What are pronouns and why do they matter?
Pronouns are used in place of someone’s name when we are talking about them in the third person, for example he, she, they etc. We all have pronouns.
Pronouns are personal to each person and it is important to consider the impact of assuming a person’s pronoun incorrectly.
How do I share my personal pronouns?
When it comes to sharing your personal pronouns, it is important to remember that not everyone may be comfortable doing so.
It can be hard to know when the right time or place is to share your personal pronouns. It can seem daunting if sharing personal pronouns isn’t something that someone is used to.
To some people, sharing personal pronouns is an important part of their interactions with people. For other individuals, they may feel like it is something that they might not want to share. Either way, it is important to be mindful and respectful of those around you.
If you want to share your pronouns when interacting with a person or group of people you could introduce yourself for example, in way a such as
“Hello, my name is…. and my pronouns are she/her”.
In turn, you may want to invite the person you are speaking with to share their pronouns. An invitation is the key to doing this as the person being invited to share their pronouns should not feel pressured into doing so as it is a personal choice or they may be unsure of their pronouns.
In situations like this, it is best to refer to the person you are interacting with by their name. Other people may feel comfortable sharing their pronouns in ways such as putting their pronouns in a work email signature, but this is simply an individual’s choice.
How do I use personal pronouns?
Often in a conversations where two people are present pronouns aren’t used. We may use the person’s name or ‘you’ during these instances.
When speaking about someone in the third person, personal pronouns such as he, she or they or him, her or them are used.
Some people feel that ‘they’ is difficult to use in common language, often, it is the grammatically appropriate term to use if you are unaware of a person’s pronoun.
A few examples of these are:
‘’ They brought their coat with them today’’
‘’He brought his coat with him today’’
‘’She brought her coat with her today’’
A good way to get a sense of how it feels to use personal pronouns is to imagine the above statement with your correct and also incorrect pronouns.
If your personal pronoun is they and someone mis-pronouns you as he or she, this can be confusing. Just like if your personal pronoun is she and someone mis-pronouns you as he or they.
How do I use gender inclusive language?
Gender inclusive language is language that recognises people as individuals. It is a way of speaking that referred to a person outside of gender, class, ability or social structures.
For example, instead of saying ladies and gentlemen, you could use everyone. Instead of men and women you could use people or person.
For some people this can be difficult as gender is often engrained in our language and words. For example words such as actor, or actress, chairman, father, mother, rooster, hen, waiter, waitress and husband or wife are gendered. These are easily made inclusive by using words such as actor, chairperson, parent, chicken, server, spouse or partner.
Language can set expectations about how people are supposed to be. If you see a job advertised online and it says “Barman needed now!” it implies they are looking for a man, or a sign saying ‘’waitress needed’’ often implies they are looking for a woman.
It is helpful to consider gender inclusive language in your everyday life and think about how you might make it inclusive for both yourself and others.
What if I make a mistake and mis-pronoun someone else?
Depending on the context, and the personalities of the people interacting, there are many different ways to respond if this happens. It has happened to most people at some point, they have either mis-pronouned someone else or been mis-pronouned themselves at some point. The important thing is not to ignore it, to acknowledge that it happened, apologise for your mistake, explain that it was not intentional and that you will be more mindful going forward, allow the other person to respond if they want, do not dwell on it and move on.
Below are different examples of how people might respond in different scenarios if they mis-pronoun someone or they see someone else mis-pronouning someone else and they choose to respond.
If you just recently made a mistake:
Example 1. You are talking about a friend whose pronouns are ‘they/them’. You accidentally say ‘His idea for that holiday sounds great, I can’t wait to go. Let’s try that’. You realize that you used the wrong pronoun for your friend, so you have a private conversation with them and say ‘I realized I used the wrong pronoun for you earlier, I’m sorry, it was a mistake, I will make sure to get it right next time’. Give the other person a chance to respond and say how the feel or what they are thinking, don’t dwell on it and move on.
If someone else makes what you believe was a mistake:
Example 2. You have a work colleague that uses ‘they/ them’ pronouns’ and a different colleague says ‘Did you hear about Casey’s podcast? she was great in it’. You are aware that your colleague has made a mistake so you so you so you could use subtle reinforcement of the correct pronouns by saying ‘yeah they were great. Depending on the relationship and if it is what the individual, in this instance Casey wants, a more active or educational approach could be used and you could say ‘Casey prefers to be referred to using they/them pronouns instead of she/her’.
It also might be useful to consider that people have different pronouns in different contexts and with different people so sometimes when you think someone is mispronouning them, it might be worth considering if they are out to them yet before you intervene.
GOSHH and our use of pronouns.
In GOSHH we aim to be respectful of a person’s pronouns while maintaining confidentiality and safety. For example, in our counselling intake forms we will ask for your preferred name and pronoun. These are the names we then use when referring or talking to you, the client. We are also conscious that sometimes people’s pronoun choices change over time and invite conversations about this.
We honour and respect a person’s right to express themselves without risk of harm or negativity in our space.
While we value the importance of being recognised using your correct pronoun we are also conscious that sometimes people feel safe sharing their pronouns and sometimes they don’t. This is something we are mindful of, particularly in group setting where a person may not be comfortable sharing their pronoun yet.
At GOSHH, we strive to provide a safe, confidential, and welcoming environment for everyone we work with. We focus on the promotion of equality and wellbeing for everyone that comes through our doors, with a respectful and positive approach to all who are part of the LGBTI+ community.