“Hi, my name is _____, and I use _____ pronouns.”
Getting used to this type of introduction may take a few conversations for practice, but eventually we get it down. In recent years, though, there has been a greater debate about pronouns, not only in the way that we introduce ourselves but how they’re even discussed. We’re here to break some of it down for you, though keep in mind that language is an ever-evolving process and no one will be perfect at it right away. This helps us find grace in ourselves as we try to be flexible, and hopefully this helps you as you navigate being a more affirming, kind human being!
What are pronouns?
Pronouns are words that are used to identify ourselves and other people. The pronouns we give to others are indicators of how others should reference you. You may see she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir, and so on. Pronouns are usually introduced to other people like the first sentence of this blog. Or, with the virtual setting many of us find ourselves in now, we might see them in parentheses next to our name during a video chat. Remember, you cannot tell what someone’s pronouns are just by looking at them, so it’s important to ask (or give your own upfront!
Pronouns are NOT PREFERRED. They simply are.
Older language we used to use when talking about pronouns was whether or not they were preferred. This, now, is not the case; the pronouns a person shares simply are. Also, the reason why a person identifies with certain pronouns is not information anyone is entitled to. So when you ask a person what their pronouns are, don’t ask what are their “preferred pronouns.” Ask the simple question, “What are your pronouns?”
There are some folx out there, though, who are comfortable using different pronouns in different settings. For example, someone might introduce themselves and have she/they pronouns and then give a preference. They’re usually given in order of preference this way, and it can be assumed that the ones that they introduce first are the ones they prefer in the setting where you meet them. There might even be folx who do not prefer to use any pronouns and instead want others to use their name when being referred to. Generally, though, it’s safe to ask and be polite!
Why is it important to use someone’s pronouns?
In short, it’s respectful. You wouldn’t call a person by the incorrect name. You also cannot tell what a person’s name is simply by looking at them. The same applies to pronouns. If you want to be gender affirming and respectful, it is important that you say the correct pronouns for whoever you are referring to in the same way you would want it done for yourself.
When someone is referred to by the incorrect pronouns, they might feel embarrassed, humiliated, and dysphoric. People’s gender identity journeys are unique and very personal, and it can hurt someone deeply when their incorrect pronouns are repeatedly used. You can think about this especially for those who are currently transitioning. Incorrect pronouns may be associated with their dead name, or a name that one no longer identifies with and may carry a lot of pain.
In our society, it is a privilege for others not to get our pronouns wrong. This is when we identify as cisgender, heterosexual, and have a gender expression that society sees as congruent with what they expect. This is not always the case for those who are part of the queer community. So in addition to having respect for others, remember to activate empathy, too. Others’ lived experiences are just as valid as our own, even if they’re different.
What if I make a mistake with someone’s pronouns?
We’ll start with what not to do: don’t apologize profusely or over explain why you used the incorrect pronouns for someone. That makes it awkward for everyone and then may make the other person feel like they have to caretake you for making the mistake even though they’re the ones that were hurt by it. Generally, bring attention to your misstep and then carry on the conversation. Drawing too much attention about your mistake will make it about you, not the person who may have been impacted by your mistake.
You can say something as simple as, “She–oh sorry, I meant they did this,” or “She–sorry, they…” The goal is to make it short and sweet.
Have grace for yourself and practice!
Using pronouns isn’t something everyone is accustomed to doing. Some of us may have grown up in communities where it wasn’t the norm and we’re trying to understand and get used to doing it regularly. Just like anything else, to get better at using someone’s pronouns or to get used to introducing yourself, you can practice. Practice in the mirror when you introduce yourself to also introduce your pronouns. Look at the picture of someone you met and use their pronouns like you’re having a conversation with them. Throw in someone’s pronouns when you can, and use pronouns intentionally and with care.
At Cultured Space, we want to extend gratitude for those of you who are doing the work to ensure you’re a respectful, kind human! We hope to spread awareness and cultivate safe spaces for our clients, staff and community. If you’re interested in seeking your own therapy or support and want to learn more, you can contact us today!