COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – We use pronouns every day. When you think of pronouns, you probably think of “he” referring to a man and “she” referring to a woman. However, pronouns go beyond a traditional scope, and understanding them is pivotal to respecting others, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.
Zac Boyer, the director of programs and marketing at Stonewall Columbus, uses they/them pronouns. Boyer said assuming an individual’s pronouns based on their appearance or name can be inaccurate and harmful. Further, people of trans experience or non-binary people don’t know that others understand their identity unless there’s an effort to learn their pronouns.
“The way that you show respect is through the words that you use,” Boyer said.
Grasping pronouns begins with understanding the concept that there are more than two genders and more than two sets of pronouns, Boyer said. When you ask someone their pronouns, they may say “she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them,” “she/they,” “he/they” and more.
People’s pronouns are entirely up to them and their identity, and there are many combinations that can make up their pronouns. When individuals have pronouns such as “she/they,” either is acceptable to the person and can often be interchanged.
So, how do we learn to talk to others about their pronouns? Getting used to speaking this way will not happen overnight, Boyer said, as the process of trying to be more respectful and inclusive is intentional work.
Boyer encourages everyone to incorporate a simple interaction like this into conversations with people we meet: “It’s nice to meet you. I use he/him pronouns. What pronouns do you use?”
While these interactions may feel uncomfortable, Boyer said the repetition will normalize talking about them and foster inclusivity in everyday spaces.
“Oftentimes, non-binary and trans identities aren’t going to be surface level,” Boyer said. “By doing something that might be a little uncomfortable in the moment, you could open the door to someone feeling more comfortable to be open about their authentic identity.”
It’s important to remember pronouns are not just for people of trans experience or for non-binary individuals. Each of us has the opportunity to foster inclusivity by telling others our pronouns.
Additional ways to tell others your pronouns are to include them in spaces online, such as your email signature or your social media profiles.
Boyer advises not to be overly dramatic if you make a mistake and use the wrong pronouns when speaking about someone. Pause, apologize, then use the correct pronoun. If you notice the individual is deeply affected by your mistake, make a note to have a conversation with them later in private. Again, keep it simple and say, “I’m so sorry. I’m going to keep working on this,” Boyer suggests.
For individuals who want to communicate to their friends and family that their pronouns have changed, Boyer said those conversations take a balancing of emotional labor.
“Coming out is not a one-and-done deal. It’s everyday interactions with baristas, with your colleagues, with someone you just met at a conference,” Boyer said. “So, understand that you need to balance the emotional labor you can take. If you don’t have it in you that day, then it’s OK – it doesn’t take away from your identity.”
View more information and resources on pronouns from Stonewall Columbus here.