Tips for Navigating Pronouns in the Workplace
“Workplace culture” is a term widely used by many companies whether thats office spaces or department stores. The concept was created to foster better environments for workers. We all love free snacks in the lunch room and happy hours on Fridays but what about initiatives that go deeper. For example making an effort to acknowledge and honour your gender queer employees. I recognize that this can sound like a daunting task and for most CIS-Het people its a difficult to navigate subject. With the mass availability of information about the queer community it can be hard to sift through and find reputable sources. So let me help you out with some basic tips on how to navigate pronouns in the workplace. After all October 3rd wasn’t just mean girls day, it was also National Pronouns Day.
Before I dive too far into the tips, let's breakdown the different types of pronouns:
- She/Her & He/Him - these are the most common pronouns typically used by cis-gendered individuals (people who’s gender identity corresponds with their birth sex) , but not always.
- They/Them - a gender neutral pronoun, commonly used by non-binary people.
- Mixed/Multiples i.e she/they, she/he etc. - pronouns used by people who identify with more than one set of pronouns, typically this means that they’d like you to use all the pronouns but it varies from person to person.
- Genderfluid - people who’s gender identities change over time, gender fluid people may use different pronouns daily so it’s helpful to check in with these individuals regularly.
- Neopronouns i.e xe/xem, ze/hir etc. - pronouns typically used by neurodivergent people who relate to gender differently, but not always they can be used by anyone.
Before I continue, I’d like to put a little disclaimer here. Gender identity is incredibly personal and it as well as gender expression look very different for each individual. The tips in this blog post are just a few of the things that I myself as a non-binary but femme presenting person have learned that help me. I have also discussed with a few of my gender queer friends to get their input as well, but that being said it was a fairly small focus group. If there are any tips you’d like to add slip over to our insta and comment on the post about this blog feature. The more advice and knowledge we get out there the better off we will all be. Knowledge is power after all.
1. Pronouns do not equal gender.
This is probably the most important piece of information to store in your mind when it comes to this topic. What this means is basically, she/her doesn’t mean someone is a woman, he/him doesn’t mean someone is a man. So don’t assume, we all know the old adage that normally accompanies that statement, so don’t make me say it. The concept of gender queer people isn’t new but as a community we’ve grown to understand it a little more than in the past by fostering open communication and just listening to queer folks. We know it’s not right to make assumptions as to someones gender based on their clothes or hair the same goes for making the assumption based on someones pronouns.
2. JUST ASK!
This point goes hand in hand with the first one. A polite question will get you a long way when it comes to navigating gender identity. But the polite in that statement needs to be emphasized. My recommendation is to just keep it simple. “What pronouns do you prefer?” Gets to the point without implying anything negative and shows that you care about respecting peoples boundaries.
3. Beware of slang.
Language is ever evolving, but sometimes trends aren’t the most inclusive. We all know that one person who calls everyone “dude”, “girl” or “bro”. But some people don’t love these terms or identify with them at all, so while you’re asking about pronouns make sure you ask about nicknames, terms of endearment and slang. One non-binary person might be totally cool with you calling them “girl” but the next might not. The goal is to not make assumptions and the best way to get information to prevent doing that is to just chat with someone. We all feel a little warm and fuzzy when people take an interest in us so as long as you aren’t being rude or abrasive about your questioning most people will have no problem sharing their preferences.
4. Introduce yourself.
Beat. Them. To. The. Punch. All too often queer people are expected to “come out” by explaining their situation to the cis-gendered/hetero people in their lives. Want to be a good ally? Introduce yourself using your pronouns first, this creates a sense of comfort and puts less pressure on us. It also shows that you’re open to hearing what we have to say. I wish the world were a perfect place but many people still have problems with the LGBTQIA2S+ community and refusal to acknowledge pronouns is still too common. I know I myself am always a little apprehensive to share my gender identity with strangers because you never know when you’ll get that one person who’s going to make your life difficult that day.
5. Think before you speak.
This seems obvious but unfortunately it needs to be enforced. Take a few seconds before you ask a question and think ask yourself the following questions:
- “Is this invasive?”
- “Would I ask my cis-gendered friends this question?”
- “Could this come across as hurtful or offensive?”
- “Do I need to know this information in order to treat someone with kindness and respect?”
If your answers for these questions aren’t positive DON’T ASK! As I mentioned before gender identity is personal and can be an intimate topic. You are not entitled to know what is in somebody’s pants!
6. If you misgender someone just apologize.
Another one that seems simple when said out loud but isn’t. I know it sucks to feel like you’ve hurt someone and it sucks even more to feel your prejudice bubble to the surface in negative ways. But the honest truth is we all have bias, it’s our responsibility to work past them and better ourselves. So you are bound to slip up. The WORST thing you can do is not acknowledge it, or make excuses. We don’t want to hear how hard it is for you to get our pronouns right. Say sorry, correct yourself and move on. It is not our job as queer people to make you feel better.
7. Respect mixed pronouns.
If someone identifies with more than one gender this doesn’t mean you can exclusively refer to them as one and completely ignore the other. This happens way too often, I myself have personally been impacted by this. I go by she/they and most people never use they which as a non-binary person can cause dysphoria amongst other crappy feelings. It has made me personally reconsider changing my style or presentation but the reality is I shouldn’t have to do that in order to have my pronouns respected. Non-binary people do not have to be androgynous the same way that people who identify as men don’t have to be hyper masculine to be considered men. Just be respectful.
8. Do your own research.
As I mentioned above it is not our job as queer people to make you feel better about your ingrained bias, it’s also not our job to educate you. Most of us will if you as politely and come with a genuine want to better yourselves. But when you put all the responsibility on the queer people in your life to inform you and educate you about all things queer you are asking us to take on an enormous burden. If you care, do your own research. There’s a million online resources at your disposal take advantage of them.
9. Just listen to queer people.
This goes hand in hand with the last point. While it is your responsibility to learn about things that don’t affect you in order to be a good ally it is also your responsibility to HEAR the queer people in your life. Listen and absorb. Don’t argue with people’s experiences or try to belittle them. Take it seriously and if you have the capacity use your privilege to help amplify queer voices, DO IT.
What this entire thing boils down to is respect, queer folks are people with feelings and they should be made to feel safe in every environment especially at work. If you want to learn more about the gender queer community or just the LGBTQIA2S+ community as a whole here are some great influencers and resources that have wonderful information and perspectives to share.
Find your new fave genderqueer musician: