Some points to remember when it comes to pronouns:
1. You can’t know someone’s pronouns by looking at them! That’s why it’s important to listen and ask.
2. People’s pronouns can change! It doesn’t mean anything is a phase or a lie. It’s perfectly fine to change pronouns, to feel them out and decide if something is comfortable for you, or comfortable in only some situations. Life is complex and we’re all just trying to survive in a way that feels good.
3. You don’t need to be trans or LGBTQ+ to include your pronouns in your bio, email signature, work profile, and so on. Including your pronouns helps normalize the action and build inclusivity. Non-trans people including pronouns can take the pressure off trans folks, too, similar to cisgender, heterosexual couples using “partner” instead of husband, wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. (An imperfect example, to be sure, but a decent parallel.)
4. There have been points where the phrase “preferred pronouns” was the norm, especially on paperwork. With that in mind, the most inclusive, accurate phrasing is simply “pronouns” because people’s pronouns aren’t “preferred”—they’re mandatory.
5. People might use different pronouns in the same period of their life but in different situations. This doesn’t mean anyone is lying or trying to get attention. It likely comes down to safety—people might ask you to use gender-neutral pronouns, like they/them or ze/zie, for example, but stick to she/her or he/him while at work. This might be because the person fears harassment or retribution at work but trusts friends and family with their more accurate pronouns.
6. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s okay to start by using their name in place of a pronoun or going gender-neutral. It’s also okay to mention your own pronouns (for me, this might look like saying: “My name’s Marissa and I use she pronouns, by the way”) as a soft opening for someone to offer their own.
7. It is perfectly valid to use all or respond to any and all pronouns!
8. If someone corrects you about the pronouns they use (or don’t use), it’s not to embarrass or shame you. It’s an effort to share their authentic self with you and is giving you an opportunity to show them respect, dignity, and community. Think of it as similar to someone correcting you on how to pronounce their name.
9. Children are just as capable as adults of expressing their pronouns, and their pronouns should be respected just as much! There is nothing to lose by listening to a child when they share their pronouns with you, whether it lasts for a day, a year, or a lifetime. Validation and affirmation can be hugely beneficial when it comes to feeling safe, secure, and seen.
10. If you use the wrong pronouns for someone, simply apologize, move on, and correct the mistake in the future. Don’t try to explain why you misused their pronouns—for example, avoid saying something like, “Oh but based on what you look like, I just assumed” or, “I’ve never met anyone who uses __ pronoun and dresses like you” or so on, as it can come across as invalidating or put the person on the spot. We all make mistakes and no one is a bad person because of it, but folks also don’t need to hear the mental rundown of why it happened.
Here’s an excellent primer on pronouns if you’d like a visual and audio breakdown on the subject, courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign.