UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

Gender Pronouns

Within the UWRF community we want to create a safe and welcoming environment where questioning is okay. When our trans and gender non-conforming students see our campus and community partners asking and using other people's pronouns correctly, it shows them that we are supportive. It also shows them that as a community we acknowledge their existence. We create a space that validates them. Using someone's incorrect pronouns can "out" someone (expose them as trans or gender non-conforming) in a situation that may be very unsafe.

Asking someone their pronouns is like asking their name. It is a way to be respectful when addressing them. We usually take pronouns - the small third-person words we use to refer to other people like, "he," "her," and "theirs" - for granted. Still, nearly all of us are taken aback whenever someone refers to us by an incorrect pronoun. This is especially true for transgender and gender non-conforming people, who frequently view pronouns as indicative of whether the user is respecting their gender identity. (http://forge-forward.org/wp-content/docs/FAQ-Pronouns.pdf)

Take time to check out our list of traditional and gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns. We also have some frequently asked questions below.

Other great resources and information can be found at:
mypronouns.org
practicewithpronouns.com
minus18.org.au - Interactive way to practice using new pronouns

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What if I make a mistake?

It's okay! Everyone slips up from time to time, even those of us who do do this for a living. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like "Sorry, I meant she." If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.

A lot of the time it can be tempting to go on and on about how bad you feel that you messed up or how hard it is for you to get it right. But please, don't! It is inappropriate and can make the person who was mis-gendered feel awkward and responsible for comforting you, which is not their job. It is your job to remember people's personal gender pronouns (PGPs). Take an active role in your education.

In your classes, you may hear one of your students using the wrong pronoun for someone. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct them without further embarrassing the individual was has been mis-gendered. This means saying something like "Actually Xena uses the pronoun she or they," and then moving on. If other students or faculty are consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it! It is important to let your student or classmate know that you are their ally.

It may also be appropriate to approach them and say something like, "I noticed that you were getting referred to with the wrong pronouns earlier, and I know that can be hurtful. Would you be okay with me taking them aside and reminding them about your personal pronouns? I want to make sure that this group/class is a safe space for you." Follow up if necessary, but take your cues from the comfort level of your student or classmate. Know that your actions will be appreciated.

What are "personal gender pronouns" (PGPs)?

A personal gender pronoun, or PGP, is the pronoun that a person uses to refer to themself.

For example: If John's personal pronouns are he, him, and his, you could say, "John ate his food because he was hungry."

How do I ask someone what pronouns they use?

Keep it simple. Try asking, "What pronouns do you use?" or "Can you remind me what pronouns you use?" It can feel awkward at first, but it's not half as awkward as getting it wrong or making a hurtful assumption.

You can also ask as part of an introduction exercise. You will quickly want to explain what a PGP is. Try something like this: "Tell us your name, where you come from, and your personal pronoun. That means the pronoun that you use in reference to yourself. For example, I'm Sarah, I'm from Minneapolis, and I like to be referred to with they, them, and their pronouns. So you could say, 'they went to their car' if you were talking about me."

Identity development is a fluid process. Individuals may still be getting comfortable with their own gender identity and expression. Make sure to let your students or classmates know that if they would prefer to use different pronouns in the future to communicate that with you and that you will respect their wishes.

Why is it important to respect people's pronouns?

You can't always know what someone's PGPs are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone's personal pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.

When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric. Often it can make them feel all of the above.

It is a privilege to be cisgender and not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for your 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.

(Cisgender or cis-gender: Noting or relating to person whose gender identity corresponds with that person's biological sex assigned at birth.
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cisgender?s=t)

What are some commonly used pronouns?

She/her/hers and he/him/his are the most commonly used pronouns. Some people call these "female/feminine" and "male/masculine" pronouns. Many avoid these labels because, for example, not everyone who uses he feels like a "male" or "masculine". The downloadable list above is much more comprehensive and will guide you on the appropriate use of each type of pronoun.

There are lot of other gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns in use. Here are a few that you might hear:

  • They/them/theirs - This is a pretty common gender neutral pronoun. Yes, it can in fact be used in the singular. For example: Xena ate their food because they were hungry.
  • Ze/hir/hirs - Ze is pronounced like "zee". It can also be spelled zie or xe. It replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like "here" and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs. For example: Xena ate hir food because ze was hungry.
  • Just my name please! Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, utilizing their name as a pronoun instead. For example: Xena ate Xena's food because Xena was hungry.

Never, ever refer to a person as "it" or "he-she" (unless they specifically ask you to.) These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. Some individuals will reclaim these words for themselves as a form of empowerment. Do not reclaim these words for them.

What is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that refers to either the people talking (like I or you) or someone or something that is being talked about (like she, it, them, and this). Gender pronouns (like he, she, they) specifically refer to people that you are talking about.

But 'they' as a singular pronoun is grammatically incorrect!
  • People's feelings and identities will always matter more than grammar rules.
  • The Oxford Dictionary has also recognized they/them as a singular pronoun.
  • Lots of people use the singular they all the time and don't realize it.
    • For example: "Oh no, someone lost their phone. I hope they find it!"
       
How can I practice using unfamiliar pronouns?
  1. Reading children's books is a great way to practice. You can choose one character, or multiple characters,  and use they/them pronouns for them. It's also a great way to familiarize children with the idea of gender neutral pronouns.
  2. mypronouns.org
  3. practicewithpronouns.com
  4. minus18.org.au - Interactive way to practice using new pronouns

Resources adapted from:
FORGE
MN GLBTA Campus Alliance
UW Milwaukee LGBT Resource Center

Not sure how to ask your professors about using your personal gender pronouns?

Check out the document below for some example emails.

Email examples for students regarding personal gender pronouns.

 

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