Labels, acronyms, gender pronouns, and symbols
The 21st-century is seeing the cultural visibility of transgender, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming communities expand in extraordinary ways; particularly in the way that we view and understand gender.
Though awareness about gender diversity is improving, people can struggle with the technical and grammatical aspects of using gender pronouns correctly. They can seem overwhelming, particularly if you're worried about getting a pronoun wrong and causing offence.
Though the use of gender pronouns is becoming more widespread today, the emergence of sex-neutral terms can be traced back to the 1700s. We can only skate the surface here but this section should help you dip your toe in the water.
Most usually, we assign or give gender-specific pronouns like “he” or “she” to those around us. However, some people have a gender expression that is neither male or female. It may be fluid, neutral or they may identify their gender in a different way. Also referred to as Personal Gender Pronouns (PGPs), gender pronouns and can be:
- gender-neutral; eg: them, they, theirs
- gender-specific (binary); eg: he, she, hers, his
Asking and correctly using someone’s personal pronoun shows respect for that person and their gender identity. The opposite is true and it can be offensive and hurtful when someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun.
Here are three examples which should hopefully help you better understand how they work:
- If a person asks where the toilets are, say: “All toilets are along the corridor on the right” rather than ‘the ladies (or gents) toilets are along the corridor on the right”
- Avoid using binary terms such as “ladies and gentlemen” using gender-neutral terms instead like “hello everyone.” Using neutral pronouns such as “they” ensures that everyone is involved regardless of their identity
- If you are managing a meeting, consider asking members of a group to share their preferred pronouns when you meet, sharing yours first. For example “My name is Paulo and my pronouns are they, them, theirs” or “My name is Sam and my pronouns are he, his”
Gender pronouns | US | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus (LGBTQ+) Resource Center
What are personal pronouns and why do they matter? | US | mypronouns.org
She | He | They | Ze | Neo pronouns | US | mypronouns.org
Language and pronouns | Gendered Intelligence
Gender pronouns | University of York
A brief history of gender neutral pronouns | BBC Newsbeat | 22 Sep 2019
He, she, they … should we now clarify our preferred pronouns when we say hello? | The Guardian | 13 Sep 2019
Gender diversity is more accepted in society, but using the pronoun ‘they’ still divides | The Conversation | 14 Sep 2018
Beyond 'he' and 'she': The rise of non-binary pronouns | BBC | 7 Dec 2015