Accurately acknowledging the pronouns of the people you meet has become a professional and scholastic standard over the past several years. Besides fostering a greater state of mental health, correct pronoun use can also create a more confident sense of gender identity in ourselves and those around us.
Our choice to recognize and acknowledge the pronouns of others is not only for accuracy and respect. It is also, according to evidence, a way to prevent our own role in fostering severe depression symptoms – potentially even a decreasing suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
But the widespread use of pronouns in society is, in many ways, new – at least for many of us. While the effort required to recognize every person’s chosen pronouns can seem daunting at first, a little can go a long way in creating a more comfortable work or school environment.
Understanding Pronouns and Pronoun Preferences
None of the information here is meant to pertain to anyone’s personal gender, or even their acceptance of exploring self-identity. This guide is meant to only assist in treating others with the respect and decency we should expect within a professional environment. It is not intended for either self-expression or correction, but simply for educational reference and understanding.
We are also not going to go over every pronoun someone may claim as their own, as that simply cannot be done here. Activists and educators are, even as we speak, working with language to try to find scientific and acceptable ways to help people better communicate who they are and what they need.
What we can do however, is provide a basic overview of what one can expect terminology to infer, and therefore how we can respond with recognition, if not support.
- He/Him: By identifying with He/Him pronouns, a person is telling those around them to view them as a man. This does not necessarily mean they associate themselves with what we view as “masculine”, but it does imply that this individual views himself as a male. Therefore in a professional setting he should expect us to follow best practices and refer to him as such, as that decision is a part of his life that we are not involved in.
- She/Her: In utilizing She/Her pronouns, an individual is making it clear that they view themselves as a woman, and live a life associated with that. That can look differently to different women, and again has nothing to do with her relationship with femininity. The chosen pronoun simply reflects the gender identity she may feel represents her accurately.
- They/Them: Referred to as “nonbinary” pronouns, there are several different meanings someone may be considering when going by They/Them. There could be a complete abandonment of the gender binary, meaning they don’t identify as male or female, or they may see parts of both genders reflected in who they are, and therefore have chosen a middle ground.
There are other possible reasons for this pronoun choice as well, which does well to highlight that main fact: whatever their reasoning is, their pronoun choice simply asks that we refer to them as with They/Them rather than He/Him or She/Her.
- He/They: Lastly, but by no means comprehensively, there are many who associate with two pronouns, and offer an option of use rather than a strict identity. Someone claiming He/They as their pronouns may view themselves as a man sometimes or partially, while also associating with a degree of nonbinary identity.
The same would be true for someone who’s pronouns are She/They, in that they identify both as a woman and as nonbinary in some form or fashion. Again, while these pronouns may seem harder to understand at first, it is only because they represent an identity that is personal to the person claiming them.
What somebody identifies as and how they wish to be referred to has nothing to do with who they were before we met them. It can be helpful to view someone’s pronouns in the same way as someone’s name. It represents them, and what they wish to be called is their choice. Some pronouns, like “they” may seem difficult at first. But remember that we already use “they” to refer to individuals whose gender we do not know.
For example, when we hear a name that is not typically associated with a single gender, like “Jordan,” we may already ask questions that use the term “they.” For example, we may say “what do they do?” or “who are they to you?” This type of plural usage is common in American English. Those that are choosing to go by “They” are essentially asking you to use the same.
More on Gender Identity
Gender identity and pronouns may be included in today’s political battles. But for most of us, all they are is a sign of respect, and a way to help make sure that those that identify as a specific pronoun and those that are struggling with or learning to acknowledge their own gender identity, are treated with respect – respect that also may support their mental health.
If you are someone that is struggling to feel affirmed with your own gender identity, or you find that others around you are not offering the support you need, please contact Flourish Psychology today to learn more about our LGBTQ affirming care services and other forms of therapy.