WHAT ARE GENDER PRONOUNS?
Pronouns are part of our everyday language! It is difficult to speak without using pronouns, when we have been so socialized and educated to use them. As such, their use in understanding/reinforcing gender is often underestimated. When it comes to gender pronouns we like to specify that we are predominantly talking about third person pronouns.
For example, the Director of LGBTQ Services, Erica Lawrence, asks that people use she/her/hers pronouns when referring to her. So people might say, “Have you met Erica? She works in Landis House!”
Some individuals may use the pronouns they/them/theirs. So if someone was talking about that particular individual, one might say “Have you met so-and-so? *They* work in Landis House!”
GENDER PRONOUN FAQs
1. What if I make a mistake?
It’s okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to correct yourself right away, like “Last week, she and – he and I went to the store.” If you realize you made a mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
It can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But please, don’t do that. It is inappropriate and makes the person who was misgendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is absolutely not their job. It is your job to remember people’s pronouns.
2. How do I ask someone what pronouns they use?
Try asking: “What pronouns do you use?” or “Can you remind me what pronouns you use?” It can feel awkward at first, but it is not half as awkward as getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption. If you’re in a classroom environment, you can include this question on an intake form.
If you are asking as part of an introduction exercise and you want to quickly explain what a pronoun is, you can try something like this:
Tell us your name, where you come from, and your pronouns. That means the pronoun you use in reference to yourself. For example, “I’m Erica, I’m from Pennsylvania, and I use she, her, and hers pronouns. So you could say, "She is going to Landis House!" if you were talking about Erica.
Do note that asking on a form (rather than verbally) can allow individuals to more privately let you know their pronouns and be more thoughtful about whether or not they want to "out" themselves as using certain pronouns.
3. Why is it important to respect people’s pronouns?
You can’t always know what someone’s gender pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, and/or dysphoric (but most often, it is all of the above).