Trans and Gender Diverse Peer Support Project

Supporting growth and sustainability of trans and gender diverse peer support across Victoria. Supported by the Victorian Government.

Why Pronouns Matter

We all use pronouns. They’re an essential part of the English language, allowing us to replace a person’s name in a sentence so that we don’t have to repeat it over and over again. Since pronouns are based on someone’s gender they often carry a special weight for people who are Trans and Gender Diverse (TGD), and respecting someone’s stated pronouns is an important easy way to create an inclusive and respectful environment.

Why Pronouns Matter:

Just like the labels we use to describe our gender or sexual identity, pronouns help us to form and make sense of our identity and describe it to others. It’s hard to understand who you are, and explain your identity to others, without having the vocabulary to do so. Figuring out which pronouns and labels are comfortable for you is a useful way to work out who you are, and to express yourself when you’re out in the world. They can therefore be a very personal and important part of someone’s identity.

Correctly using someone’s pronouns is an easy way to provide social affirmation for their gender identity. This is particularly important when other forms of affirmation, like officially changing your name or accessing gender-affirming medical care, may be too expensive for a TGD person to access. The simple act of respecting someone’s pronouns can validate who they are and go a long way to making them feel comfortable in your presence and in the wider world.

Not using someone’s pronouns is called misgendering, which is often a very painful thing for a TGD person to experience. It can make us feel uncomfortable, disrespected, and unsafe, and also trigger feelings of dysphoria. It can make us feel as though our gender identity is being dismissed and ignored, leading to feelings of alienation, and potentially activating memories of gender-related trauma if we’ve struggled to be accepted in the past. 

Common Pronouns and Their Usage:

Some of the most common pronouns are He/Him/His, She/Her/Hers, and the gender neutral They/Them/Theirs. Some people find They/Them/Theirs confusing as it is often thought of as a plural – a word that refers to multiple people – but there are often instances when it is used to refer to a singular person as well. For example, if you found a lost phone on a park bench, you might say, “Someone left their phone! I hope they come back for it!”

You may also come across neopronouns. These have been created to provide an alternative to the conventional options, as some TGD people don’t feel that traditional pronouns accurately reflect their identities. Examples of these neopronouns are Xe/Xem/Xers, Ze/Hir/Hirs, and E/Em/Eirs. If you encounter these and feel anxious about how to pronounce them, it’s always best to ask the person how they pronounce them and follow their lead.

Sometimes TGD people will use more than one set of pronouns i.e. They/She or  He/She/They, and are happy for people to alternate between them in conversation. They might prefer to use certain pronouns in situations where they feel more comfortable, and other pronouns among strangers. It’s important to ask people who use multiple pronouns if they have any preferences for when they want different pronouns to be used.

Asking for Pronouns:

Pronouns are important, but it’s also important not to get too anxious about asking for them! The easiest way to approach this is simply to introduce yourself with your own pronouns, as this creates an invitation for other people to share their own i.e. “Hello, I’m Alex. I use she/her pronouns.” It’s that simple!

If you can actively listen to what other people request for their pronouns and reflect this back to them, you’ll be creating a safe space for TGD people. If you make a mistake and accidentally misgender someone, don’t make a big deal out of it. Apologise, but keep it casual, so that you don’t make the situation about yourself and your feelings or place more attention on the TGD person, who will already be feeling uncomfortable.

Inclusive Language in Professional and Personal Settings:

According to the 2023 AWEI Employee Survey Data, TGD individuals say that knowing they are in a supportive workplace:

But non-TGD people benefit as well, as knowing that you’re in a safe environment where you can express yourself fully and authentically is good for everyone.

One way to foster a feeling of inclusivity is to use gender neutral language. If you can avoid addressing a room with “ladies and gentlemen”, calling groups of people “guys” or other gendered terms, or assuming the gender of someone’s partner by referring to them as their “husband” or “wife”, you’ll help to create a space where everyone can feel welcome and comfortable to be themselves.

Respectful and engaged use of people’s correct pronouns is an important and simple way to be an ally to the Trans and Gender Diverse community. It provides affirmation in a casual and cost-free manner, and is a great way to create a safe and welcoming environment. It can take time to adjust to using someone’s pronouns or sharing your own, but as long as you approach it with respect and care and put in the effort to learn, you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier.

If you’d like to learn more about pronoun use and gender identity, head to our training page to book in one of our facilitators for some workplace training.

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