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Do Pronouns Really Matter?

Do Pronouns Really Matter?

He. She. His and hers. They, them, their.

Personal pronouns are what we use to address others when we’re not calling them by name. They don’t have a gender, they replace nouns. Many cisgender people whose gender identity matches their assigned sex and gender at birth don’t understand the importance of pronouns. But for folks who are nonbinary, gender nonconforming or transgender, using the correct pronoun is an affirmation of their gender identity and an essential step in creating safe spaces – including in health care settings – where they feel respected and seen for who they are.

Gender identity is how a person perceives themself as female, male, a combination of both or neither. Someone’s gender identity is not always the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. It’s an internal sense of oneself, so it’s not a visible characteristic you can determine by someone’s appearance.

Gender identity is about a whole lot more than pronouns. But pronouns are important. And it matters when someone gets them wrong.

At LCMC Health, we practice health care with heart. One way we do that is by trying hard to treat everyone the way they want to be treated. And that includes respecting their gender identity.

What is Misgendering?

Misgendering is when language used to refer to a person doesn’t line up with their affirmed gender. It’s often unintentional, like when assumptions are made about a person’s gender based on characteristics such as facial hair or the sound of their voice. But misgendering can also be a deliberate act of bullying and harassment.

In either case, being misgendered can harm self-confidence, damage mental health, and affect one’s sense of self. Misgendering someone sends the message that their identity is not important.

Just Ask

When we first interact with someone, we tend to make assumptions about their gender based on their appearance and assign them the gender we assume them to be. It’s human nature. And that’s why it’s important to make sure. Don’t guess, even if you think you know how someone identifies. Just ask them about their pronouns from the start. Try to project an air of respect, acceptance, and inclusion.

Also, make it a habit to share your own pronouns during introductions. You don’t have to explain your entire personal history at the first meeting. A simple “Hi, I’m John and my pronouns are he, him and his” won’t take longer to say than the average handshake lasts. And it can also go a long way in making someone else feel comfortable enough to share their pronouns.

If you’re unsure what pronouns someone uses and they don’t feel comfortable sharing them with you, use the neutral they, them, theirs as a default until you’re told otherwise. Or skip pronouns altogether and call them by name.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Even small changes in language that make it more inclusive can have a big impact on someone’s life. Avoid gendered language such as sir, ma’am or ladies and gentlemen. Practice using gender-neutral terms instead. For example, rather than saying, “Hi ladies,” at your next Sunday brunch try, “Hi everyone.” Or let out your Southern side with a “Hey y’all” that ignores gender altogether.

Other words that don’t assume gender include friends, colleagues, guests, and students.

Educate Yourself

Make an effort to learn more about the varied aspects of gender identity. Here are some resources to help get you started:

  • Learn why using the correct pronouns is essential and how it shows respect and fosters an inclusive environment at

Apologize and Move On

Even when people try their best to be respectful of gender identity, mistakes are bound do happen. An honest mistake is only a big deal if you make it one by overreacting. If you happen to make a mistake of this nature, simply correct yourself, apologize, and move on. Overapologizing isn’t good for anyone – it makes the situation about you and your feelings, and likely just makes the person you’ve misgendered more uncomfortable.

When you’re not sure how to react, the Platinum Rule is an excellent place to start. Unlike the Golden Rule that says, “Treat others how you want to be treated,” the Platinum Rule shifts the focus and advises you to “Treat others how they want to be treated.” The difference can be life-changing.