A crash course in pronouns

By Oliver Gullikson

This article is based on a presentation given to Glebe Collegiate Institute’s parent council.

Many people don’t often think about pronouns, but they are increasingly a topic of conversation these days amid growing awareness of the transgender rights movement, the deconstruction of the gender binary and the idea of basic respect. But many people are still uncertain about the changing concept and evolving use of pronouns. What are they, how are they used, what if a mistake is made? Thankfully, there are lots of resources out there to educate people on the basics of pronouns, including this article!

What are pronouns? This (usually) gendered prefix tells you how to refer to somebody. Some pronouns are more common, like she/her, he/him and they/them, and other pronouns are less common. Those are called neopronouns; they are used as an alternate pronoun for those who want a non-gendered pronoun other than they/them. Some you may see or hear are e/em/eir (pronounced ay/em/air), ze/hir/hir (pronounced zee/heer/heer), or ze/zer/zers (pronounced zee/zer/zers). Some folks may also use more than one pronoun, a combination such as she/they for example. All this means is that they are fine with any pronouns listed, though it is important to note that does not mean that you can pick a set. They are telling you that they are fine with all of them, so use all of them.

Pronouns might be tricky to remember at first, but by making a conscious effort, you’ll get better. Practice makes perfect, but if you’re really struggling, try writing them down on a note on your phone. Asking for pronouns when you meet somebody can also help, since then you will only know them by those pronouns. It is worth noting that while asking for pronouns, it’s important to never single anyone out. If you’re meeting everyone in a group for the first time, ask them all for their pronouns.

Of course, you could still mess up. If you do, the key is knowing how to apologize. It’s important not to spend a lot of time apologizing. This draws attention to the fact that you misgendered someone and draws attention to them as well. It’s embarrassing for all parties involved. Instead, quickly correct yourself, then move on. If someone corrects you, do not apologize. Instead, thank them for correcting you. An apology shifts the accountability off you and implies that you are exempt from any further criticism because you apologized. Thanking the person instead makes sure that you continue to hold yourself accountable for your mistake.

Pronouns can be tricky, especially if they are still a relatively new concept for you. The more conscious you are of asking for and using pronouns, the easier it will become and, more importantly, the safer many people will feel around you. The normalization and respect of pronouns is something that really benefits people’s mental health and above all else it’s basic respect.

Oliver Gullikson is a Grade 11 student at Glebe Collegiate Institute. He is the head of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

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