Pronouns, also known as “I,” “they,” “she,” “he,” “we,” “hers” and many others, are a part of our daily English language. We use pronouns as a way to identify or refer to someone.
Pronouns are not exhaustive and can include ones you may not have heard of such as zie/zim and zir/zis.
What are Gender Neutral Pronouns?
Gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns are unspecific to one gender. Using gender neutral pronouns does not label or associate the person being discussed with a specific gender. This is especially important for people who don’t identify with their assigned gender at birth. Physical sex, genitalia and perceived appearance do not equate to gender. Assuming a person’s gender on their appearance or an assumption of their genitals can be distressing for trans and other gender variant individuals.
Examples of Gender Neutral Pronouns
An example of gender neutral pronouns is the use of “they.”
- Instead of saying “He’s going home,” one would say “They’re going home.”
- “Jesse is in the same class as me, so I’ll study with them.” Here, we can see that Jesse is not associated with a particular gender. Jesse’s pronouns are they/them/theirs.
A person’s gender is communicated through the use of pronouns so mistaking or misusing pronouns misgenders a person.
It’s important to remember that even if someone looks cisgender or appears to look like a ‘typical’ man or woman, it doesn’t mean you can assume their pronouns.
Asking about pronouns
Asking about pronouns is a great way to communicate that gender is not assumed. You can do this through offering your own or by simply asking.
At Oxford SU we have our pronouns on our emails as standard practice.
Using pronouns often creates safer and more inclusive spaces for people to be themselves knowing that other people are going to respect their identity.
However do not force a person to reveal their pronouns, some trans people do not feel comfortable using pronouns when first meeting people so it is important not to pressure them. That is why it is positive for cisgendered people to use and introduce pronouns as it is most likely not going to be a distressing thing to do and also paves the way for a safer and more inclusive space.
Start the Conversation
It can take time to get someone’s pronouns right. Try your best. Apologise if you do make a mistake and correct it, do not labour over it. Remember that respecting someone means also respecting their pronouns.
You can find definitions for genders on the LGBTQ+ Gender glossary on the Oxford SU Resource Hub.