Personal pronouns are sets of words that are used to refer to an individual without using a name.
They are “personal” because they are referring to a unique individual. Pronouns are distinct from labels, titles, or honorifics (e.g., Dr., Mr., Mx.). Examples of pronouns include:
|Name as a pronoun|
Use the individual’s name to refer to them, for example:
|Multiple sets of pronouns|
Why are pronouns significant?
Correctly using someone’s pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for them as a person. Because of the cultural dimensions of gender, when someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric or, often, all of the above. For trans and gender non-conforming folks, these accumulated experiences lead to significant negative mental health outcomes, including higher rates of depression and suicide (The Trevor Project, 2021; McLemore, 2018). Transphobia manifests in a multitude of ways outside of misgendering, but respecting pronouns is one tangible, life-saving, and life-affirming act of support.
Why do we share pronouns?
When we share our pronouns, we name the correct pronouns to use for us. When we share our pronouns and ask for others’, we demonstrate respect and contribute to inclusivity. Together, we help counteract harmful assumptions within ourselves that gender looks or acts in specific ways.
Frequently asked questions
Neopronouns are pronouns that are constantly being generated, typically for use within trans, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary communities. Neo means new; thus, a specific set of neopronouns may be more recent, however, the practice of developing or adapting pronouns to best fit gender experiences is centuries old. Generally, neopronouns are pronouns beyond she/he/they pronouns.
Examples of neopronouns
- Ze/hir: Ze (zee); Hir (here); Hirs (heres); Hirself (here-self)
- Ze/zir: Ze (zee); Zir (zeer); Zirs (zeers); Zirself (zeer-self)
- Xe/xem: Xe (zee); Xem (zeer); Xyrs (zeers); Xyrself (zeer-self)
- Ey/em: Ey (aye); Em (em); Eirs (airs); Eirself (air-self)
- Fae/faer: Fae (faye); Faer (fair); Faers (fairs); Faerself (fair-self)
Mistakes happen. We are human. If you use the wrong pronoun, acknowledge the mistake, correct it, and then move on. For example, “I saw Jaq at the store the other day and he - sorry, they - said they need help moving out of their apartment.” The best apology is changed behavior. Hold yourself, and others, accountable to respecting pronouns and learning from mistakes.
We recommend that you sit with your confusion and analyze why it’s occurring. Does this person defy your expectations about gender gender expression? Are you only comfortable with using the correct pronouns for transgender people you can fully understand the identity of? The answer may surprise you, and it's possible there may be work to do to unpack, unlearn, and relearn gender socialization. To engage in some learning, listen to Alok Vaid-Menon’s message of holding compassion over comprehension. We might not understand someone’s identity, life experiences, or pronouns, and we might not be fully educated on all things gender. Yet, this does not give us license to be disrespectful. When we respect people’s pronouns, we honor that each person knows themself better than anyone else.
- Spend some time exploring Google to educate yourself on pronouns and their significance to trans communities. Podcasts, Instagram, and TikTok can be fantastic resources for continued learning!
- Sign up for or request a Spectrum Center Pronouns 101 workshop! In this workshop, you will have opportunities to practice gender neutral pronouns, learn bystander intervention skills, and receive thoughtful answers to your questions.
- Dedicate time to practicing gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them or ze/zir. You can invite a friend to coffee to practice or you can practice online using the following resources: www.practicewithpronouns.com and https://www.minus18.org.au/pronouns/.
- Additionally, if you are not sure what to do about a specific instance or if you need assistance with a student request, please contact us and we would be happy to help provide suggestions.
Pronoun go-rounds have become more commonplace in recent years. Asking and sharing pronouns can increase inclusivity, however they are not without their shortcomings. Here are some suggestions when it comes to groups sharing pronouns:
- Make it optional. We do not recommend ever forcing people to share their pronouns. Examples include:
- “We will go around and share our names and pronouns, if you are comfortable.”
- “Please share how you would like to be referred to as.”
- Model sharing pronouns and follow with, “please introduce yourself however you feel comfortable."
- Note: if you are cisgender and you feel discomfort around sharing your pronouns, we encourage you to examine this feeling and consider your privilege in having your pronouns correctly assumed most of the time.
- Consider if you actually will be using folks’ pronouns. If you are not going to refer to folks in the third person, you do not need to know their pronouns.
- Gauge how safe and inclusive it might be to ask about pronouns.
- Recognize that some people might not share their pronouns for safety reasons, or because they are still questioning and do not have an answer to the question “what are your pronouns?”
- In some instances, parents might be around when pronoun go-rounds occur, such as during virtual orientation.
- Consider the following protocol for this scenario:
- Have advisors introduce themselves with their names and pronouns. Additionally, advisors should express that introducing pronouns is a common practice at U-M.
- For example, "Hi everyone, my name is Tess and my pronouns are she/they. As a heads up, at U-M, it is a common practice to introduce yourself with your pronouns. We value our students and we value addressing our students properly." Then, as students will introduce themselves, you can consider saying "Please introduce yourself however you feel comfortable."
- With these practices, our goal is to normalize sharing pronouns, and looping students into this common U-M practice, while also not explicitly asking students to share their pronouns.
- Connect with us! Visit the Spectrum Center, attend our events, check out our support offerings, or even make an appointment with a staff member! We are all more than happy to talk with you about what you’re feeling.
- Experiment with using new sets of pronouns with close friends or a community where you feel comfortable.
- Explore gender expression, by playing around with clothes, makeup, hair, etc.
- Connect with a gender-affirming therapist who can hold space for you as you navigate these questions.
- Know that no one can tell you what your identity is. Do not approach conversations looking for a definite answer or for someone else to put a label on you. Instead, use others as sounding boards and means of exploring your feelings further.
- Accept that discovering who you are may take time, and usually is a life-long process! Have patience and compassion with yourself, and know that the LGBTQIA2S+ community is here to support you.
Designated personal pronouns are pronouns an individual chooses within Wolverine Access. These are the gender affirming pronouns others use when talking to or about that individual. We encourage all U-M students and professors to utilize this inclusive tool. If you or someone else is looking to change their designated personal pronouns, check out this page for more information on how to do that.
- Register your department/group for a free 2-hour Pronouns 101 workshop hosted by the Spectrum Center.
- Occasionally, Spectrum Center hosts public Pronouns 101 sessions. These can can be found on Happening @ Michigan.
- MyPronouns.org includes tips on how to ask and share pronouns.
- To practice the use of pronouns, please go to www.practicewithpronouns.com
- Review this pronouns resource list for faculty and staff developed by the Spectrum Center.
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