Firstly, what are gender pronouns? Pronouns are used to refer to a person in the third person. For example, saying “she is reading a book.” She would be a gender pronoun. To continue the example, he and they are also pronouns.


According to the English language, pronouns are assigned a gender. This can most easily be described by comparing it to another language. So, back to the example of “she is reading a book.” In English, the person who went to the store is clearly defined as female by the pronoun used in the sentence.


Now, take Chinese for example. A direct translation of “She is reading a book” is 她正在看书 which is pronounced ta zheng zai kan shu. But let’s say now that we want to say a boy in reading a book. In English, we would use male gender pronouns and say “he is reading a book.” In Chinese, however, you would say “他正在看书" which is still pronounced ta zheng zai kan shu-- the exact same pronunciation as when the sentence referred to a girl instead of a boy. Because Chinese verbally does not distinguish between men and women, it used gender-neutral pronouns, and, because English does, it has gender pronouns.


So how does this little grammar lesson apply to the LGBTQ community? It does so because it means the English language requires us to assign a gender when talking about another person. This is easy when you are referring to a clear-cut cisgender person, but, to a transperson, gender pronouns can be a source of stress because they run the risk of being referred to as the wrong gender (which relates back to the previous chapter on gender dysphoria).


The basic rule of thumb is to simply use the gender pronoun that a person wants you to use. If you aren’t sure how they identify, ask them what they prefer. Of course you might feel awkward or afraid of offending them… but I can personally say that I always prefer if someone out front asks me what I prefer rather than being too afraid to ask and then referring to me as the wrong gender.


Furthermore, taking the initiative of making sure you refer to someone with the right pronouns can also make them more comfortable. Some trans-people feel uncomfortable correcting people who are using the wrong pronouns because they fear rejection, are tired of correcting people time after time and feel its not worth it in the moment, are simply shy… there are tons of reasons! Making the time to ask them what they prefer shows them that you are accepting and you care about respecting them.


So what are the pronouns that people can use? Of course, there are the typical she/her and he/his gender pronouns. However, they/their, the gender neutral term used to refer to a group of people, is now also being used a personal pronouns for people who are identified as outside the gender binary of male and female. Similarly, the gender pronoun ze/zir is also used to refer to non-binary people (for example: ze is reading a book/ I ran into zir).


For a chart demonstrating how to use different gender pronouns, visit TSER’s Gender Pronouns graphic:

Sable Liggera - 2016