Sexual Health Through Education
A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. For example: I, me, he, she, they, etc.
Egale Canada Human Rights Trust OUTShine 2015 Ambassador Handbook identifies the impacts of assuming someone’s pronouns:
There are many assumptions that can be made when meeting and interacting with new people. One of the big assumptions that is often made is around gender. Based on culturally dominant ideas about gender expression, when meeting someone new, we often default into using certain gendered language to refer to that person without ever asking for or being given information about whether or not that gendered language is correct or comfortable for the person being spoken about. Pronouns are a big part of this gendered language.
For many people, the assumption that folks make about the pronouns that are comfortable for them works just fine. For others, however, this is not the case, leading to experiences where they are made to feel disrespected, unsafe, and even unwelcome. For this reason, it is important to avoid making these assumptions.
There are many sets of pronouns that people might use. Many people are quite familiar with the pronouns she/her/hers and he/him/his, as well as the plural of they/them/theirs. There are also several sets of gender neutral (or inclusive) pronouns, including the singular form of they/them/their.
As a best practice, use a person’s name and/or gender neutral language when you are unsure of someone’s pronouns.
How do I find out someone's pronoun? You can ask them politely, respectfully, and privately which pronoun they prefer to use for themselves. Then, use that pronoun in reference to them and encourage others to do so too.
Pronouns are important and so are other gendered identities. A person may prefer she as a pronoun. In terms of other types of identifiers, this person may prefer partner instead of girlfriend. It is okay to mix and match gendered language and it is up to everyone to decide what they are comfortable with. Maybe you dislike the word wife or maybe you do not: that is okay!
If you accidently use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely and then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.
Becoming familiar with gender neutral pronouns and how to use them comfortably is an important part of ensuring that you are able to refer to those around you respectfully.
Egale Canada Human Rights Trust is Canada’s only national charity promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) human rights through research, education and community engagement. For more information about Egale, please visit: http://egale.ca/.