It’s common for people to make presumptions about someone’s gender based on how they look, act, or their name. But those presumptions aren’t always correct. And getting it wrong can make someone feel alienated and excluded.
In this article, we take a look at what personal pronouns are, why they matter, and how you can make sure you get it right.
A personal pronoun is a word we use as a substitute for the proper name of a person. In the English language, ‘he/him/his’ is used to refer to males and ‘she/her/hers’ to females. But, these pronouns are restrictive and don’t work for everyone. If someone doesn’t identify as male or female (that is, non-binary) they may decide to use a gender-neutral pronoun.
One option that many non-binary people use is ‘they’.
For example, instead of saying ‘Jessica is drinking her drink’ it would be ‘Jessica is drinking their drink’. But, ‘they’ is not the only option and other personal pronoun options include ze/hir, ze/zir, and xe/xem.
Some people may decide not to use any pronouns at all – instead, preferring the use of their name as a pronoun instead (John drank John’s drink because John was thirsty).
If you don’t know someone’s pronoun the most important thing is never to presume. Avoid gender-specific language like ‘those guys over there’. Instead, use the gender-neutral ‘they’ until you know otherwise. And if you’re not sure, it’s always welcome to ask!
You could also introduce yourself using your own pronouns, like “My name’s Jake, I prefer the pronoun ‘he;”. Often this creates a safe space for people to reciprocate.
The reason pronouns matter is pretty simple. By using someone’s correct pronouns, you’re respecting their identity, and avoiding unnecessary potential hurt.
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