Using incorrect pronouns to identify a person can be hurtful, but there are ways to avoid misgendering
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – In the last decade, gender pronouns have become a much more common sight to see and hear – both in people’s social media profiles, in their email signatures, on patches and pins, and when they introduce themselves.
As the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and rights continues, many people, including celebrities like Sam Smith and Demi Lovato, have publicly announced that they’re non-binary and use they/them pronouns.
When people share their pronouns, they’re explaining how they self identify and how they’d like to be referred to.
The best thing to do when someone shares their pronouns is to use them.
According to GLSEN, a group that provides resources for educators to use with LGBTQ youth, using a person’s pronouns is a first step toward showing respect for their identity and creating a more welcoming space.
Personal pronouns are words used in sentences to replace a person’s name or to refer to a person. The pronouns he and she are used to talk about other people and are gendered pronouns.
People can also use non-gendered or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them, ze/zir, ze/hir, xe/xem, fe/fem, ey/em, co/co, or per/per.
Some of these, such as ze/sem and fe/fem, are known as neo pronouns, are what some nonbinary, gender diverse, transgender and genderqueer people use.
Other people ask to be described by a variety of pronouns such as she/they, or any pronouns. Some ask that they be referred to only by their name and that no pronouns be used in reference to them.
GLSEN says pronouns can sometimes signify someone’s gender identity, but not always and that we should never assume a person’s gender identity based on how they dress, wear their hair, or their mannerisms.
The University of Oregon’s Division of Student Life says sharing your pronouns, whether you identify with the sex you were assigned at birth or not, is an important way to show respect and a way to be better allies to the transgender and greater LGBTQ+ community.
The university says it recognizes that assuming someone’s gender can be hurtful.
Portland State University’s Queer Resource Center has a detailed explanation online about pronouns and gender expansive language.
The resource center points out that the singular they/them/theirs pronouns are sometimes used by non-binary people, but also, some people who are not non-binary may choose to use these pronouns.
The center also stresses that if people choose not to share pronouns or choose not to use them, that decision should be respected. The university pointed out that people’s gender identities can and do change.
“Gender is an internal sense of self that may or may not be expressed externally – you cannot know by appearance,” Portland State University says in a “Pronouns 101” video it published.
If you don’t know a person’s pronouns, Portland State University recommends offering your pronouns first. Often, people will follow your example. You can also listen to or read the words people use to refer to themselves, or you can privately ask them.
When a person uses incorrect pronouns or gender to refer to someone, it’s called misgendering. This can happen at times. Several resources, including GLSEN and Portland State University, say when it happens it’s important to apologize, correct yourself and move on. You should have the same reaction if someone corrects the pronouns you’re using.
For anyone struggling to use the correct pronouns, the Queer Resource Center recommends practicing in private or researching more tools to help practice pronoun use.
The chart below shows the many types of pronouns.
Here are a few example sentences.
- I walked with zir to the grocery store.
- Alex’s shoes are cool. They’re always dressed in the latest trends.
- Per said per dad has an appointment after work today.