- Gender Identity - refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth.
- Sex assigned at birth - refers to the sex designation recorded on an infant’s birth certificate should such a record be provided at birth.
- Transgender - describes those individuals whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender male is someone who identifies as male but was assigned the sex of female at birth; a transgender female is someone who identifies as female but was assigned the sex of male at birth.
- Gender Transition - refers to the process in which transgender individuals begin asserting the sex that corresponds to their gender identity instead of the sex they were assigned at birth. During gender transition, individuals begin to live and identify as the sex consistent with their gender identity and may dress differently, adopt a new name, and use pronouns consistent with their gender identity. Transgender individuals may undergo gender transition at any stage of their lives, and gender transition can happen swiftly or over a long duration of time.
What is a pronoun?
Grammatically, the pronoun is used to take the place of a noun in a sentence. The pronoun can be used either as a subject or an object in a sentence. Mainly, it is used when talking to others or talking about other individuals. For example, when talking to an individual, the pronouns “you” “me” or “I” will be used throughout the conversation. When referring to someone or something, the pronouns “she”, “he”, “his”, “hers”, “it”, “them”, “this” will be used.
What is a personal pronoun?
A personal pronoun is the pronoun that a person uses in reference to them self. These personal pronouns would include “she”, “he”, “him”, “her” to name a few. Personal pronouns are chosen by the individual being referred to in the conversation.
For example, if Kyle's preferred personal pronouns are “she”, “her”, and “hers”, you would say “Kyle ate her food because she was hungry."
We have provided a chart below with some of the common personal pronouns used throughout our daily life. The most common pronouns, She/her/hers and he/him/his are many times considered as "female/feminine" and "male/masculine" pronouns. Yet, it is important to avoid these labels because not everyone who uses “he” identifies as "male" expresses as "masculine."
- She, He, They, Ze, Ze, Xe
- Her, Him, Them, Hir, Zir, Xem
- Her, His, Their, Hir, Zir, Xyr
- Hers, His, Theirs, Hirs, Zirs, Xyrs
- Herself, Himself, Them self, Hirself, Zirself, Xemself
Why is it important to understand personal pronouns?
It is important to know that you will never know what someone’s pronouns are by looking at them. Making assumptions about a person’s preferred pronoun is unwise. Instead, it is important to ask and correctly use someone's preferred pronoun. It is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for someone’s gender identity. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make the individual feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, or alienated. If you fail to respect someone else's gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.
As a faculty or staff member, you are often in a position of power. Students look up to you and consider you as a valid resource for guidance at the college. It is important that your student feels comfortable and safe in your classroom, as well as in the college community. If a student discloses their preferred personal pronoun, it is important to consistently use that personal pronoun. If you fail to do so, the other students may follow your example. Many of your students will be learning about pronouns for the first time, so this will be a learning opportunity for them that they will keep forever.
How do I ask someone what their pronoun is?
When asking for a student’s preferred pronoun, try saying “Hi…my pronoun is ____, what pronoun do you use?" or “What are your personal pronouns, my pronouns are ____.” or “Can you remind me which pronouns you use for yourself?" At first, this dialog may feel awkward or unfamiliar. However, it is not half as awkward as making an assumption about a student or getting it wrong in front of the class.
If you are looking to ask about personal pronouns as part of an introductory exercise during the first week of class, you should first quickly explain what a pronoun is. Remember, this may be the first time that some students have had a conversation about personal pronouns. Try something like this: "Tell us your name, where you come from, and your personal pronoun. That means the pronoun you like to be referred to with.” The example answer would then be, “Hi, my name is _____, I'm from Chicago, and I like to be referred to by she, her, and hers pronouns. So you could say, 'she went to her car' if you were talking about me." When you clearly define what a personal pronoun is and reference your own pronouns, you are automatically creating a safe space for your students.
If you accidentally make a mistake, know that everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like "Sorry, I meant she." If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on. Please don’t go on and on about your mistake, this will only emphasize the mistake and make the student feel uncomfortable or responsible for comforting you.
At times, you may hear someone refer to the wrong pronoun when talking with someone else. In most cases, it is appropriate to gently correct the student without further embarrassing the individual who has been mis-gendered. If another student or a faculty member is consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, do not ignore it. It is critical that you first check in with the individual about how (or if) they would like you to approach the situation. Take cues from how the individual reacts to your conversation and then make the appropriate decisions.
Faculty Advisor to Pride Alliance
Associate Professor, Education
Phone: (630) 942-3014