Focus On: Pronouns 101
Pronouns are a first step in using respectful and inclusive language. That means introducing yourself using your pronouns and asking an interview source for theirs.
A pronoun is a word that’s used in place of a noun
They/them, she/her, he/him are all pronouns, and people may use one set or a combination when describing themselves. In case you were wondering, it is grammatically correct to use “they” as a singular pronoun.
For example: Naomi uses the pronouns they/them. They are a journalist. There are five other reporters who work with them in the newsroom.
When using gendered language to refer to someone’s past, continue using the pronouns that correspond with their present-day gender identity—unless an individual tells you otherwise.
For example: Naomi has always loved writing. As a child, they remember interviewing friends and creating newspapers using craft supplies.
The pronouns a person uses in conversation may be different from the pronouns they want to use in a story. Make sure you are clear on this. This is explored in greater detail on the Covering Trans and Non-Binary Communities page.
Use the right name and pronouns at all times—whatever a person says at the start of your conversation.
Use these pronouns to report on any period in a person’s life, past or present.
Normalize asking about pronouns for everyone you interview, regardless of their gender identity. You can do this by stating your pronouns when you introduce yourself.
Use and respect gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them and titles (Sir, Ms., Mx., etc.).
Characterize pronouns or names as “preferred”—unless that is the language a person uses themselves.
Assume someone’s pronouns based on their physical appearance or other outward attributes.
Make a big deal if you get someone’s pronouns wrong. Apologize and correct yourself the next time around.
Use gendered language like “guys” or “ladies” when characterizing a group of people. You can use words like “folks” or “people” instead.
Unnecessarily explain someone’s gender identity when using their pronouns. For example, “Naomi, who is gender non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them…”
Make a big deal if you meet someone with a set of pronouns you are not familiar with. You can ask them to clarify how they use their pronouns in a sentence and mirror this usage.
Be careful about the misuse of quotation marks, italicization, parentheses, or other qualifying punctuation—they often undermine the identity of the people involved.
For example: It’s correct to say: Lisa Smith, but incorrect to say: “Lisa” Smith or to say that a trans woman is a “woman.”
“If this stuff feels uncomfortable, let that be your driver and a signal that you’re doing good work. This discomfort is what it means to disrupt your learning and to create change. You are literally untangling something inside you and that’s going to be uncomfortable. Don’t let the overwhelm prevent you from doing some of these reflective pieces, check ins, or follow ups.”
- Ash McGhee (she/her), Manager, Education and Training at The 519
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