What’s a pronoun?

You may be unfamiliar with the word “pronoun,” but you use them all the time! Pronouns are used in place of a proper noun (like someone’s name). We use pronouns most often when referring to someone without using their name.

Example: Have you heard from Tom? He hasn’t texted me back all day. He is the pronoun.

Why does it matter?

In English, our most commonly used pronouns (he/she) specifically refer to a person’s gender. For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, these pronouns may not fit, can create discomfort, and can cause stress and anxiety.

A recent study showed that in transgender youth, using correct pronouns and names reduces depression and suicide risks.

Having trouble understanding why this would upset someone? Think about your pronoun (it’s probably “he” or “she”). Now imagine someone calling you the one you don’t think of yourself as. Imagine them doing it over and over and over, even after you’ve corrected them.

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Common terms

First, let’s get on the same page with some words that are commonly used when talking about the LGBTQ+ community, as well as gender experience and identity. Please be aware that even though someone may fit the generally used definition of one of these terms, they may not personally identify this way. That’s okay, they don’t have to! It’s always best to ask, and listen, to how a person refers to themself.

Sex: Sex is a label — male, female or intersex — that you’re assigned by a doctor at birth based on the genitals you’re born with and the chromosomes you have. It does not necessarily match someone’s gender / gender identity.

Gender: Gender is complex: It’s a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts. Gender identity is the internal perception of one’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be.

Cisgender: Applies to someone whose gender matches their “assigned” sex at birth.

Transgender: Applies to a person whose gender is different from their “assigned” sex at birth. Doctors typically assign gender based on sexual organs, but sex and gender are different.

Non-binary:  Non-binary, similar to genderqueer, is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine‍—‌identities that are outside the gender binary of male and female.

Genderqueer: Similar to “non-binary” – some people regard “queer” as offensive, others embrace it.

Genderfluid: Applies to a person whose gender identity changes over time or changes at different times.

Two-spirit: Used by some indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender, or spiritual identity. Refers to an individual who has a feminine and masculine spirit.

Note that Sexual Orientation is an emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people; of the same gender, different gender or multiple genders.

Most commonly used pronouns

Pronoun Sounds like Variations
He/Him You already know this one! His, Himself
She/Her You already know this one! Hers, Herself
They/Them Yes, it’s okay to use this referring to a singular person! Theirs, themself
Ze (or Zie) Zee (like “see” with a “Z”). Can also be spelled as xe
Name Whatever their name is! Some people don’t want to use pronouns at all and will ask you to refer to them by their name alone.


What if I make a mistake?

It happens, we all make mistakes! Apologize, do better, and move on quickly. If you make a mistake in front of a group of people, you may want to apologize to the person in private later on – no need to make  scene or draw a lot of attention. No one likes that! The best thing to do is to use the correct pronoun the next time.

A quick guide