Personal pronouns are shorter substitutes used to refer to someone instead of using their name. Pronouns often attach a gender association with them, for example, using “he/him” would imply that you are referring to a man/boy. When using personal pronouns to refer to a single person it can be unhelpful to assume what pronouns they use. Using a person’s name and or outward appearance to guess their pronouns shifts the burden of responsibility onto that person to make themselves outwardly appear like the pronoun they choose to identify with. It also then forces them to either go along with your assumption or correct you. The easier and more respectful route is simple: ask! You can also give your pronouns to someone when you are first introduced to each other. It may be confusing to some why you are volunteering your pronouns but that is a great opportunity to explain why you do it. If you are unsure of someone’s pronouns and are not comfortable asking, use they/them. It is a privilege to outwardly appear in a way that fits both your gender and pronouns commonly associated with your gender. A common trend among people is to include your pronouns in your email signature line. Normalizing voluntarily sharing your pronouns makes a more comfortable space for people around you to as well.
What should you do if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun?
Maybe you had a friend in high school who used he/him pronouns but after reconnecting you discover that they now use she/her pronouns. You may find yourself slipping up, and that’s okay! You don’t need to make a big deal out of your mistake, it can be unhelpful to draw a lot of attention to it. Rather, just keep on trying. Maybe you don’t realize until after the conversation that you used the incorrect pronouns. You can have a quick conversation acknowledging that you realized that you used the wrong pronouns and that you will make a conscious effort in the future to correct your mistake. Over apologizing can have a counterproductive outcome and end up with the person feeling like they are consoling you over your mistake.
Examples of pronouns
Using gender-inclusive language
You may find yourself using common phrases that are not gender-inclusive. Your intentions may be pure but using language that assumes someone’s gender or pronouns can be very hurtful. Here are some examples of simple switches to use inclusive language.
Instead of “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” you can say “It’s a pleasure” or “Yes, absolutely."
Instead of “ladies and gentlemen” you can say “friends” or “Colleagues."
Instead of “he/she” you can use “that person", "they", the guest."
Instead of “you guys” you can use “y’all.”
Paying attention and making space for pronouns, and the language we use, is an easy step to create more inclusive, equitable spaces.