Pronouns: What are they and why do they matter?
Pronouns are the words that we use to address people when we are not using their names. Just like our names, our pronouns help to tell the world who we are.
Many of us have the privilege of never having to think about them because the pronouns that society has chosen to assign to us do accurately represent how we see ourselves.
For others, it is a consistent point of anxiety. Will I be misgendered? Will I have to explain myself? How do I correct them without outing myself? Is this person a safe person to share this part of who I am with?"
Here are some simple dos and don'ts to create more comfortable and welcoming environments.
Volunteer your own pronouns to open the door for others to do the same more comfortably and help to normalize it.
Add your pronouns to your email signature, on name tags, in your social media profiles, and use them when you introduce yourself. It is a simple way to be considerate and it can go a long way in creating and normalizing a more welcoming environment.
Incorporate more gender-neutral language into your everyday vocabulary and work to take gender out of the equation when addressing others.
Using words like "partner", "sibling", "child", "parent", and "spouse" when talking about others whose pronouns you do not know automatically helps you avoid using the wrong pronouns or misgendering others unintentionally.
Politely and privately correct those who you know have used the wrong pronouns when addressing someone else.
Friendly corrections can help remind others of the importance of using the correct pronouns.
Continue to practice.
Even the most steadfast allies can make mistakes, and that is okay. Keep practicing normalizing and using gender-neutral language and incorporating pronouns. The more we all practice, the less difficult it will become.
Ask for an explanation for someone's pronouns.
Just like you would not correct or question someone when they tell you their name, do not question why someone's pronouns are what they are. They do not owe you an explanation, just like you don't owe them one about yours.
Assume that you know their pronouns based on what you perceive about them.
Gender, gender identity, and gender expression are different things. Just because you think you know how someone identifies does not mean that you do. It takes a few seconds to ask and ensure those around you are respected and comfortable, just do it.
Make a big deal if you mistakenly use the wrong pronouns when addressing someone.
Creating a scene or profusely apologizing after making an innocent mistake can make things even more awkward- or worse out someone. Simply apologize, correct yourself, and move on.
Make excuses as to why you are choosing not to respect someone's pronouns.
"I studied English in college and I just can't use 'they' as a singular pronoun". "But, I knew you when you used ___ pronouns".
Stop. Just don't do it.
Call someone out publicly or aggressively.
Making a big deal about someone's mistake in public or in an aggressive way may make you feel like you are being a good ally, but you aren't even if you have good intentions.
Creating a space where folks feel like they are at risk of being humiliated if they make a mistake can create a situation where folks don't feel like they can continue to grow and learn.
It also can create an even more uncomfortable or unsafe space for the person who was addressed with the wrong pronouns.