What are gender pronouns?

Gender pronouns such as they, zir, she, he, etc. specifically refer to people who you are talking about. We don’t tend to think a whole lot about them. We tend to interpret or “read” a person’s gender based on their outward appearance and expression, and “assign” a pronoun. But our reading may not be a correct interpretation of the person’s gender identity. Why? Because gender identity is an internal sense of one’s own gender and we don’t necessarily know a person’s correct gender pronoun by looking at them.

Where are we at the moment?

At present, most people make assumptions about gender pronoun preferences without asking. This excludes those who do not present with the gender they identify as and those who are trans, gender non-conforming and gender questioning.

Small steps and discussions about gender pronouns will lead to it becoming common practice to indicate preferred pronouns immediately, this means there’s less chance of someone feeling marginalized or pressured to explain themselves/their preferences on their own. This can be exhausting – on average most human beings have 25 interactions a day – if you have to keep explaining yourself, there will be little time for anything else.

Why is it important to respect gender pronouns?

When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, devalued, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of these things).

It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender.  If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.

Thinking about gender pronouns often enables us to widen our perspectives on other human beings and recognise diversity in our environment.

How can I be inclusive in using and respecting gender pronouns?

  • Discussing and correctly using gender pronouns sets a tone of respect and allyship that trans and gender non-conforming people are not being taken for granted. This is especially important for new staff and service users who may feel particularly vulnerable, friendless and scared in a healthcare environment and in wider society.
  • Many people may be thinking about gender pronouns for the first time, so this will be a learning opportunity for them. By including  preferred pronouns in email signatures, we normalise asking about the pronouns of others and volunteering our own pronouns. Some people may prefer to be just called by their name, and avoid gender pronouns altogether. The direct presentation of pronouns may help challenge assumptions about the gender binary by encouraging email recipients in our communities and workplaces to think and talk about gender pronouns. This can help create a more inclusive and safe atmosphere for individuals who do identify as trans and gender diverse by indicating we are accepting of all gender identities.
  • Asking during verbal introductions. May feel awkward at first, but that is because we are not used to doing it. We are not in the habit of asking. Remember, it is always more awkward getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption. You can ask:
  1. “What pronouns do you use?”
  2. “How would you like me to refer to you?”
  3. “How would you like to be addressed?”
  4. “Can you remind me which pronouns you like for yourself?”
  5. “My name is Sam and my pronouns are she and her. What about you?”

BSUH NHS Resources

The EDI Team have pronoun badges, posters and cards for staff to use in their areas to normalise discussions about gender identity and make trans and gender diverse and gender questioning people feel welcome, included and valued. Contact us if you would like some. We also run Q&A sessions for staff who would like the opportunity to explore issues around gender identity in a safe, non-judgemental space. It is preferable to have at least one member of your team specifically trained in a gender identity session so that they can cascade learning to the rest of the team. This is important if we want to embed trans, non-binary and gender diverse inclusion at BSUH NHS Trust.