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Page Last Modified: Feb 28, 2018


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We can’t always assume the pronoun someone uses on the basis of their gender presentation. Some people feel that the pronouns she/her and he/him may not accurately represent their gender identities.  Transgender individuals and people who identify as gender non-conforming may elect to use other pronouns, such as xe/xyr or they/them singular.  Additionally, it is not always possible to know how someone identifies based on their outward appearance.  Consider the suggestions below to ensure that by using the proper pronouns, you make everyone feel welcome and respected.

The SUNY system interprets Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to encompass the rights of transgender students. This includes respecting a person’s pronouns. This is a significant cultural shift for some, and mistakes will happen. A hostile work environment is created when someone intentionally and repeatedly refuses to use the pronouns indicated by another individual.

The following guide is a starting point for using pronouns respectfully and inclusively.

How do I know which pronouns to use?

If you are speaking with someone casually or briefly, it may not always be necessary to know the pronouns they use. However, for interactions with students, classmates, roommates, or coworkers, it is always better to ask than to assume. Try the following:

  • “What pronouns do you use?”

  • “My name is ____ , and I use ____ pronouns. How would you like me to refer to you?”


To simplify things, you may wish to make specification of pronouns an optional part of introductions in classes, meetings, workshops, etc. When we give people the opportunity to express their pronouns, we signal that the environment is supportive and inclusive of persons of all genders.

Try the following:

  • “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves. Feel free to specify the name you want to be referred to and your pronouns. For example, my name is ____, and I use ____ pronouns.”

  • Another great way to communicate that you are committed to respecting everyone’s pronouns is to include your pronouns in your electronic signature.  This is helpful whether you identify as transgender, cisgender (or non-transgender), or gender non-conforming.  It sends the message that we should never assume or guess another person’s pronouns.  If you are a Fredonia employee and want to be sure that you are including your pronouns in your signature in accordance with Fredonia Visual Standards, please consult this guide.



Source: http://www.transstudent.org/pronouns101  (This site has many other useful charts and infographics, too!)


Do pronouns change?

It is important to remember that transgender individuals often do not have the same identity development process as their cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) counterparts. Therefore, someone may try out several different pronouns options before finding the one that “fits.” People may also elect to use different pronouns as their understanding of their gender identity evolves over time. This by no means implies that transgender identities are less “real” or valid.


If I don’t ask about a person’s pronouns, am I creating a hostile work environment?


Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual to inform others about their pronouns, especially if their pronouns change. That information can be conveyed in a number of ways, including face-to-face discussion and email. However, it will be much easier for that notification to take place if it has already been communicated that our classrooms, residence halls, offices, and all campus spaces are safe environments for such discussions.


What if I make a mistake?

Mistakes happen, though it is important that we work towards using correct pronouns. If you make a mistake, issue a quick correction. Try the following:

  • “Her, I mean their, book is on the table.”

When we correct ourselves, we model appropriate pronoun usage for others!

It might also be appropriate to offer a brief apology, though not if it means drawing additional attention from others to the issue. For example, a private comment might look like this:

  • “I realized that earlier I used the wrong pronoun for you. I apologize and will be more mindful in the future.”


Should I correct others?

It is important that we give others control and agency over their identities. Some people will appreciate you standing up for them, while others may prefer to stand up for themselves, or may not wish to call public attention to their pronouns.

In the event someone uses the wrong pronoun for a person who isn’t present, try the following:

  • “By the way, I think Dylan uses they/them pronouns now.”


It can be difficult at first to remember pronouns, especially those that are not familiar to us. But the more we practice, the easier it becomes. Using correct pronouns is an important step to respecting everyone, no matter their gender.


WHAT ARE SOME OTHER RESOURCES IF I WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Chosen Names and Pronouns Primer: https://medium.com/@jeffry.iovannone/chosen-names-and-pronouns-primer-9c3ad433b71c

Everyday Feminism: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/pronoun-etiquette/

Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog: https://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/

GLAAD Tips for Allies of Transgender People: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

Sylvia Rivera Law Project: http://archive.srlp.org/resources/publications/pronoun-etiquette

They Is My Pronoun Blog: http://theyismypronoun.com/

Trans Student Educational Resources: www.transstudent.org

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