Why pronouns are important

We use pronouns as part of our everyday language in order to identify or refer to another person. Pronouns, such as “I”, “they”, “she”, “he”, “we”, “hers” and many others, are very important because they are a small but very common way to acknowledge someone’s identity.

Pronouns are extremely personal. Using them correctly shows respect for the person we’re talking to or about — pronouns are one of the ways that we identify with the world.

Respecting people’s pronouns is the vital first step in creating an inclusive environment.

Key Terms

Trans: a gender identity and umbrella term for people whose gender differs from, or does not sit comfortably within, the gender they were assigned at birth. A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth. A trans man is a man who was assigned female at birth.

Cisgender: someone whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Non-Binary: a gender identity and an umbrella term for people whose identity falls outside the gender binary. Some people do not identify wholly or at all with the gender they were assigned at birth – some people have no gender at all. The term non-binary comes under the trans umbrella.

Agender a non-binary identity for people that have no gender at all. This term also falls under the trans umbrella.

Intersex: is not a gender identity and should not be lumped under the trans umbrella. It describes someone born with anatomical, hormonal and/or chromosomal variations in their sex characteristics. Some intersex people self-define as trans and/or non-binary, others with the gender they were assigned at birth.

What can you do to be more inclusive?

Respect people’s names - It is good to use the name and gender a trans person tells you to use. Don’t ask what their ‘real’ name or gender is – this is disrespectful and distressing.

Gender identity and gender expression are different - Gender identity is someone’s personal understanding of their own gender. Gender expression is how they choose to reflect their gender identity in their physical appearance. Try not to make assumptions about someone’s gender based on the way they dress – it may not reflect their gender identity or the appearance usually associated with their gender identity.

Use correct pronouns - Some people prefer gender-neutral pronouns such as they/their and ze/zir. If you are unsure which pronoun to use, wait for an appropriate moment and ask. Alternatively, indicate the pronouns you use first – this gives people an opportunity to say theirs too.

Appreciate gender diversity - All gender identities are valid and should be supported equally. If someone’s gender is outside of the gender binary or they don’t have a gender identity at all, it simply reflects the diversity of people’s identities.

Support everyone - Recognise and respect the lives and experiences of all trans and non-binary people, and understand the oppression they face. This includes supporting trans people of colour, sex workers, and people with disabilities.

Listen and learn - Learning the appropriate terminology and language can be daunting. If you make a mistake, apologise and learn from the experience. Honest mistakes – as opposed to intentional attempts to invalidate someone’s identity – don’t make you transphobic.

Educate yourself - Organisations like Stonewall, Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence and GLAAD have lots of resources online.