An Easy Guide to Pronouns
By ALEXUS MARTINEZ
LET’S TALK GENDER PRONOUNS
“What is a pronoun?” A pronoun is a word that substitutes a noun or can refer to someone or something mentioned in the discourse. Gender pronouns specifically refer to people you are talking about. Gender pronouns have become an increasingly important part of daily interactions, leaving many feeling like a confused child learning grammar for the very first time. While it may feel like a difficult task to learn new ways of engaging with people, it is important to remember that everyone deserves the chance to self-identify. That’s why I’m here today, writing this guide to gender pronouns and answering questions many clients, friends, and family members ask me.
HOW TO ASK SOMEONE’S PRONOUNS
You can’t know what someone’s pronouns are just by looking at them. Which leads me to one of the first questions I get from people is, “How do I know someone’s pronouns?” The answer is simple, ask. Asking and correctly using someone’s gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for someone’s gender identity. You can try asking, “What are your pronouns?” or “Can you please remind me of your pronouns?” Asking might feel awkward at first, but it can avoid hurtful assumptions. Also, avoid asking for someone’s “preferred” pronouns. Although this was once common practice, it can also be harmful because gender pronouns are not “preferred” or optional, but encompass an important part of someone’s identity. If you feel super awkward you can always practice asking in the mirror first.
WHAT IF I MESS UP SOMEONE’S GENDER PRONOUNS?
“What if I mess up”, or some variation of the phrase, is the most common question I am asked when discussing pronouns. It’s okay, mistakes happen. What’s important is how we recover. After making a mistake, politely apologize and correct yourself; saying something like, “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)” and simply move on. If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.
“What are your pronouns?” or “Can you please remind me of your pronouns?” Asking might feel awkward at first, but it can avoid hurtful assumptions.”
It is also vital that you do not make the mistake about yourself. Making your mistake a big deal by over apologizing or complaining how difficult it is for you to change the way you have been speaking for the past twenty (or however many) years, can make the person who has been misgendered feel worse or put them in a position to comfort you which is not their job.
“What if I hear someone else misgender someone?” This is a conversation to be had with the transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary people in your life about what they would like you to do if someone misgenders them in your presence. Not everyone wants someone else to be their “pronoun bodyguard,” but some folks do.
PRONOUN CHART - GENDER NEUTRAL PRONOUNS
A gender-neutral pronoun is a pronoun that does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed. Gender-neutral pronouns can be used by anyone: cisgender, transgender, agender, non-binary, etc. While they/them are currently the most common gender-neutral pronouns used in the West, there are many others. Below is a chart to better help understand pronouns and how they are used. The chart is by no means an exhaustive list of all the pronouns, there are many other beautiful and valid words for people to identify with.