A Guide to Respecting Pronouns and Gender Identity

By Aarushi Pant

Recently, the sharing of pronouns on social media platforms, virtual meetings, and other online events has become more mainstream and normalized, and rightfully so. However, if you’re new to this practice, you’re not alone, and it can be confusing at first. Gender identity in general can be complex and it’s a difficult process for people to finally figure out what feels right to them. Just remember that it’s not optional to choose to use people’s pronouns — these are people’s real pronouns that they identify with, not their “preferred” pronouns. 

So, how exactly should you respect someone’s gender identity and pronouns, especially online? And what do you do when you make a mistake? Here are some helpful tips: 

1. Ask, don’t assume.

Often, people will automatically assume someone’s pronouns, which is even more common in a virtual setting. For instance, assuming that someone who may look more “feminine” goes by she/her/hers pronouns is harmful and can be stressful and triggering to the person you may be misgendering. Instead, always ask someone what pronouns they identify with —  it’s helpful to have people include their pronouns in their introductions, bios, or even their screen names. 

2. Accept and support.

This is similar to #1: don’t argue with someone over their pronouns. If they identify with they/them/theirs pronouns, use them. Don’t try to justify misgendering someone for whatever reason. Arguments like “you used to go by she/her/hers pronouns” or “you don’t look non-binary” are unnecessary and disrespectful. Just believe what someone says and respect their gender identity. 

3. Don’t joke about it.

Particularly over social media, it’s common for users to joke about identifying as an “attack helicopter” or make up pronouns for fun. Gender isn’t binary, and making fun of people’s identities is an outdated concept. There are so many topics to joke about; gender identity is not one of them. 

4. Respect trans people.

This is pretty self-explanatory —  the transgender community is already at a high risk of abuse, hate crimes, discrimination, and other forms of prejudice. Don’t contribute to this malice against them by misgendering trans people; this is rude at best, and can amplify gender dysphoria at worst. Referring to a trans woman as a “biological man” or a “girl with a penis,” for example, is purely disrespectful. Trans women are women and trans men are men. It’s simple.

Now, what do you do if you mess up and accidentally refer to someone with the wrong pronouns? 

It’s relatively straightforward: don’t make a big deal about it, but don’t shrug it off. Overexaggerating the situation, continuously bringing it up, or being excessively dramatic can just serve as a constant reminder of your blunder and can once again worsen dysphoria and be harmful to people’s mental health. On the other hand, don’t act like you don’t care or fail to address the fact that it happened —  completely ignoring it just indicates that you don’t feel bad about your mistake.

The best course of action is to sincerely apologize, correct yourself, move on, and try to do a better job in the future. Everyone makes mistakes, and these things happen, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Just remember to respect everyone, treat people with kindness, and do your best to make people feel safe, accepted, and included. 

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