In the last few months there’s been a lot of discussion about the use of gender pronouns, especially since Instagram rolled out a new pronouns feature which makes it easier for users to specify their gender identity.
At gohenry, we give you the option to select ‘non-binary’ for your child’s gender when you activate their gohenry card. When you do this, we’ll use the pronoun ‘they’ from then on, and we’ll also use ‘they’ if you decide not to specify a gender.
Louise Hill, co-founder and COO of gohenry, says: “In line with our company values, we’re proud to celebrate diversity and respect differences, which is why we give customers the opportunity to select their child’s pronouns when they activate their card. It’s important to be an ally, and sharing pronouns means that others can see a safe space, acceptance and understanding.”
We know that conversations around gender pronouns can be confusing, so to celebrate Pride Month we’ve put together this brief explainer.
What are gender pronouns?
Gender pronouns are words like ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘his’ or ‘hers’ which we use when we refer to people. We can also use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’, ‘them’, and ‘ze’ when a person doesn’t identify as a particular gender.
Gender identity is a way to describe how someone feels about their gender. This is different from someone’s biological sex or the gender they were assigned at birth, and has nothing to do with their sexuality or who they’re attracted to.
Many people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, but some don’t. Instead, they may identify as male and / or female, or they may decide that neither of these feel right because they are somewhere in between. For this reason it’s helpful to think of gender identity as a spectrum. Gender identity can also change over time. This is sometimes known as being ‘gender fluid’.
These are some of the ways that people might describe their gender identity:
- Trans or transgender: This means that they feel their gender is different to the gender they were assigned at birth.
- Non-binary, gender fluid or gender queer: This means that they don’t identify as male or female. They might identify as both, or neither.
- Cisgender or cis: This is when someone’s gender identity is the same as they were assigned at birth.
Why are gender pronouns important?
If you’re a cis person, whose gender is the same as the sex assigned to you at birth, you might not have given much thought to the pronouns people use when they refer to you – and you may not realise why gender pronouns are so important.
Alex Gray, Head of Volunteer Operations at Childline, says: “We regularly use pronouns in our everyday conversations to describe each other, and these often have a gender implied, such as ‘he’ when speaking about a male and ‘she’ when speaking about a female. These labels we apply to others are not always accurate as we often make assumptions about the gender of a person based on how they look, how they are dressed, or their name. These assumptions, which can be correct or incorrect, can be potentially harmful, as we are giving the message that people of a certain gender must look and act a certain way in order to demonstrate being that gender.”
Sharing your pronouns reinforces the message that gender isn’t binary. It shows that you are welcoming and inclusive, and it can help people who are transgender or non-binary feel much more comfortable.
Why should we share gender pronouns?
It’s becoming increasingly common to display pronouns on social media profiles and email signatures, simply because it’s an easy and effective way to show that you’re an LGBTQ+ ally.
Many transgender and non-binary people share their pronouns to avoid being misgendered. If everyone does this, it makes it seem normal to share pronouns and not assume people’s gender. This helps to reduce stigma, and stops people making assumptions about gender identity.
Alex Gray adds: “We can all do our bit, regardless of how we identify, by actively displaying our pronouns in email signatures, social media, during meetings and presentations. By taking these small actions we are helping make workplaces and society more inclusive of transgender, gender nonconforming, gender non-binary and gender questioning people.”
That said, if a person isn’t cisgender, it’s important for them to wait until they feel safe and ready before sharing their pronouns. If they’re confused about their gender identity, or aren’t ready to come out, they shouldn’t be pressured into making a public statement.
How to use gender pronouns
Some people use pronouns that reflect their gender, such as ‘he’ or ‘she’, while others prefer gender-neutral pronouns like ‘they’. Although it may take a little time to get used to, try to use the right pronouns – and don’t make assumptions about people’s gender identity. The easiest way to find out which pronouns a person uses is to politely ask them, and if you get it wrong simply apologise and correct yourself.
If your child is questioning their assigned gender identity or has come out as transgender or non-binary, our charity partner the NSPCC can offer free advice and support, both online and by calling 0808 800 5000.
Children can access free support by contacting Childline.