct pronouns when referring to you. Secondly, it normalises the inclusion of pronouns in email signatures for other people, thus making it easier for them to be referred to correctly. There are many ways to do this, but here is a common format:

Julian Motha

Trying your Best

Misgendering is the act of referring to someone using in a way that does not align with their gender identity (i.e., using incorrect pronouns or nouns to describe them). Misgendering is experienced more by people who are transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming. Sometimes this is done mistakenly, for example, incorrectly assuming someone's gender based on their appearance or reading outdated documentation such as their Medicare card or Licence. Misgendering can also be done maliciously, to invalidate or discriminate against someone because they are not cisgender.

When someone tells you that they prefer different pronouns to what you've been using, it is important not to argue or challenge them on this. Coming out and sharing one's pronouns can be difficult, so getting it right and trying your best can make it easier on them.

There may be times when you make mistakes, especially if someone has recently asked you to use different pronouns. When you make a mistake, it is important not to snap at someone or make a big deal out of it. Instead, you can recognise the mistake, use the correct pronouns and continue. Practice makes perfect, and continuing to correctly refer to someone makes it easier.