A crowd of people dressed in a rainbow of colours walk as part of a PRIDE parade

PRIDE Month: The Importance of Pronouns

This post is part of a series of blogs in honour of PRIDE month. If you haven't done so already, make sure you check out our Understanding Gender blog.

First Things First: What Are Pronouns? 

A pronoun is used in place of a person’s name, when we are referring to them. For example, “Abby is arriving late, let me know if you see her”. The pronoun in this sentence is ‘her’, in place of using ‘Abby’. 

Pronouns speak to how a person identifies, so it’s important they are understood and honoured so people feel accurately seen, heard and understood by others around them. 

Pronouns can be singular or plural, but they always refer to people in conversation. Examples of pronouns, in English, include: 

  • She/Her/Hers  

  • He/Him/His 

  • They/Them/Their 

There are many different pronouns someone might feel is right for them. You are the only person who can decide which pronoun is the right one for you. 

People may identify with one or multiple pronouns. They may choose to disclose their pronouns or they may not want to share them. People may use English language pronouns, or multi-lingual pronouns. People’s pronouns can change over time and are not necessarily tied to their sex, gender identity or gender expression. 

You can ask for someone’s pronouns just like you would ask their name. Some people may choose not to share their pronouns or may ask that no pronoun be used (so you would just use that person’s name). Nobody should be forced or compelled to share their pronouns. People always have the right to request that someone use a different name or pronoun for them. 

While it may seem complex, it is really very simple. The heart of understanding pronouns is that every person has full autonomy over how they are referred to, in order to live as their most authentic self. Learning, remembering and using a person’s pronouns is just like learning, remembering and using someone’s name. 

Why Do Pronouns Matter? 

Imagine this scenario: How would you feel if someone called you by the wrong name? Or, after correcting them for a third or fourth time, you still have your name mispronounced. Referring to a person by the wrong pronouns can make them feel invisible, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or unsafe.   

Using a person’s correct pronouns is an important way to acknowledge someone, show respect and acceptance. 

Research shows that validating and affirming pronouns also has a significant impact on trans and non-binary people's mental health, so it's critical that allies understand the importance of using them correctly. 

Being an Ally 

Recognizing and respecting people as their authentic selves is everyone’s job.  

Here are some ways you can use pronouns to be an ally: 

  • If someone tells you their pronouns, remember them and use them  

  • If you're not sure what pronouns someone uses, you can ask IF they have preferred pronouns. Keep in mind that no one has to answer this question, so if a person chooses not to share their pronouns, then it’s important to respect that.   

  • When in doubt, it’s okay to use “they/them”, but it’s important to not use gender-neutral pronouns if a transgender person has requested “he/him” or “she/her” pronouns. We should always try to use the pronouns given by that person, just as we would use their proper name. This is a wonderful way to honour people and show them care and respect. 

  • If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns for someone, just apologize and correct yourself. Even though everyone misses things sometimes, it can still be hurtful even when the mistake is innocent. The good news is we always have plenty of fresh opportunities to get it right! 

  • Share your own pronouns. This could be when you introduce yourself, for example “Hi, my name’s Abby and my pronouns are she/her”, in your Zoom name “Abby (she/her)”, or on your social media profile. Instagram recently added a place for people to share their pronouns, which you can find under ‘Edit Profile’.