Pronouns are an important part of a person's identity. Using them correctly can help affirm how that person views themselves, and foster a safe space for them. In this blog, we're going to talk about what a pronoun is, and how to use them correctly.
What is a pronoun?
Pronouns are a grammatical term used to refer to an individual or thing. In this context, it refers to a person. And the way modern English works, a pronoun also indicates the gender of the said person. For example: she/her/hers; he/him/his; they/them/theirs.
What's the problem with pronouns?
While for some folks, pronouns are a minor and harmless detail of a person's life, it matters a great deal to others. The problem with pronouns, is that it implies the gender of the person you're talking about -- and those pronouns may be wrong.
Some people, despite whether they present as masculine or feminine, may not adhere to the pronouns you might think they use. Just because someone presents themselves a certain way (perhaps as male, or female), that does not mean they want to use pronouns related to either of those genders.
Using the correct pronouns is a way to respect and affirm an individual's identity, which is why it's important to get it right.
Pronouns & the LGBTQ+ community
For the LGBTQ+ community, pronouns matter a great deal. Many LGBTQ+ folks do not want to use the pronouns society assigns to them, or what society may assume they prefer. Many transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals prefer the pronouns they/them/theirs, for example.
Using a gendered pronoun, for anyone who doesn't feel they exactly identify a certain way, can be harmful to their sense of identity. When a person's preferred pronouns are ignored or disregarded, it can make them feel rejected for who they are. Additionally, being misgendered is a common problem for the LGBTQ+ community, and can harm a person's mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and even feelings of dysphoria.
How to ask about someone's pronouns
Asking someone about their preferred pronouns can be a really identity-affirming action. However, even though asking about someone's personal pronouns may be good-intentioned, it's not always that simple.
Before you ask someone about their pronouns, consider the environment you're in, and if it is a safe space. Additionally, someone may not be comfortable talking about their pronouns with you, which can be hard to anticipate until you put them in a potentially uncomfortable and triggering position. Every person is different, and as such may have different feelings and comfort levels, so keep that in mind as well.
How to use someone's pronouns correctly
Once you know what a person's preferred pronouns are, it's important to use them -- the right way. Here are some simple steps to doing that.
1. Use their pronouns. This may seem like a no-brainer, but always make a conscious effort to use a person's preferred pronouns.
2. Use a person's pronouns when introducing them. This is a good way to let everyone in the conversation know what a person's pronouns are, and can help said individual feel validated and comfortable without having to explain themselves. For example: "This is my friend Riley. They just started a new job in New York City."
3. Correct people who use the wrong pronouns. Sometimes people get misgendered, or someone forgets a person's pronouns. A good way to go about this is kindly correct that person with the right pronouns in a light-hearted manner.