A: Pronouns are the words we use to refer to ourselves or someone else when not using a name. Gender pronouns specifically refer to people and possession i.e. she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, ze/zir/zirs, etc. The correct use of names and gender pronouns is a compassionate act that can make an important difference in someone’s life.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey gathered data from 27,715 transgender people 16 years and older in the U.S. and was the largest survey of transgender people ever.
Trans people who reported being addressed with the correct pronouns and names reported significantly fewer symptoms of severe depression, decreased thoughts of suicide, and fewer suicide attempts. While this type of data can’t determine cause and effect, it does suggest that correct pronouns play a role in better mental health among trans people.
About 40% of trans people attempt suicide in their lifetime, 9 times the national rate. Trans people who report that their support system (like parents) is positive or neutral to them coming out have suicide rates at or below the national average.
So while stating pronouns may seem like something new and confusing to you, it’s a compassionate act that can make a big difference in someone’s life even if you don’t realize it.
💥Tips on Pronouns💥
➡️ Start introducing your pronouns: “Hi, I am Jordan, I use she/her pronouns.”
➡️ Use a person’s current pronouns, even if you have known them when they used different pronouns, (as a child, in school, or in the workplace).
➡️ Use the correct pronouns even when the person you’re talking about is not present.
➡️ You can use they/them as a “gender neutral” pronoun, but if someone tells you to use something different, you should use what they tell you.
➡️ Make a practice of asking what pronouns people would like you to use. And be sure to ask everyone, not just people you think are trans! It will help build the habit, and some people may surprise you.
➡️ Some ways to ask about pronouns include “what are the pronouns you would like me to use?” or “What pronouns should I use?” Try to avoid asking about preferences. Our gender isn’t a preference.
➡️ When you use someone’s pronouns correctly, you show that you respect someone’s choices and bodily autonomy.
If you mess up…
➡️ Don’t panic! This is new territory to a lot of people. Mistakes are going to happen. Just briefly apologize, correct yourself, and move on with the conversation. You can say, “oops sorry, she (or whatever the appropriate pronoun is)” and then move on.
➡️ If you do make a mistake, say sorry. If you ignore the mistake it may communicate that you did it on purpose or you don’t care.
➡️ Avoid further commentary. Just move on. It can be tempting to comment on our own intentions or broader positions about trans people after a mistake, but these kinds of comments often produce more harm than good. For example, if you say you “didn’t intend to offend” the person, they may feel you are minimizing their feelings.
➡️ If you notice someone else using the incorrect pronouns for another person, you can gently invite them to course-correct. For example, you can say “oh I think you made a mistake there friend, it is actually she.” This takes the work off of the trans person to always be correcting.
➡️ Educate yourself! We provided some helpful resources below. Asking marginalized people to do the work of progress has been a major barrier to progress on women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, disability rights, and trans rights too. Those of us who enjoy some positions of privilege can and should learn about marginalized populations.
This work starts within us. We all have the power to make a difference and changing our language is a simple step.
If you are binary or non-binary trans person, are 16 years of age or older, and live in the U.S., consider completing the 2022 survey.
Podcast Episode on Language and Pronouns with Francis Kuehnle, who taught us most of this content. Thank you, Frankie.