Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility and I wanted to use the opportunity to share a piece on gender pronouns: What are they? Why are people talking about them? Do I need to do anything if I’m not LGBTQI?
Feeling a bit lost and confused by it all? Start here…
What are pronouns?
Time for a quick grammar refresher. Gender pronouns are words that we use to refer to other people when we’re talking about them.
The most commonly used pronouns are “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers.”
- e.g. “Anita is such a great friend, she really listens.”
- e.g. “Cam lives with his family in Auckland.”
- e.g. “Is this Tasha’s laptop?” “Yes, I think it is hers.”
We also often use “they, their, theirs” when we’re not sure about someone’s gender.
- e.g. “I spoke to my doctor about it.” “What did they say?”
Why are people talking about pronouns, and sharing them in their email signatures and on social media?
Not everyone identifies strictly as male or female. People who are transgender or gender nonconforming may choose to use pronouns that don’t conform to binary male/female gender categories, such as “they, them, theirs.”
- e.g. “Sam is such a great coach, they ask insightful questions.”
- e.g. “Blake lives with their family in Singapore.”
- e.g. “Is this Alex’s coffee?” “Yes, I think it is theirs.”
This is a bit ‘woke’ for me…
Maybe all this is new to you. Maybe you’re a little confused. That’s totally okay.
Start off by thinking about it like this:
If you identify as a man, imagine someone repeatedly referring to you with the words ‘she’ or ‘her’. If you identify as a woman, imagine someone repeatedly referring to you with the words ‘him’ or ‘his’.
This is a simple matter of politeness and showing respect.
Shockingly, half of all transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their life. You can make a difference. Research shows that when we use the correct pronouns for transgender people, it halves the chance they’ll try to take their life.
I’m not transgender, why should I share my pronouns?
If your name, appearance and identity are all the same gender, you are in a position of privilege (refresher; ‘privilege’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘wealthy’). Including ‘she/her/hers’ or ‘he/him/his’ in your email signature is super easy, and basically has no consequences for you.
By contrast, doing this is harder and riskier for transgender and gender diverse people because it leads to longer conversations and asks them to educate people.
In taking this easy step you are making a big difference for others; it normalises discussions about gender, and signals you as an LGBTQIA+ ally.
It creates a safe space so everyone can bring their whole self to work, no longer needing to censor or hide parts of themselves. This leads to greater productivity, creativity and connection with colleagues and our purpose.
What if I make a mistake?
Mis-gendering is getting someone’s gender wrong. It can be embarrassing for you, and hurtful to the person you are speaking too. If it happens, it is best to apologise, correct yourself and continue the conversation you were having.