Gender Pronouns

Frequently Asked Questions

1

What is gender?

Gender refers to a culturally and historically specific understanding of what it means to be feminine or masculine.

2

What are gender pronouns?

These are pronouns that indicate gender, such as she, her, hers and he, him, his. They are heavily tied to assumptions about someone’s femininity or masculinity. When we use gender pronouns, we might be making an incorrect inference about someone’s gender that differs from their gender identity.

3

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is someone’s internal sense of their gender, regardless of biological makeup (sex), behavior and appearance (gender expression), or sexual orientation. Most people identify as the gender that they were assigned at birth, which is called being cisgender. Those whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth, are transgender.

4

What are gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns and who might use them?

Gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns are pronouns that have no indication of gender. The gender binary is a model of gender that classifies all people into one of two opposing genders. Under this artificial division, gender is seen as a rigid binary option (female or male). Although binary genders are valid identities, gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns allow for flexibility in identity beyond that of just female or male. Some people find that traditional gender pronouns (she/her/hers, he/him/his) are not accurate to their gender identity. Transgender, genderqueer, and other gender non-binary individuals may use gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns to identify themselves.

Gender pronoun usage:

  Subject Object Possessive adjective Possessive pronoun Reflexive
Female She Her Her Hers Herself
Male He Him His His Himself
Gender neutral They Them Their Theirs Theirself
Gender neutral Ze Hir Hir Hirs Hirself

Gender neutral/gender inclusive pronoun pronunciation:

Ze Hir Hirs Hirself
zee here heres hereself

Examples of how to use gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns:

They attend Michigan Tech. Ze attends Michigan Tech.
I saw them near the husky statue. I saw hir near the husky statue.
Their major is Exercise Science. Hir major is Exercise Science.
That book is theirs. That book is hirs.
They like themselves. Ze likes hirself.

5

Is singular they grammatically correct?

Using they in a singular sense may be grammatically unfamiliar, but The American Dialect Society proclaimed singular they as their ‘Word of the Year’ in 2015 and dating back to the days of Shakespeare and Chaucer, singular they was perfectly acceptable. Consider the fact that we frequently use singular they to refer to someone whose gender is unknown. For example, “they look familiar” or “someone left their jacket on the floor.”

6

Why are gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns important?

It is a privilege to not have to worry about someone referring to you by the wrong pronoun based on their perception of your gender. Many people go throughout their day assuming people’s pronouns without thinking about it, but you can’t tell someone’s pronouns just by looking at them. When someone is referred to by the incorrect pronoun, it can lead to feelings of dysphoria and invalidation.

7

How can I show respect for pronouns?

  1. Offer yours before asking someone else's.
    • Hello, my name is Blizzard T. Husky, and I use they/them/theirs pronouns. How would you like to be addressed?
  2. Ask everyone to participate in sharing their pronouns and offer yours.
    • I’d like everyone to introduce themselves including your name and the pronouns you use to identify yourself, like she/her/hers, he/him/his, or they/them/theirs. For example, my name is Blizzard T. Husky and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.
  3. Ask everyone to participate in sharing their pronouns, offer yours, and elaborate on the importance of pronouns.
    • I’d like everyone to introduce themselves including your name and the pronouns you use to identify yourself, like she/her/hers, he/him/his, or they/them/theirs. For example, my name is Blizzard T. Husky and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.
  4. Give the option to share pronouns and ask that everyone use first names or "they" pronouns.
    • I’d like everyone to introduce themselves including your name. If you would like, you may also share the pronouns you use to identify yourself, like she/her/hers, he/him/his, or they/them/theirs. For example, my name is Blizzard T. Husky and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.

We can’t assume we know how someone identifies or what pronouns they use, just by looking at them. To be respectful and inclusive, I ask that we all refer to one another by first names, or, if you do not know someone’s first name, use the gender neutral they/them/theirs pronouns.

8

What if I accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone?

It’s okay to make a mistake. Here’s what you can do if you accidently use the wrong pronoun.

  1. Apologize.
  2. Use the correct pronoun.
  3. Commit to using the correct pronoun next time.

It’s important to avoid making a big scene and carrying on with an elaborate apology. This puts more of the focus on you and your feelings of embarrassment/guilt and draws undue attention to the situation. Remember, it’s not up to the person you misgendered to make you feel better about your mistake.

9

What if I witness someone else using the wrong pronouns?

A swift but calm correction is often all it takes. For instance, “Blizzard actually uses they/them/theirs pronouns.”

However, some people may not want to draw attention to themselves or be comfortable with anyone but you knowing their pronouns. Showing respect can come in the form of asking the individual about their preferences separately, before addressing the situation in a large group.

Remember, not everyone has the same relationship with their pronouns. What may be comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another. Share your pronouns, keep an open mind, and do not make assumptions. Questions asked in a thoughtful and respectful manner are usually appreciated more so than ignoring the realities of gender perceptions and assumptions.