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Gender Pronouns

By RGUStuart 20 Jul 2021

What are Pronouns? 

Gender pronouns aren’t a new thing. We use them all the time to identify and refer to someone in the third person.

Often, pronouns have an implied gender such as 

“he” to refer to a man/boy or “she” to refer to a woman/girl.

People may also make assumptions about someone’s gender based on their appearance or their name. In both cases, these assumptions aren’t always correct, accurate, or helpful.

Everyone has pronouns, not just transgender, nonbinary, or intersex people and anyone of any gender can use any pronouns that fit for them.

When you use someone’s correct pronouns, it serves to create an inclusive environment where you demonstrate that you care for and respect them.

It can be upsetting or disrespectful to refer to someone using incorrect pronouns. Actively choosing to not use the pronouns someone has shared that they go by is harassment and implies that intersex, transgender,

non-binary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.   

Understanding Genders

Transgender: Applies to a person whose gender is different from their "assigned" sex at birth

Cisgender: Applies to someone whose gender matches their "assigned" sex at birth (ie someone who is not transgender)

Non-binary: Applies to a person who does not identify as "male" or "female"

Genderqueer: Similar to "non-binary" - some people regard "queer" as offensive, others embrace it

Genderfluid: Applies to a person whose gender identity changes over time

What if I make a mistake?

Mistakes happen! Everyone makes them. It’s what we do when we make a mistake that is most important. 

If you use the wrong pronouns for someone in a conversation and you immediately recognize it, correct yourself, apologize, and move on in the conversation. It’s important here not to make the situation about yourself, your intention, or make excuses about the mistake. The best way to demonstrate that you care about the individual and are supportive of them is to correct the error and move forward.

Avoid dragging out the apology and making the other person comfort you for your mistake. We all make mistakes, and even if you feel terrible about it, it isn’t about you.   

Misgendering and Deadnaming

Misgendering is when someone uses the wrong pronoun for another person.

It can be a hurtful experience whether it is intentional or unintentional.

When someone is misgendered over and over, it can cause significant emotional pain.

Similarly, deadnaming is when the wrong name (usually an old name) is used for someone. For example, using the birth name of a transgender or non-binary person. When these are done intentionally, it communicates that the person’s gender and experiences or not valid or respected.

Best Practices for Pronouns

Share your pronouns as a part of your introductions. 

Avoid using the word “preferred” in front of pronouns because it insinuates that the pronouns are optional. Instead, just say “my pronouns are” or “their pronouns are”.

Add your pronouns to:

  • your email address signature
  • Social Media Bio

How do I use Pronouns?

When someone tells you their pronouns, this is how they should be referred to in the third person. However, Pronouns in the first person referring to yourself as “I” or in the second person referring to the person you’re speaking to as “you” do not change.

Most people think of pronouns are men using, he/him/his and women using, she/her/hers.

However, gender neutral pronouns such as they, ze, xe, and others exist and are often used by non-binary people, who do not associate themselves with genders of man or woman.

Gender neutral pronouns are also useful if someone doesn’t know the gender of the person they are speaking about.

Keep in mind that some people may use more than one set of pronouns to refer to themselves for example ‘she/her’ and ‘they/them’). In these cases, you can use either set when referring to this person. 

It is also important to note that we should never assume someone’s pronouns. While most people may use ‘she/her’ or ‘he/him,’ we cannot always tell by looking at someone.  

What if I don’t know what pronouns someone uses? 

If you don’t know what pronouns someone uses, you can do one of three things: 

  • Ask!:  It’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone what pronouns they use.
  • Use “They”: Use singular “they/them/theirs” for this person until you have the opportunity to ask about their pronouns.
  • Use their name: Use their name until you learn their pronouns.

Gender Inclusive Language

Create a more inclusive environment by eliminating language that assumes the genders and pronouns of people when addressing a room. When we use language that is gendered it eliminates the experiences and identities of others who are in the room. For instance, saying “gentlemen” to a room that is 50% men and 50% women would not be acceptable because half of the room is women. Here are some examples of language that could be used: 


Instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls,” or other similar gendered-language, you could say:

  • Everyone
  • Colleagues
  • Friends
  • Folks
  • Students
  • Children


Instead of “he or she” or “s/he” when talking or writing about a person whose gender is not known, you could say:

  • They
  • That person
  • The client
  • The student


Rather than saying “men and women” you could say: 

  • Everyone
  • People of all genders
  • All people
  • Women, men, and nonbinary people 


Thank you for taking the time to read this article, hopefully you have found this information helpful 

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