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Gender: Pronouns

This guide is a resource to inform and educate on the different aspects of Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression.

Respecting Pronouns

You can’t always know what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Asking and correctly using someone’s 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 all of the above.)

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.

What is a pronoun?

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

She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses he feels like a “male” or “masculine.”

There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:

  • They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, “they” was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.
  • Ze/hir/hir (Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
  • Just my name please! (Ash ate Ash’s food because Ash was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead.

Never refer to a person as “it” or “he-she”. These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

How-to: Pronouns

Note: the top line is meant to indicate two separate – but similarly spelled – sets of pronouns. They are ae/aer/aers and fae/faer/faers.

Gender Neutral Pronouns
HE/SHE      HIM/HER      HIS/HER      HIS/HERS      HIMSELF/HERSELF     
zie zim zir zis zieself
sie sie hir hirs hirself
ey em eir eirs eirself
ve ver vis vers verself
tey ter tem ters terself
e em eir eirs emself
How do I know which one to use?

The only way to know with certainty which pronouns a person—nonbinary or binary—prefers is to ask them. Many, though not all, nonbinary folks use gender-neutral pronouns to affirm their identity and communicate it to others. “They/them/their” is the most commonly preferred set of gender-neutral pronouns among nonbinary English speakers, though lesser-known alternatives like “ze/hir/hirs” and “xe/xem/xyrs” are also gaining popularity (1). 

They/Them/Their

If you’re hearing about singular “they” for the first time here, this one-set-of-pronouns-fits-all solution may seem counterintuitive. But singular “they” has usage dating back to the 1300s, according to Merriam-Webster (2), which notes instances in works by Shakespeare, Austen, Thackeray and Shaw. Nonbinary people themselves have also existed throughout history, employing “they” and a variety of other pronouns and titles in cultures around the world (1).

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