- What are gender pronouns?
- Why do gender pronouns matter?
- What are ways I can ask and/or incorporate them into my work/educational setting?
- What if I mess up?
- Should I correct other people?
- Is there a way I can practice using pronouns?
- What else should I be mindful of?
- Where can I find some additional resources?
Put simply, gender pronouns are used in relation to someone’s gender identity, whether in written or verbal communication. For example, a person who identifies as male might ask that others use the pronouns “he/him/his” when referring to him. You may hear some people refer to them as PGPs, personal gender pronouns, or preferred gender pronouns. We like to keep it simple and just call them, "pronouns".
Though using pronouns in our day-to-day interactions isn’t uncommon, it is important that we are mindful about using the correct pronouns for all individuals in order to create more inclusive environments for those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or nonbinary. At a very basic level, using someone's correct gender pronouns is about having respect for them as a person.
We’re glad you asked! Here are some ways to start introducing gender-inclusive language into your spaces. We broke this section into two different categories: individual and group settings.
If you’re speaking to one person, it may be helpful for you to introduce the topic first.
- You may start by saying; "Hi, my name is Alex. My pronouns are he/him/his." If the individual is comfortable disclosing or wants you to know their pronouns, you will introduced it first, enabling them to feel safe to share their pronouns with you.
Sometimes, it can be best to directly ask them what their pronouns are. You could say the following:
- “What pronouns do you use?”
- “Hi, my name is Alex, and my pronouns are he and him. What about you?”
Use gender-neutral language in every conversation to show that you are trying to create a safe and more inclusive environment for everyone. Some ways in which you can do this are:
- Refer to any individual whose gender identity or pronouns you don’t know using gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them/theirs.
- Instead of referring to an unknown person as someone as a member of a specific gender (i.e. “That girl walked away from me”), use a neutral term, such as “that person” or “this individual.”
Remember: it is always better to ask for pronouns, rather than assume. That initial interaction will let people know that you are a safe person for them to disclose their identity to, if need be.
If you’re comfortable with it, start by introducing yourself in a format that includes your pronouns! For example, one could say, “Hi, I’m Vanessa, and I use she/her and they/them pronouns.”
Having everyone introduce themselves using their names and pronouns can be a helpful way for everyone in your setting to be more aware of who is in the room, while also helping each other practice using proper gender pronouns. Asking people to verbally introduce themselves not only accommodates group introductions for pronouns, but can also help participants learn the correct pronunciation of each other’s names.
If verbally introducing one another does not work with your setting, for whatever reason, asking everyone to write down their pronouns and names could also be useful. A great way to incorporate this is by creating some kind of document which you can hand out to everyone in the room individually, so that they can fill out basic information about themselves that could be useful for you in your setting. For example, you could ask for each person’s preferred name/nickname, gender pronouns, major or job, and what they are most hopeful for during this semester. This also allows individuals to disclose their identity to you, without outing themselves to the group as a whole if they are not ready.
Address groups of people with gender-neutral language. Instead of saying “guys” or “ladies,” use terms such as “friends,” “all," or “everyone.” Though this may deviate from everyday language, it shows that you are trying to create a safer, more gender fair environment.
Give gender non-conforming, transgender, and nonbinary individuals the lead on conversations around this topic, when possible and appropriate (for example, don’t only call on a person because you are assuming or are aware of their gender identity). This will allow you and your peers to learn more, while giving this population an opportunity to have a voice.
Invite your peers or students to provide feedback on how to make your setting more inclusive of transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people. Be prepared to make adjustments as you learn!
First and foremost, this might happen. If and when it does, we want you to feel that you have the tools to handle the situation.
Regardless of whether you have always been aware of the various gender pronouns that exist, or this is your first encounter with using pronouns more mindfully, you may find yourself in a situation in which you misgender someone else. Your priority in that moment should be centered on the needs and feelings of the person who was misgendered. It may be embarrassing or uncomfortable for you, but it is important that you resist the urge to become defensive or get visibly upset about the mistake. It is not the other person’s job to console others when they are disrespected; this is a mistake that should be owned and changed moving forward.
Acknowledging the mistake and moving on can be relatively simple. Instead of panicking if you use the wrong pronouns for someone, try a short but intentional approach. For example, you could say “I saw her—sorry, him—walk toward the dining hall” in order to be clear about your correction of a mistake you made. Going forward, it is important that you continue to make a conscious effort to use correct pronouns in conversations, therefore exemplifying respect for the other people around you.
If you notice the individual is visibly upset by your error, try speaking with them discreetly at a later time.
This can vary case-by-case; some people may appreciate you standing up for them, while others might not want attention drawn to them. Each person is different, and we need to approach each situation in that manner. Misgendering (using pronouns that do not correctly reflect the gender with which a person identifies) can be incredibly harmful, and it is important to be mindful of how you react within your setting.
If you notice that someone in your setting is being referred to by the wrong pronouns, it could be helpful to quickly correct the person who is speaking. From there, you can continue the conversation that is being held. For many, the act of misgendering someone could be a mistake that simply needs to be called out before it becomes (or continues to be) a habit. In that case, the person is being held accountable and can be more mindful of how they refer to other people in the future.
If you are struggling with what could be helpful for an individual in your setting, it may be wise to have a conversation with the individual about what they would prefer that you do in situations where they are misgendered.
Absolutely! Even if you don’t know someone who outwardly identifies as transgender, gender non-conforming or nonbinary, practicing the use of different pronouns can help you become more accustomed to using them in your day-to-day life. Here are some ways you could start to implement this practice:
- Use gender-neutral language when referring to someone you don’t know. Some examples of this are, “Someone left their pen here” and “I’m not sure who they are, but I am going to introduce myself to them."
- Pick up any book, magazine, or newspaper and look for a passage in which gender pronouns are used; then, read that passage out loud to yourself, replacing each written pronoun with an alternative one. For instance, try replacing “she” with “they” in the passage!
- Check out some online sites that allow you to familiarize yourself with different pronouns and practice using them, such as this mini practice game from Minus 18! https://minus18.org.au/pronouns-app/
- Something else to consider is that not everyone who is transgender, gender nonconforming, or nonbinary is “out” in every space (or even at all). Asking, “What pronouns would you like me to use for you in this setting?” allows someone to identify themselves in one space, without identifying everywhere else.
- Ask individuals what pronouns they would like you to use outside of the setting you are in, so that you are not accidentally outing them to others. This can be a way to make sure you are still showing respect for someone, even if they aren’t around or are around acquaintances who aren’t aware of that person’s pronouns.
- Be aware that people’s names and pronouns can change. For many, knowing what your gender identity is can be a lengthy and/or difficult process. Some may use different pronouns based on their gender fluidity, while others may be just trying out different pronouns and names as they are exploring gender more. Having regular, casual check-ins with a person or group can help you ensure that you are creating an inclusive space for everyone.
- Language is constantly changing, so be sure to continue to learn more about gender when you can! While every transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary person likely won’t feel comfortable with acting as a spokesperson or informational resource for you on every relevant issue, they are still a valuable place to start. Check out campus resources through the Office of Human Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion, and make sure to do your own research for resources and information.
In addition to our New Paltz LGBTQ Website, some more resources on serving transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary students are listed below:
- Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center
- Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools
- Gender Spectrum
- My Pronouns