She and he. His and hers. Simple pronouns have become a focal point for LGBTQ community members fighting for understanding and acceptance. Identifying someone by the right pronoun is a matter of courtesy and respect, and it’s also an important goal of a growing campaign for social change.
Pronouns are more critical and more complicated than ever. Whether you want to show support for LGBTQ rights or simply stay aware of the latest etiquette, make sure you’re navigating the world of pronouns correctly. Here’s a quick primer to help you get started.
Using the right pronoun
How do you know which pronoun somebody prefers? If you’re not sure, just ask. Most people don’t mind answering. Many users of social media specify their preferred pronoun in their profiles or biographies, which makes the task even easier.
The most commonly used pronouns are still “he” and “she.” A majority of LGBTQ community members prefer these traditional pronouns, while transgender and intersex people commonly use “she” and “he” to indicate which gender they identify with.
Among the LGBTQ community, there is also widespread support of non-LGBTQ people notating their preferred pronouns in their online profiles or other published materials. Even if you’re a straight, cisgendered person who uses the terms you’ve used since birth, specifying your preference helps to raise awareness for the LGBTQ community, and it’s also a simple way to show your support.
If you really don’t know, and are unable or unwilling to ask, simply address someone by their name.
Pronouns go beyond “his” and “hers” today. Many people have tried to identify a gender-neutral pronoun which can be applied to all humans, regardless of their sexual identity. Some people now prefer the singular term “they,” a usage which has even gained acceptance among grammarians and copy editors. Some authors even use the word “themself,” and the new singular version of “themselves” has gained the attention of the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster.
Although “them” is the most common, several other gender-neutral pronouns have been used around the world. These include ae/aer, fae/faer, e/em, per, ve/ver, xe/xem, ze/zie, sie, and hir. Some of these alternatives are quite rare, but they all have users.
It’s all about respect
Although politicians and activists may try to make the issue more complicated, using the right pronoun is really about respect. If someone wants to be called “she,” using “he” is simply rude. It’s no different from addressing someone by the wrong name.
Advice for writing
If you’re writing a letter, essay, or how-to guide, you face additional choices. Should a singular person be “he or she” or “he/she” or one of the many gender-neutral pronouns?
There’s no simple answer. You’ll have to use your best judgment. If you’re writing about a specific person, ask them, if possible, or check to see if their social media presence indicated a “his/hers/theirs” preference.
More resources on pronouns
In celebration of Pride Month, North Lake College has created and curated a series of videos and articles to educate, dispel myths, and highlight issues regarding the LGBTQ community. We strongly encourage you to view this information, share these stories, and join in on the conversation. To learn more about the series visit blog.northlakecollege.edu/nlccelebratespride.