Has someone you know recently changed pronouns?
Are you unsure of how best to support them with this change?
Are you worried that you’ll get pronouns wrong by accident?
Here are some starting tips on being a great ally. For a lot of people, the pronouns that they were given when they were born feel right – they feel like they fit who they are as a person. However, that’s not the case for everyone.
Some people discover as they grow into themselves, that the personal pronouns they initially grew up with, like he/him or she/her, don’t feel true for them. This mismatch can be really distressing and horrible to encounter on a daily basis while living your life.
Why respecting pronouns is important
Young transgender people have some of the highest rates of suicide, depression, and self-harm in our community. But for those who have a safe and supportive environment, the risk is significantly reduced. One of the critical ways we can support our transgender friends, colleagues, and family is to ensure that they are referred to by their identified pronouns. This is easy to do and makes such a huge difference. It not only shows that you care for this person, but it also shows that you respect them and want to help affirm their gender identity.
How to ask if you’re unsure
If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, the best thing to do is ask them directly and politely at a good time. You might want to ask them one on one, as some people might not use their identified pronouns around everyone, for example, if it’s not safe for them to do so at home.
Until you can check in with that person, you can always refer to them by name when you need to talk about them to other people.
What to do if you mess up
Using the wrong pronouns when you refer to someone sucks, it can feel embarrassing for you and it feels quite awful for the other person, even if it was by accident.
If you make a mistake, you need to apologise and acknowledge it rather than pretending it didn’t happen as that can be really harmful for the other person. You don’t need to make a big apology – just a sincere apology and self-correction before moving on with the conversation.
It really helps to practice using the right pronoun in your head, so that when it comes time to refer to that person in real life, it already feels more natural to address them with their identified pronouns.
Fun fact: One of the oldest records that we’ve found of the word ‘they’ to refer to a singular person, is all the way back in the year 1375 in a medieval romance poem! The use of ‘they’ as a pronoun has ebbed and flowed as the English language has changed to suit the times, and is gaining popularity in the current age.
Top Tips for Pronouns
- If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, correct yourself and move on without making a big deal out of it. If you remember later that you got it wrong, make a point to check in and apologise to that person.
- Use the right pronoun for people even if they’re not around.
- If you’re not sure of someone’s pronoun, use they/them or their name until you have a chance to ask them directly.
- If you hear someone get a person’s pronouns wrong and you know that they’ve been informed of the change. Gently correct them by using the right pronoun in your reply. This can be especially helpful for the misgendered person, as they might be feeling anxious about asserting their pronouns or even worn out from correcting people all the time.
Let your biggest takeaway be that all you need to get pronouns right, is to ask politely! And don’t be shy about offering your own pronouns too when you ask.