4 ways to use them sensibly
We all have a gender identity. For many, it’s the sex we were assigned at birth. This is known as cisgender. However, despite what we were assigned at birth, some may identify as male. Some as female. Some both male and female. Or others, neither. A person's gender expression is their outward appearance based on clothes, voice, mannerisms, and more. However, gender identity is an internal sense of self that is not outwardly visible.
Gender pronouns, or personal pronouns, are words used to refer to people. Commonly used pronouns include she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, and Xe/Xem/Xyrs. The use of pronouns and expanded gender terms is evolving, and can be confusing at times. Below are ways you can use them to help create a safer, more inclusive space in the world around you.
Share your own pronouns: When introducing yourself, give your name, and which pronouns you go by. This makes it easier for others around you to share their pronouns as well. Make your pronouns visible in other ways as well, by including them in your email signature, name tags, name as it appears on Skype or Zoom, social media profiles, and business cards, etc.
Create space for people to share their pronouns: Giving people the option to share what pronouns they use is a sign of respect. Some people may forgo pronouns, and simply ask that you use their given name to refer to them. The key is to create a safe space for individuals to share, rather than asking outright, which can come across as aggressive.
Avoid making assumptions: Understandably, most people don’t want us to draw conclusions about them based on appearances, and gender identity is no different. Just because someone looks “feminine,” based on cultural norms of the time, does not mean that female is the gender they identify with. Another thing to be aware of is that someone’s pronouns could change over time. For example, someone may not come out as their true gender right away.
Be aware of language usage: Use gender neutral language when referring to groups of people by changing your language from something like, “Hey guys!” to “Hi everyone!” If you are part of a larger organization, encourage the use of gender inclusive language on forms and other types of paperwork.
While learning about pronouns may be confusing at first, it will get easier with time. Pronouns are an important way to acknowledge and respect others you interact with to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.
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