De-Mystifying Gender Pronouns
At a glance
Many of us are accustomed to binary gender pronouns – he/him/his or she/her/hers when referring to a person whose gender we know (or presume to know.) They/them/theirs is often used when we don’t know the gender of the person to whom we’re referring. This is especially true in the labor movement, where using the greeting “Sisters and Brothers” to show solidarity has been used for decades. Most of the labor community has moved to using “labor siblings” as a more inclusive replacement.
A few examples:
Research has shown that gender isn’t quite as binary as we once believed, and our language needs to adapt to keep up with current understanding. It’s important to respect how others identify, but it can feel daunting to someone who isn’t used to the idea of non-binary gender.
Ask, ask, ask
Don’t worry – we all make innocent mistakes and generally, folks will understand when you misspeak. Intentionally mis-gendering someone, or in other words, not using their correct pronouns, is incredibly disrespectful.
If you make an honest mistake with regard to someone’s gender identity or pronouns(and it happens to all of us at some point), simply say a quick “I’m sorry” and use their correct name/pronoun, then move on. There is no need to dwell on the error.
When you are in a setting that includes transgender and gender non-binary people, which pronoun to use may require you to listen and sometimes even ask the person what their pronouns are. For example:
There are many ways you can ask someone their pronouns. Just remember – if you are unsure of someone’s gender, it’s worse not to ask at all than to stumble over your words.
There are a lot of pronouns in use today that you may encounter, but there are three that are the most common: he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs.
Meetings and large groups
There are several ways you can manage pronouns in meetings and large groups. Any, all, or none of these could be adapted for your specific situation:
These are just a few of the most common examples. It’s never OK to single out anyone or make it seem like you’re focusing on pronouns just for their benefit.
Being mis-gendered can make someone feel disrespected or offended. If you are in a group and someone in the group is mis-gendered, allow that person space to correct the speaker about their pronouns. If given the chance to speak, be sure to use the appropriate pronouns when referring to that person. Some people don’t like a lot of attention paid to their pronouns while others may feel strongly. If it happens repeatedly or seems intentional, it’s OK to ask the mis-gendered person if they would like for you to correct folks if it continues.
If someone who isn’t present is mis-gendered, gently, and maybe discreetly, correct the speaker and let them know the other person’s pronouns. For example:
What can labor do?
A downloadable and printable version of this document can be found here.