The Run-Down of the Pronoun: Creating Social Awareness and Practice
Updated: Oct 11
“’Who’s” on first, ‘What’s’ on second, and ‘I Don’t Know’ is on third.” -Abbott and Costello
If you have yet to watch this iconic sketch, I highly recommend adding it to your YouTube playlist. Not only does this sketch provide a great laugh, but I believe it accurately describes how the majority of people feel around the topic of non-binary and transgender inclusive language. The practice of proper pronoun identification and usage has come to the forefront in modern society due to significant generational shifts in ideology. Trust me, even as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I get confused from time to time with pronoun usage and I still make mistakes. Fear not fellow Earthlings. I’m here to help and offer some feedback on how you can boost inclusivity in your business.
First point of discussion. What is non-binary and gender identity? In contemporary Western society, similar to the simplistic 0/1 binary system of computers, gender identity has followed a strict, cookie-cutter system of classifying humans as either male or female based on outward physical appearance. The historically simplistic and exclusive nature of the binary system was unchallenged until members of the non-binary, transgender, and intersex communities confronted the traditional norms and brought the gender identity spectrum to the forefront. Gender identity is your psychological sense of who you are and know yourself to be. Gender expression is how you portray your gender identity to the world in the form of personality and outward appearance, such as haircut, clothes, pronouns, and behavior. Non-binary is a type of gender identity that does not fall within the strict binary parameters and embraces fluidity within the gender spectrum. Other common synonymous terms for non-binary include gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and genderfluid.
Second point of discussion. What are pronouns? Very simply, a pronoun is a word used in place of a noun. Their primary function is to make sentences less cumbersome and repetitive by offering replacements for established nouns. The complexity of the English language is reflected in the numerous categories of pronouns, but for simplicity, we are going to focus on the two categories being addressed for common usage- personal and possessive pronouns. Personal pronouns include he/she/they (subject) and him/her/they (object). Possessive pronouns include his/hers/theirs. Now, I majored in Biology so this is the extent of my English lecture. You have all received an “A” for participation.
Now that we have established definitions of gender identity and pronouns, why are pronouns so important? Besides using our legal name, pronouns are the other way in which we are identified to the world. They are extremely personal and should reflect your perception of your own gender identity. For the members of the transgender community, the use of their preferred name and pronouns are vital pieces of their transition into the gender in which they genuinely identify. Asking people to identify their pronouns is important for two major reasons. First, it helps to engrain the practice into routine social interactions. Change obviously doesn’t happen overnight, but when we normalize a practice, it no longer becomes taboo or a point of conflict. Secondly, it validates a person’s unique existence. By establishing this norm, we send a simple and direct message to whoever we speak with that their gender identity is valid and respected. Just as we would want our pronouns to be used correctly, the same applies to everyone else. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronouns, they may feel invalidated, dismissed, oppressed, or alienated.
The practice of identifying pronouns has become a hot topic of discussion, and often one of conflict. Non-binary gender identity is nothing new, but has been thrusted into the spotlight due to growing generational acceptance and societal exposure. Here are some interesting statistics you should know. According to the 2017 Nielsen Report, Millennials (born 1983-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997-2010) make up nearly 50% of the current US population. The 2017 Accelerating Acceptance Poll showed that Millennials, more than any other generation, were more likely to openly identify as LGBTQ+. According to statistics from GLAAD conducted by The Harris Poll in 2017, 12% of millennials and 6% of Gen Z identified as transgender or non-binary.
As I stated in my “You Guys” blog, our actions and interactions in day-to-day operations can change the way consumers feel or behave toward our business. According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 37% of Millennial and Gen Z respondents would stop/lessen their relationship with a business due to its ethical behavior and 32% of millennials believe that business should improve programs highlighting education, diversity, and inclusion. With the younger generations overturning and rejecting long-standing societal norms, isn’t it time that we shake up our own protocols and strive to understand and practice more inclusive initiatives?
PRONOUN GUIDING PRINCIPLES
1. You do not have to completely agree or understand this topic in order to treat another human with the respect they deserve. Everyone has a unique perception of how they believe they should be treated so it is unjust to project your biases onto others. Rather than treating someone how YOU would want to be treated, move past that and ask yourself, “How should THEY be treated?” Take a look at the global picture.
2. We are human and mistakes happen. It’s okay! Take responsibility, apologize, use the correct pronoun, and move on. Plain and simple. It is your responsibility to remember a person’s pronouns so rise up to the expectation. Practice makes perfect.
3. When in doubt about someone’s pronouns, respectfully ask (and give yours in return)! Remember, pronouns are just as unique as a person’s gender identity, so the combinations are practically endless. Here are some examples of pronoun combinations that I have encountered from speaking with members of the non-binary community.
4. Unless the person specifically requests these pronouns, NEVER use the terms “It” or “He-She” as an identifying term. Both terms are considered disrespectful. “It” is insensitive because the person is clearly a human being and “He-She” is a common derogatory term used towards the transgender community.
IDEAS TO BOOST YOUR PRONOUN INCLUSIVITY
1: Modify your client, patient, and customer information forms to include a small section for identification of pronouns. In my own practice, my new patient intake forms include a small section where people list this information. Always use the person’s preferred name and pronouns.
2: Include your own pronouns on your social media platforms. All of my social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) have my pronouns “She/Her” listed in my profile. If you don’t believe me, go have a look. Take it a step further and try including your pronouns in your email signatures.
3: Practice using gender neutral pronouns when inquiring about someone that you haven’t met. Instead of assuming a person’s gender, especially if they have a gender-neutral name, use neutral pronouns like they/them/their to gain more information. While talking, listen for cues about the person’s pronouns, and when in doubt, see rule number three mentioned previously.
Rise up to these challenges and pass them along to your spheres of influence. Your voices as an ally are needed for these marginalized communities. Remember, you are all beautiful. You are all amazing. Your differences make you extraordinary. Be kind to one another and most importantly, yourself.
Dr. Corinne Alexander, D.C., Chapter 115
Corinne Alexander, D.C. is the ambassador of Chapter 115 in Cupertino, CA and has been a member of the Women’s Networking Alliance since July 2019. She is the owner of Dr. Corinne Alexander, D.C. located in San Jose, CA. Her interest in joining the Diversity and Council was fueled by her personal experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. She aspires to be a positive role model in her community by promoting kindness and education, and creating an environment of mutual respect among others.