What is a preferred pronoun?

Pronouns are how you refer to someone if you are not using their name.
For example; Samantha left her keys at my place last night.

So, the pronouns you want people to use are your preferred pronouns. Or, as we like to call them, your pronouns. Saying “preferred” makes it seem like using someone’s pronouns is optional when, in reality, using a person’s pronouns is the most basic need they have to feel safe and to exist in public spaces.

If someone tells you their pronouns, use those! If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, don’t assume gendered pronouns and use gender neutral ones, like they or ze.

Why are pronouns important?

Pronouns are one of the ways we portray our identities. When someone asks you to use their pronouns, they are asking for you to respect their identity.

When someone refers to another person using the wrong pronouns, especially on purpose, that can lead to that person feeling disrespected and can lead to dysphoria, exclusion, and alienation.

It is never safe to assume someone’s gender and living a life where people will naturally assume the correct pronouns for you is a privilege that not everyone experiences. Choosing to ignore or disrespect someone’s pronouns is not only an act of oppression but can also be considered an act of violence.

What if I don’t know how to use pronouns?

That’s fine! Pronouns take practice! Here’s a handy chart to help you along this step.

She/Her/Hers

She is in the bathroom.

Her family isn’t nice to me.

That notebook is hers.

When in doubt, ask the woman herself.

He/Him/His

He is in the bathroom.

His family isn’t nice to me.

That notebook is his.

When in doubt, ask the man himself.

They/Them/Theirs

They are in the bathroom.

Their family isn’t nice to me.

That notebook is theirs.

When in doubt, ask the person themself.

Ze/Hir/Hirs

Ze is in the bathroom.

Hir family isn’t nice to me.

That notebook is hirs

When in doubt, ask the person hirself.

(Note! There are many, many more than these out in the world. These are simply the most common. If you want to see more, Google is your best friend.)

Woah, how do I pronounce those last ones?

When a person introduces themself to you with their pronouns, they’ll normally pronounce it themself. However, don’t be afraid to ask.

Ze is pronounced like Americans pronounce the letter “z,” like “zee.”
Hir is pronounced like “here” and hirs is similar, but with an “s” on the end.

Wait, isn’t singular “they” incorrect grammar?

Actually, it is correct grammar! English speakers have been using it for a very long time in their speech, and language evolves first from the way we speak, then the way we write. The singular they has been recognized by Merriam-Webster Dictionary and it was chosen as Word of the Year in 2016 by the American Dialect Society. It is also recognized by MLA and APA formatting. It might take some getting used to, but you’re already using it every day without realizing it.

What if I don’t know a person’s pronouns?

Sometimes people just don’t want to share their pronouns and that’s fine. Usually it’s safe to use they/them/theirs unless that person tells you otherwise.

Try to introduce yourself with your own pronouns so that everyone you meet knows that you’re a safe space and that you won’t assume a person’s pronouns. It also prompts them to provide pronouns without it being awkward. (Ex. Hello, my name is Alex and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.)

You can ask that person, as long as you do so politely (i.e. “Hey, what are your pronouns?”), but it is generally preferred that gender non-conforming people come out with their own pronouns on their own terms. Knowing a person’s pronouns is not the most important thing in the world but respecting a person is, so try not to demand something of someone when they’re not comfortable giving it.

What is considered offensive?

There are many terms that are offensive for people that identify as transgender or any other form of gender non-conforming. Some of these would be “it,” “he-she,” etc. Unless given explicit consent from everyone who will hear it, do not ever use any of these words when referring to anyone, as they are incredibly offensive.

Would calling a transgender person by the wrong pronoun (like referring to a trans woman as “he”) be offensive?
If you do it purposefully with malicious intent, absolutely.
If you do it on accident and you meant for the best, no way.
But, if you continue to do it on accident and make no effort to change, then yes, it is offensive.

What if I make a mistake?

Totally fine, it happens to everyone!
What’s most important is that you don’t make a big deal about it. Just apologize quickly, correct yourself, and move on.
Ex: “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant they, not he.”

If you make it a big deal, you draw more attention onto someone who maybe doesn’t want it. As long as you portray that you are sorry and you try harder next time, it’s going to be okay. Remember; this is more for them and not you, so never make your apology about you. Always make it about the person you have wronged.

What if someone else makes a mistake?
Easy, correct them politely and quickly, don’t make a big deal about it.
Ex: “Actually, Ty uses he pronouns.”
Do not ignore a situation where people continuously use the wrong pronouns. The mark of a true ally is never giving up on the people you want to help. Plus, gender non-conforming people tend to get tired of always correcting other people, so having a friend to help is amazing.

How else can I be an ally?

Keep looking up ways to educate yourself and learn more about the community! There are countless resources online and centers around the world that will be more than happy to help you in any way they can!

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center on the CU Boulder Campus is located in the C4C on the 4th floor, room N450. You can contact our directors at scarlet.bowen@colorado.edu and morgan.seamont@colorado.edu or just contact the Resource Center at gsc@colorado.edu.

We also offer Peer Education services on the CU Boulder Campus and we can make a presentation for a class, for a sorority/fraternity, for professional development, etc. Learn more at https://www.colorado.edu/gsc/programs-services/peer-education. Also, for professional development for staff on campus, consider our Safe Zone trainings! Learn more about that at http://www.colorado.edu/gsc/programs-and-services/safe-zone-training.

Other great websites:
https://www.hrc.org/blog/how-to-be-an-lgbt-ally
https://www.siue.edu/lgbt/ally.shtml
https://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

And remember:

Being an ally is not a thing you are, it is a thing you do. Practice makes perfect and you are always evolving as a person. Mistakes happen, but what matters most is that you are dedicated in making this world a better place for everyone. Keep at it! You are incredibly valuable to the community!