The Importance of Pronouns

Pronouns are how we refer to someone or talk about someone in the third person. We can’t always know which pronouns someone uses by looking at them, so asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show you respect to their gender identity. Pronouns are a part of someone’s gender expression and are not ‘preferred’ but are required to communicate respectfully.

Using a person’s correct pronouns is a crucial way to show courtesy and acceptance; a way of showing respect and referring to them in a way that’s true and consistent with who they are. Using pronouns incorrectly is called misgendering and can create a cocktail of emotions for the person on the receiving end; they can feel embarrassed, sad, angry, and sometimes scared for their safety because of a worry that the other person will get defensive or won’t accept you.

Experiencing misgendering daily is exhausting and upsetting, and can really take a toll on a person’s confidence and self-worth. Using gender inclusive language can drastically reduce depression, social anxiety and other negative mental health factors, for example:

Instead of referring to ladies and gentlemen or language which assumes only two genders:

  • All
  • Everyone
  • Friends
  • Guests
  • Colleagues

Instead of “she” or “he”:

  • The guest
  • The customer
  • The person

Small changes in language can make a big difference in peoples’ lives and there are easy steps to take in the workplace to make sure misgendering is avoided.

  • Ask if you don’t know someone’s pronouns.
  • Add your pronouns to your signature and advocate for this to be best practice.
  • Be neutral in your language.
  • When introducing yourself, say “my pronouns are” and invite others to say theirs, but only if they are comfortable.

Asking whether others are comfortable sharing their pronouns is vital, so asking them before a meeting with others will avoid making them have to publicly share their pronouns when they are not ready. Therefore asking in private beforehand is key to making sure you don’t misrepresent or out someone.

Remember that there is a privilege of appearing in a way that fits both your gender and the pronouns that many will associate with your gender. Therefore, sharing pronouns in a manner comfortable to all can disrupt that privilege of assumption.

If you do misgender someone, the first thing to do is own it and learn from your mistakes. Then correct yourself and carry on the conversation, for example:

Person 1: “so he had”
Person 2: “… they”
Person 1: “thank you, I appreciate you correcting me, so they had…”

It is important not to dwell on your mistake or say you’re struggling with their pronouns because this puts emotional labour onto them when they have perhaps already gone through a trying time, and it isn’t helpful.

Everyone deserves to be referred to by the pronouns they choose. For the person on the receiving end, it’s massively important and plays a huge part in their health and wellbeing, as well as making them feel more comfortable and seen. Mostly importantly, they will feel able to bring their true self to all situations.

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