Using correct pronouns for non-binary and trans people is a simple indication of acknowledgement and respect.
Gendered appearance does not reliably tell you about a person’s gender. Checking which pronouns to use, and then doing so consistently, is an easy way to ensure that a person’s gender, regardless of identity or presentation, is respected. It is an important element in supporting, and creating safe, inclusive environments for, LGBT+ colleagues and students.
Although she/her, he/him and they/them are the most common gender pronouns, alternatives include ze/hir and xe/xem.
This page provides links to resources to help familiarise and usualise using gender-neutral pronouns.
“Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known.”
Shige Sakurai (they/them) on MyPronouns.org
- If you are not familiar with using gender-neutral pronouns, practise.
- For cis people, including pronouns in your email signature line or social media bio is a way of signalling allyship, communicating kindness and usualising a practice which makes it safer for people who are not cis.
- If you are made aware of someone’s pronouns, use them and respect them.
- If you are teaching a new class, check with students that your institutional registers reflect their chosen names.
- Invite participants in meetings or classes to provide pronouns (e.g. by sending you an email in advance) but don’t do this in a way which might force someone to identify in a way they are not comfortable doing in public.
- If you notice that you have made a mistake with someone’s pronouns, apologise quickly, make the correction and continue.
- If you notice someone using the wrong pronouns, politely correct them, even if the person they are talking about isn’t there.
Find Out More
www.mypronouns.org: Widely recommended by LGBT+ organisations, the My Pronouns website offers clear, practical guidance and links to other resources for using pronouns inclusively.
International Pronouns Day: videos, infographics and links to support correct pronoun use.
In 2019, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary declared “they” as their Word of the Year. For a historical discussion of the use of the singular they, see Laura Ansley’s article ‘Nonbinary Language in the Historical Community’ for the American Historical Association’s online Perspectives on History magazine.
NB: My non-binary life Podcast. 8 podcast episodes, free to download from BBC Sounds in which Caitlin Benedict & Amrou Al-Kadhi discuss gender & identity. Funny, down-to-earth and a good way to familiarise yourself with using gender-neutral pronouns.
If you are organising an event Lal Zimman’s Getting Pronoun Badges Right: 5 recommendations for event organizers and Fen Slattery’s An Organizer’s Guide to Pronoun Buttons both contain useful recommendations.
If you want to create an inclusive classroom, see Dean Spade, “Some Very Basic Tips for Making Higher Education More Accessible to Trans Students and Rethinking How We Talk about Gendered Bodies” Radical Teacher 92 (2012): 57–62.