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A Pronouns Primer: How to ask for and get pronouns right when addressing diverse gender identities

Updated on: 13 June,2021 01:52 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Nascimento Pinto |

What are the different pronouns embraced by the LGBTQIA+ community? Why is it important to use them correctly and how can one avoid making mistakes? During Pride Month, here’s a quick lesson on pronouns for the uninitiated

A Pronouns Primer: How to ask for and get pronouns right when addressing diverse gender identities

Image for representational purpose only. Photo: istock

As the world celebrates Pride Month, there is a lot that allies of the LGBTQIA+ community can do to show support. One of the very first steps can be to understand how to use the pronouns they feel comfortable with. Being mindful of this matters because it helps create a safe and inclusive environment. 

Many have started adding the designated pronouns visibly to their social media profiles to make it easier for people to connect with each other while also showing mutual respect. This can be new to some. We curated answers to some of the common questions that arise around pronouns. While these cover the basics, it is bound to be an evolving list and may differ from time to time, depending on which part of the world you are in and individual preferences. 

What are the different pronouns used by the LGBTQIA+ community? 
Pronouns such as he/him and she/her were widely applied to all but that is limiting and frustrating for transgender and gender-queer communities. So the terms used to refer to people who identify as trans or non-binary are evolving and being recognised. Gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they/them’ are used by anyone who does not feel the need to align with either male or female pronouns. Usually, it is better to use they/them instead of the third-person singular when referring to someone who has not made their pronoun choice clear. The full list of pronouns is longer — including sie/hir, zie/zir -- and it varies by language. 

How to ask an individual about the pronouns to be used? 
Asking for a person’s pronoun is as simple as asking an individual their name. So the next question after getting the name can be about the pronouns one can use while referring to them or in case you have forgotten simply asking to be reminded is polite. This is increasingly important because it fosters inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community among the larger community of people. 

Why is it necessary to use the correct pronouns? 
Incidentally in 2019, the Merriam-Webster dictionary added ‘they’ as a pronoun to be used for ‘a person whose gender identity is non-binary'. Asking for a person’s pronouns and using them correctly is the most basic way of showing respect for their gender identity, according to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s LGBTQ+ Resource Centre. It further states that when someone is referred to by a wrong pronoun, they may feel disrespected in the first place, and even dismissed or alienated among other aspects of their identity in a public space. Queer discourse in India was dominated by English but users of other languages are introspecting too, as Australia-based Hindi professor Ian Woolford pointed out in an opinion piece last year. Hindi language defaults to the masculine in mixed-gender situations or situations where the gender is not known, he notes, which is problematic for LGBTQ+ folk.

What are the possible confusions that could occur? 
While he/him, she/her and they/them are some of the common pronouns used by the community, the two options simply refer to how they are being used grammatically in a sentence. However, there can be instances when a person uses, he/they and she/they and that simply means a person is comfortable with using and alternating between both in a conversation, according to an NPR report. So, there is a certain freedom attached to this but at the same time, it is respectful to know and adhere to what they prefer in personal and public situations. 

What if you get the pronouns wrong? 
To err from time to time is human. If one gets a pronoun wrong, it is best for them to apologise and remind themselves to use the correct one in the future. 

It is one simple step towards ensuring everyone feels seen and heard. 

Also Read: How an Instagram page is chronicling overlooked events from India’s LGBTQIA+ archives

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