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Pronouns are used in everyday speech and writing to take the place of people’s names. Most use them without thinking about them and normally, when speaking about someone in the third person, pronouns have a gender implied. Pronouns are linguistic tools that people use to refer to people: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/their (2). Some people may use one set of pronouns whereas others may use several. Pronouns can also be used to express gender identity but do not always do so.

They/them writing on chalkboard

Why do pronouns matter?

The use of someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect that person’s gender identity and create an inclusive environment for that person (1). Pronouns are an important part of everyone’s individual identity – they are the basics of how a person wishes to be referred (2). The act of making an assumption, even if it is correct, sends a potentially harmful message to the person. Choosing to guess or ignore someone’s pronouns can come across as offensive or even harassment. There can be positive impacts of suitable gendering or using pronouns for someone. The use of appropriate names and pronouns is associated with better mental health outcomes including reduced depression and suicide risk (3). Taking a moment to check in with others about their pronouns or providing opportunities for people to share their pronouns is an effortless way to express respect for others and avoid making inaccurate assumptions.

Person smiling and waving

Considerations when using pronouns

  • Pronouns should not be assumed. It is respectful, especially during introductions to ask about a person’s pronouns; you should not assume someone’s pronouns based on their appearance, voice, or name.
  • A person’s pronouns can change. Someone can change their pronouns based on name changes, context, or a person’s gender journey.
  • Be inclusive when necessary. Although it is important to encourage others to share their pronouns in group conversations, it should not be mandatory as it may cause discomfort for some people.
  • Increase awareness about pronouns. Anyone can bring awareness about pronouns by adding their pronouns to email signatures or name tags.
  • It is appropriate to use gender-inclusive terms. Using “everyone/y’all/all” (instead of ladies/gentlemen), “they” (instead of he/she), and “person” (instead of man/woman) will avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender identity.
Person smiling

How can I recover from mistakes?

Misgendering can happen quite frequently and occurs when a person either accidentally or intentionally uses misleading pronouns to address someone else (3). It can be offensive, harmful, and destructive to someone’s mental health when you misgender them. If you accidentally misgender someone else, the most important thing you can do is apologize, correct yourself, and move on. If you keep apologizing to the person copiously, you risk making the person feel as if they are to blame. It is also better to correct someone if you notice they are misgendering someone else.

Two women

How can I be an ally?

After understanding the significance of the role pronouns play, the next best step is to educate oneself. It is important to maintain the increasing awareness of pronoun usage and how everyone can share their own:

  • Ask respectful questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to use pronouns yourself.
  • Remember to do your own research.
  • Recognize that gender expression can occur in different ways; allow people to express themselves in the way they choose.
  • The use of a person’s chosen name is just as considerate as using their chosen pronouns.
  • Normalize pronoun utilization and sharing.
Sydney Picture
Author: Sydney Chambers
Sydney currently serves as the Coordinator for Special Events for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Foundation. Sydney is a recent graduate (May 2022) of Appalachian State University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management. Sydney will pursue her Master of Business Administration, with concentration in Leading and Managing Human Resources, starting in the Fall of 2022.

References:

  1. What are pronouns? Why do they matter? Pronouns.org Resources on Personal Pronouns. (2017, January 22). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://pronouns.org/what-and-why
  2. Nelson, K. (2020, November 3). What are pronouns and why do they matter? University of Utah Health. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2020/11/pronouns.php
  3. Narine, K., & Walde, M. (2021, May 26). Why pronouns are important. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.abct.org/featured-articles/why-pronouns-are-important/#:~:text=There%20are%2 0positive%20impacts%20to,reduced%20depression%20and%20suicide%20risk.


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