Over the past few weeks, if you’ve read a newspaper, gone on the internet, or turned on the TV, you’ve probably seen some stories and discussions about people’s pronouns. Non-binary celebrities like Sam Smith and Jonathan Van Ness have done a huge amount of work in raising awareness and starting conversations about pronouns.
Pronouns are the used we use to refer to someone when we’re not using their name. So, this would be words like ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘hers’, ‘she’, ‘they’ and ‘them’. Pronouns usually suggest a person’s gender, which is why it’s important we get this right, particularly when it comes to trans communities.
When it comes to calling people by the right name, gender and pronoun, all we’re talking about really is basic manners.
It’s about letting someone know that you respect who they are. And the simple truth is that, it’s not hard to get it right and to be respectful of each other’s pronouns. You may have seen that earlier this month, Merriam-Webster dictionary took the historic step by officially recognising ‘they’ as a singular, non-binary pronoun. ‘They’, ‘them’, and/or ‘theirs’, is the most common gender-neutral pronoun and is sometimes used by non-binary individuals, like Sam Smith. If you didn’t know, non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’.
Contrary to many people saying this is ‘new’ language, ‘they’ has a long history stretching back to the late 1300s in being used as a singular pronoun. Many of us are already using ‘they’ in this way – often without realising it. Like if someone leaves an item behind, you might say: ‘somebody left their hat, I wonder if they’ll come back to get it.’
Using and respecting a trans person’s correct pronouns is as important as it is for anyone else. But unfortunately, we’ve seen public figures and stories in the media recently repeatedly misgendering trans people.
This is unacceptable and needs to stop. Right now, trans people are facing high levels of abuse and discrimination across all areas of their life. It’s up to all of us who care about equality to step up and be fierce, vocal allies to trans people. One of the simplest ways that we can do this is by using language that’s inclusive for all, which includes how we talk about people’s pronouns. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it causes you no harm and it will make that person feel acknowledged and valid.
Here are five simple ways to step up this International Pronouns Day:
When you introduce yourself, also introduce your pronoun. This can remind people it may not always be obvious what pronoun someone uses.
Put your pronouns in your email signature and/or social media profile
Try to avoid addressing groups or people with gendered language, e.g., instead of using ‘Ladies and Gentleman’, use the word ‘everyone’ to address a group.
If you’re not sure what someone’s pronouns are, ask them.
If you accidentally misgender someone, just apologise to them and then move on using their correct pronoun.