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What’s up with They Pronouns? - Family Cope

What’s up with They Pronouns?

July 19, 2016

What’s up with They Pronouns?

By: Dr. Erin Robinson

Pronouns are something we use every day without much thought, but which have significance in identifying the people we are talking about.  The pronoun, “he” or “she” holds a rolodex of images, meanings, and assumptions about the person being discussed.  Some of these assumptions are driven by internal ideas of men and women, and others based on societal expectations.

So what happens when we are confronted with they/them pronouns? We have to think!  All of the preconceived notions of men and women existing on a binary must be altered.  This usually causes discomfort, and as a result, people dismiss these pronouns as invalid because they do not fit into our orderly constructs of gender.  However, there are people who view their gender ambiguously, or fluidly, and do not ascribe to traditional gendered pronouns, like “he” or “she”, and rather prefer pronouns such as “they” or “ze.”  By telling someone their pronouns are invalid, you are all invaliding them as a person.

Outward appearances do not necessarily give you information about what a person’s gender identity is, and therefore should not be used to make assumptions about one’s identity.  Gender identity is defined as “a person’s inner sense of being male or female, usually developed during early childhood as a result of parental rearing practices and societal influences strengthened during puberty by hormonal changes.”  Gender identity evolves over time and may diverge from the traditional male/female binary.

Here are some ways to be conscious of gendered language and using correct pronouns:

  • If you are not sure about someone’s pronouns, use gender-neutral pronouns
  • Ask! What pronouns do you use?
  • Check in over time as gender is fluid and therefore pronouns change as well
  • When introducing yourself, you can also incorporate your pronouns into your introduction, “Hi, I’m Nic, I use she/her pronouns….
  • If someone introduces themself with pronouns you are not used to…practice!
  • As long as you are trying, people will be grateful for your efforts and not expect you to be perfect all the time

This chart can help to understand how to use gender neutral pronouns correctly:


(credit: apps.carleton.edu)

Dr. Robinson specializes in working with gender diverse clients and their families.  She conducts trainings on gender diversity and creating safe spaces for LGB+T communities.

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