He, She, They: Why are pronouns important?

In everyday conversation, we use pronouns all the time! Most often we use the common pronouns he/she when referring to one person without using their name.  But for some members of the LGBTQ + community, these pronouns may not feel intuitively comfortable.  

Biological sex is something that is assigned at birth, based on your physical anatomy.  

Gender identity is a person’s experience of their own gender. For many people, gender identity aligns with the biological sex they were assigned at birth. Someone who is transgender, or gender non-binary has a gender identity that does not align with the biological sex they were assigned at birth and can experience their gender in a variety of ways. 

(Wondering which pronouns people might identify with? UC Davis compiled this helpful list: https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/pronouns ) 

Why are pronouns important?  

Most people don’t think about their pronouns. However, the use of preferred pronouns is very important to many transgender and non-binary people as it affirms their gender identity.  

One 2016 study found that affirming a person’s pronouns — and, in extension, their gender — lowers depression and raises self-esteem. A person affirming another’s pronoun use can help others feel comfortable with their external appearance and their gender identity.  

This is especially important to teens, who are at a critical point in their physical, mental, and emotional development. When you use their correct pronouns, you are acknowledging them as a person, their journey, and accepting them as who they are. 

Why do pronouns matter?  

People often make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These aren’t always correct, and the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message — that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not. 

Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them.  

How do I ask someone their pronouns? 

If you’re not sure about someone’s pronouns, just ask. A great way to open the conversation is by starting with your pronouns when you first meet them. This way they feel comfortable sharing their pronouns with you, and you will know how to refer to them when you are speaking to others.  

For example: “Hi, my name is __________. I use (your pronouns) pronouns. What is your name and pronouns?”  

When it comes to a group setting, don’t force people to share their pronouns. However, people could be invited or encouraged to do so. 

For example: “Welcome to our meeting. Before we begin, we’d like to go around and share our names and personal pronouns. For those who haven’t done this before, this is a way that we can avoid assumptions, particularly about gender. What may seem obvious may actually be incorrect. Please keep in mind that while many people associate “he” or “she” as meaning men or women respectively, this isn’t always the case. Does anyone have a question before we begin our introductions?” 

The problem with misgendering  

Misgendering is when someone uses the wrong name or pronoun to describe someone else. This can cause distress to the person who has been misgendered because they may feel like their gender identity is not validated. Misgendering can also create a risk to someone’s safety by outing that person to others, and unfortunately, some people purposely misgender others to insult them.  

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender students in K-12 settings experience high rates of harassment (78 percent), physical assault (35 percent), and even sexual violence (12 percent). A study by Arnold H. Grossman, Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University found that attending school was reported to be the most traumatic aspect of growing up. 

This harassment is why it is so important to create spaces at home and in school that are inclusive and treat young people with dignity, letting them know that they will be seen for who they are.  

What if you make a pronoun mistake? 

If you make a mistake, apologize, and don’t be defensive. Making it a bigger deal in the moment is not necessarily helpful and could be harmful.  

Depending on the situation, you might be worried that people think you aren’t friendly towards transgender people because you made a mistake. Generally, it’s good to avoid making the situation about you and your intent.  

If it is your first time in a situation where someone is terribly upset about being misgendered, take a breath.  Remind yourself that while this is the first time you have misgendered this person, they may have prior experiences weighing on their mind. Consider how many times have they may have been misgendered accidentally, if not purposely, before.  

Here are a few examples of how to handle a situation if you made a mistake: https://www.mypronouns.org/mistakes 

Learn more   

The Bougainvilla House wants to educate parents, teachers, co-workers, and schools about pronouns and the LGBTQ+ community. The more people are informed about these topics, the easier it is for us to respect and understand one another.  

We have compiled a list of resources to help parents, educators, and youth alike to better understand what it means to identify as part of LGBTQ+ community. 

If you need more support, The Bougainvilla House can provide personalized support for you, either in person or via telehealth appointments. Please call 954-764-7337 to schedule your appointment now.