What and Why

What are personal pronouns and why do they matter?

In English, whether we realize it or not, people frequently refer to us using pronouns when speaking about us. Often, when speaking of a singular human in the third person, these pronouns have a gender implied -- such as “he” to refer to a man/boy or “she” to refer to a woman/girl. These associations are not always accurate or helpful.

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Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions aren’t always correct, and the act of making an assumption (even if correct) sends a potentially harmful message -- that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are or are not.

Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.

When we refer to "personal" pronouns, we don't mean that these pronouns are necessarily private information (generally they are not), we mean that they are pronouns referring to a unique and individual person.

Hopefully, you now have a fundamental understanding about why pronouns matter. If you'd like to know more and to hear stories from trans and gender nonconforming people about their lived experiences with pronouns, please check out some of the videos and links in the resources section of this website. Once you understand what we're talking about and why, let's learn about how to use personal pronouns.

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