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The discussion around pronouns is becoming more and more prevalent, with Merriam-Webster naming the gender-neutral pronoun “they” as the word of the year in 2019.
In recent years, people have expanded their understanding of gender beyond the binary categories of “he” or “she”, and while there is still so much to learn, the world is starting to make room for non-binary people.
Those who identify as non-binary do not fall within the gender binary of male or female and usually use the singular “they” pronoun.
Knowing and using a person’s correct pronouns makes them feel respected and acknowledges and recognises their gender identity. Of course, pronouns that fall outside the male-female binary aren’t exactly new. People within the LGBTQIAI+ community have been trying to raise awareness for years about the importance of using the correct terms when addressing people.
So, How Do You Approach the Topic of Pronouns When Meeting Someone New?
We get it. Knowing someone’s pronouns straight off the bat just isn’t possible, and no one expects you to get it right all the time. However, you can do a few things to ensure you’re coming across as respectful and willing to learn.
Tell People Your Pronouns When Introducing Yourself
Sometimes, pronouns aren’t immediately brought up in conversation. So, a great way to find out someone’s pronouns is by offering yours when introducing yourself.
“If I’ve just met someone, I would be like, ‘Hi, I’m Kath, my pronouns are they/she, and then you hope the person does it back,” Kathleen Ebbs, a queer model and influencer, told The Latch.
If you’re in a professional setting, then a great way to open up the topic of pronouns is to add it to your email signature or any other place which lists your name and title. This makes sure people know what your pronouns are and allows them to share their own if they want to.
While it may seem daunting and a bit direct, asking for someone’s pronouns is not controversial at all. Instead, it’s actually appreciated within the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s just like asking someone’s name,” said Kathleen. “It’s not rude to ask what someone’s pronouns are. It’s actually very polite. So if I’m talking to someone about someone I just met, I would be like, ‘Oh, what pronouns do they go by?’ and hopefully, they’ll tell me.
“Simply just ask, honestly. Just like you would ask what someone’s name is, you can ask them what their pronouns are. That’s not rude, and I think the more people do that — especially cis people — the more normalised it would become.”
Use “They” Until You Know
This is a great way to get comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns, and it also stops you from accidentally misgendering someone.
Do Not Force Someone to Tell You Their Pronouns
While the above is all solid advice when approaching people’s pronouns, it’s important to note that some people may not be comfortable offering theirs up. If that’s the case, don’t pressure them and understand that there may be a reason behind why they’re choosing not to disclose that information.
What To Do When You Make a Mistake
Look, at some point, you’re going to mess up. You may accidentally misgender someone or use the wrong pronouns unintentionally — you are human after all, but it’s how you handle it afterwards that makes all the difference.
If you accidentally misgender someone and the person in front of you corrects you, the best thing to do is thank them for making you aware of your mistake and move on. Try not to make it a big deal, and definitely don’t make it about yourself. It’s natural to feel guilt, but the best thing to say is, “Sorry, my mistake. Thank you for letting me know.”