What Are Pronouns? Why Do They Matter? | NELFT Talks

What Are Pronouns? Why Do They Matter? | NELFT Talks

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What Are Pronouns? Why Do They Matter?

Happy Pride! My name is Lisa, my pronouns are they/them, I am genderqueer, and I work for NELFT. Today I’m going to talk about gender identity and pronouns, and why you should care.

So Lisa, what is genderqueer?

I’m so glad you asked!

For me personally, being genderqueer means that I don’t understand myself as either a man or a woman, but as somewhere in between. Using they/them pronouns helps me express that and have it acknowledged in the world. And self-expression, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is a good thing and should be encouraged.

So, what can we do to make this easier? Basically, what you want to do is to make sharing pronouns a really mundane, normal thing that people do in the course of everyday interactions.  Just like you can’t know someone’s name just from looking at them, you also can’t know what someone’s preferred pronouns are. And that’s probably a good way of thinking about them, because a lot of what I’m about to tell you is about treating your pronouns like your name: something you present and introduce yourself with, that you can ask other people about, that you put on a sticker or badge, and that you remember about a person - hopefully. Not everyone is great at remembering names, so it stands to reason that not everyone is great at remembering pronouns.

So, some really easy things for you to do are to start putting pronouns everywhere you put your name. Let’s talk online first. You can start by putting them in your bio or description on Twitter or other social media accounts, and your email signature. You can also put them in places like your WhatsApp description or next to your name on videoconferencing apps like Zoom or Webex – I hear those are popular these days for some reason.


The same applies when you’re not online. You could get some badges with different pronouns on so people can pin them to themselves. And that way, you actually will know just from looking at someone what their pronouns are, and would be super convenient!  You can also introduce yourself with your name and pronouns when you’re introducing yourself to someone new, just like I did at the beginning of this blog.

You can also just ask. When you meet someone new, you can ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” People will be grateful to be asked. We won’t be offended. Please don’t ask “are you a he or a she?” That’s rude, don’t do that. Also, if you have an intake form at work, you could have a space for preferred pronouns on it.

Why is all this important? Well, doing some or all of the things I just mentioned makes sharing pronouns a really normal mundane thing that people do in the course of everyday interaction, just like asking for someone’s name. And that makes it easier for people like me who are gender diverse or transgender to share their preferred pronouns.

So, now you know everyone’s names and pronouns, so it’s time to remember and use them! This is going to be more natural for some people than others. Like I mentioned before, not everyone is great at names, and that’s fine. If someone comes out to you as transgender or gender diverse who you’ve known under another name or pronoun or both, it will probably take you a while to get used to. That’s fine. Personally, it took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t who I thought I was or who other people thought I was, and that’s probably true of a lot of trans and gender diverse people. We know it takes time. And I gave myself that time, so why shouldn’t I give it to other people?

When I started asking people to use they/them pronouns for me, it took my friends and colleagues a while, and it took some people longer than others. But as long as I know someone respects me and is making an effort, I’m very forgiving of occasional mistakes. Mistakes are human and okay. What isn’t okay is repeatedly and deliberately using a wrong name or a wrong pronoun for someone. That’s either called deadnaming  -  if you’re using a name for someone that they’ve asked you to stop using - or deliberate misgendering -  if you keep using a wrong pronoun for someone  -  and that’s disrespectful and not okay.

Would this be true for everyone? Some might take offense…

Maybe we can say instead. “Most people will be grateful to be asked and won’t be offended.”

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