What are the pronouns and why do they matter?
What Are Pronouns?
Sharing Your Pronouns
Why pronouns are important
Pronouns | Trans | One Word
Why Pronouns Matter

The Gender Identity Spectrum
What are the pronouns and why do they matter?
How do I used pronouns?
What if someone makes a mistake and mispronouns someone else?
How do I share my pronouns?
How do I ask someone their pronouns?
How do I use gender inclusive language?
What additional resources and links can help me?
Words to Avoid
The National Geographic Association special issue on global variations of gender - 01/17

The Gender Identity Spectrum

The gender spectrum visualizes gender as a continuum stretching from men to women and masculine to feminine. Gender identities other than man or woman are considered to be non-binary.

What is the gender spectrum?

Describes a person who rejects static categories of gender (i.e. the gender binary of male/female) and whose gender expression or identity falls outside of the dominant social norms of their assigned sex. They may identify as having aspects of both male and female identities, or neither.

The gender spectrum visualizes gender as a continuum stretching from men to women and masculine to feminine. Gender identities other than man or woman are considered to be non-binary.

The vast majority of people go by the pronouns sets “he/him” or “she/her.” A small but increasing number of people use “they/them” pronouns or another pronouns set -- sometimes simply because they don’t want to go by pronouns with a gender association (just as some folks go by “Ms.” whether or not they are married, because they don’t think their marital status should be a relevant issue), and sometimes people use pronouns that aren’t associated with one of those two most common (binary) genders because they are nonbinary (i.e. people who are neither exclusively a man nor exclusively a woman -- e.g. genderqueer, agender, bigender, fluid, third/additional gender in a cultural tradition, etc.).

Please note that many nonbinary people identify with the word “trans” (short for “transgender”), but that some do not; and many people who are trans are also men or women (binary). All people, whether they are trans or not trans (cisgender), whether they are men or women or nonbinary -- all people can choose to go by whichever sets of pronouns they are most comfortable with.

So, a great way to create and normalize space for people to share their pronouns is first to share your own. You can do this by saying, for example, “Hi, my name is Farida and I go by the pronoun ‘she’” or “I’m Yoshi and I’m referred to by ‘he/him’ pronouns.” See also the various pronoun sets people might use to describe themselves.

Sharing your own pronouns is a great idea, but it isn’t requisite. Keep in mind, however, that there is a privilege of appearing in a way that fits both your gender and the pronouns that many people associate with your gender. In other words, if people’s assumptions are correct, never having to name those assumptions begins to normalize the very process of making assumptions (which for others may be incorrect). Thus, sharing pronouns is a great way to disrupt the normalization and privilege of assumption.

If you are attending an event, you can write on your name tag the pronouns that you go by in the corner, near your name. Sometimes the pronoun alone is sufficient (e.g. “she”), though sometimes it is helpful if there is space to write “pronouns” first before listing which pronouns you go by (e.g. “Pronouns: he or they” -- note that some people are open to be referred to by multiple different sets of pronouns, as in this example).

If you are writing an email, you could include your pronouns in your signature line. You could also include a link to this website or another resource that helps people reading your email to understand why you are listing your pronouns. (e.g. write: “My Pronouns: they/them ~ See to learn more.”)

You can also share your own pronouns by sharing a link to the pronoun you go by. Here are some of the more common ones:;;;

There is no singular way to list and share pronouns. Many people say, for example, “she/her/hers” or “she/her” or just “she” and it’s generally understood that this refers to a larger set of pronouns (e.g. that includes “herself”) without having to list every one of those pronouns.

Now that you understand how to share your own pronouns, let's discuss how to ask other people their personal pronouns.

First, make sure that you have shared your own pronouns. Doing so is the best way to encourage other people to share their pronouns, to help make them more comfortable to share their pronouns with you.

If you are meeting someone new one-to-one, you might say something like: “Hi, I’m Akeem, and I go by ‘they’ pronouns. How should I refer to you?” Of course, if you are meeting someone who isn’t familiar with sharing personal pronouns, be prepared to explain that people often make assumptions about whether someone goes by “he” or “she” or another set of pronouns (e.g. “they” or “ze”) based on their appearance, and that the only way to really know how someone will feel respected is to ask what pronouns they go by. Usually offering up that the vast majority of people either go by “he” or by “she” helps indicate to the other person what the typical response is that they might give.

We don’t recommend ever forcing people to share their pronouns. However, people could be invited or encouraged to do so. In a group setting where you are a leader, here is one example of how you could conduct a round of introductions:

“Welcome to our meeting. Before we begin, we’d like to go around and share our names and personal pronouns. For those who haven’t done this before, this is a way that we can avoid assumptions, particularly about gender. What may seem obvious may actually be incorrect, and please keep in mind that while many people associate “he” or “she” as meaning men or women, respectively, this isn’t always the case. This is not about sharing your gender or private information, that is not what I’m asking for. I’m only asking for which pronouns you want to be referred to by, because these are a part of the English language in how we typically refer to people. So, for most people, that means they either go by 'she' and 'her' pronouns or they go by 'he' and 'him' pronouns. Some people go by 'they' and 'them' pronouns or another set of pronouns or another way of being referred to. However, for most people in this room you’d simply say something like 'Hi, I’m Lesley and I go by "he" pronouns' or 'Hi, I’m Jamie and I go by "she" pronouns' and then turn to the next person. If you don’t understand what I'm asking, or if you feel that you are uncomfortable sharing or unable to participate in a respectful way, it's okay to just share your name. But if you feel comfortable to share, and you know that typically you go by a certain set of pronouns and are good with that, let us know. Please also keep in mind that what people in this room share today is just what people are sharing today in this space and time, and that people may change their names or pronouns or go by different ones in another space. Does anyone have a question before we begin our introductions?”

Please note that it may be helpful to also have a conversation with the group about how to utilize various pronouns correctly (particularly pronouns sets they may be less familiar with), perhaps also referring them to other resources.

How do I use gender inclusive language?

This reference is meant to provide you with very basic pointers and replacement language to help avoid gender assumptions in your language. Although you might not mean harm, using language that assumes another person’s gender or pronouns (if that person has not shared the gender or pronouns to use) can cause harm, as can using language that erases some people’s genders by implying there are only two genders (or that only a certain gender is qualified to do a particular job).

Many people have already made the shift in their language to avoid “that’s so gay” as a derogatory phrase or to avoid assumptions about sexual orientation (e.g. asking a woman if she has a boyfriend). Many people have stopped using “he” as a universal language to refer to all people, or to exclusive “he” language or “she” language to refer to all fire fighters, all flight attendants, all doctors, all nurses, all administrative assistants, all college students, etc.

Similarly, we need to shift our language to avoid further assumptions that particularly harm transgender and gender nonconforming people. Small changes in language can make a big difference in peoples lives.

Instead of “yes, sir” or “thank you, ma’am” or other language that makes gender-based assumptions, you could simply communicate:

Good morning!
Thank you very much.
It’s a pleasure.
How can I be of assistance today?
Could I help the next guest?
Yes, please.
Yes, absolutely. Coming right up.

Instead of calling upon or remarking about a particular “man” or “woman” (who has not disclosed that identity), you could indicate:

The person in the red shirt
The person with their hand raised
The person who just spoke
The person over here (gesturing)

Instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls” or other language that assumes only two genders, you could use:

Friends and colleagues
Esteemed guests

Instead of “he or she” or “s/he” (when speaking of an unknown or universal person) you could communicate:

That person
The patron
The guest

It is fine to use singular pronoun “they” as a way to refer to a specific person who goes by the pronoun “they” or to colloquially refer to a single person of unspecified gender. However, it may not be the best choice of language for a policy or technical writing in which a reference to a single person must be absolutely clear. In this case, instead of writing “he or she” or “s/he” or even “he/she/they” or “they,” it may be best to instead simply repeat the noun: the complainant, the representative, the member, the person, etc. That way, there is total policy clarity. There are also ways to edit sentences to avoid unnecessary repetition.

Instead of “men and women,” you could communicate (depending on what you mean to construe):

All people
People of all genders
Women, men, and nonbinary people

Please note that it may be helpful to also have a conversation with the group about how to utilize various pronouns correctly (particularly pronouns sets they may be less familiar with), perhaps also referring them to other resources.

For additional ideas, be sure to check out the additional links and videos on this resources page.

Words to Avoid

“Tranny” – Frequently used to demean transgender people, particularly transgender women. Carries extremely negative connotations.

“Queer” – Still sometimes used against people of marginalized sexualities and gender experiences, has negative associations for many in older generations. In more and more communities, this is viewed as a neutrally charged, inoffensive, reclaimed term. Some individuals in the category use the term as empowerment to take it back.

“Dyke” – Still sometimes used as a slur against lesbians. In more and more communities, this is viewed as a neutrally charged, inoffensive, reclaimed term.

"Faggot" or "Fag" – Some people marginalized by their sexuality or gender, especially gay men, will use this term in-community (to regain it's power from it's origin - being used by the Catholic Church as faggots to burn the witches - Editor), but it would be very inappropriate for someone else to use.