October 19 is International Pronouns Day, with a purpose to make respecting, sharing and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. This awareness day began in 2018—and falls on the third Wednesday of October every year. The aim is to transform society to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities.
What Are Pronouns Again?
If you are only vaguely familiar with this topic, you’re not alone. You might be wondering what, exactly, we mean when we refer to pronouns.
Pronouns are the parts of speech we use to describe a person. For example, in English, the pronouns we typically use (he/him/his and she/her/hers) assume that people either identify as a man or as a woman. This assumption leaves us without options to refer to folks with gender identities that exist outside the man/woman binary.
Sex v. Gender v. Gender Identity
To understand why learning about pronouns is so important, it is helpful to differentiate between sex, gender, and gender identity (according to the World Health Organization):
- Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons, such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs.
- Gender refers to socially constructed characteristics of women, men, girls and boys, including norms, behaviors and roles associated with each.
- Gender identity refers to a person’s internal and individual experience of gender.
A person’s gender identity might differ from their designated sex at birth. Gender-neutral English-language pronouns (i.e. they/them/theirs) acknowledge there are many different gender identities, including:
- Nonbinary – This describes someone whose gender identity is neither exclusively man nor woman (and instead, their gender identity might fall on a spectrum).
- Transgender – This describes someone who does not identify with their sex assigned at birth.
- Gender fluid – This describes someone whose gender identity shifts and changes over time.
Why Pronouns Matter
“When we assume someone’s pronouns instead of asking them how they identify, we can make them feel embarrassed and disrespected,” says Krishna Pattisapu, PhD, (they/them/theirs), FRCC’s executive director of equity and inclusion. “This causes harm and fractures relationships, even if we do so unintentionally.
“Confirming someone’s pronouns lets them know that you accept their identity. It is a sign of respect. Asking which pronouns people use helps us to create more inclusive teams and communities.”
Making All People Feel Welcome
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 1.6% of all U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary. About 5.1% of adults 18 to 29 years old are transgender or nonbinary.
“As visibility of LGBTQ+ identity increases and more people come out as nonbinary and/or transgender, it is important that colleges are proactive in creating environments that are inclusive and respectful of people’s identities and the pronouns they use,” says Krishna.
“The failure to do so can contribute to the feelings of isolation and erasure that many nonbinary and transgender folks feel.” According to The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), this kind of isolation can result in mental health challenges.
Embedding the practice of asking people to share their pronouns is a helpful way to ensure that we support our FRCC community in all spaces. When you introduce yourself, it’s as simple as saying, “Hi, I’m [your name]. My pronouns are [your pronouns]. What are yours?”
According to Krishna, “When we take the time to ask people in our lives about which pronouns they use—rather than making assumptions—we show them that we respect and value them for all of the parts of themselves that they bring to the table.
“We must make sure that we embed this practice in all parts of our FRCC community to ensure that folks feel welcome, validated and respected in all ways.”
FRCC art program student Leo Pryor (he/him, they/them) identifies as nonbinary and a trans man. Leo says sharing his pronouns makes him feel comfortable.
“When I came out as transgender a few years ago, it took a while to transition mentally,” he says. “I’m just starting to feel more like myself, and sharing my pronouns makes me feel better about who I am.”
Leo also works for FRCC Student Life and says that Front Range is a welcoming environment for all students. He wants to remind others who might be coming out or transitioning that sharing personal pronouns is a valid request.
“It doesn’t matter what stage you’re in—if you feel comfortable sharing your pronouns, you should,” he says. “Nobody should have to be a certain way to fit the norms that society has set for people who don’t identify with their biological sex.”
Where to Start
International Pronouns Day has some great resources on how to participate in the campaign.
As for starting to embrace gender-neutral pronouns with people you know at work, school or elsewhere, here are a few tips:
- Share your pronouns first. This lets others know you’re comfortable and might encourage them to open up as well. It creates that culture of understanding and acceptance.
- Don’t be afraid to ask! Not everyone wants to share their pronouns, but it’s definitely fine to ask if you don’t want to make assumptions.
- Reframe the way you communicate. Greetings such as, “Hey guys,” can easily be change to, “Hi everyone.” An adjustment like this is a simple way to make others feel safe and included.
- Educate yourself. The topic of gender identity and personal pronouns is new or unfamiliar to many. It’s okay to feel a little unclear! Luckily, there are many valuable resources out there to help you learn. Here’s a good starting place.
We encourage you to celebrate International Pronouns Day today—and to support the nonbinary and transgender people in your life every day by always making the effort to ask about pronouns and avoid making assumptions.
Welcoming. Respectful. Inclusive. Together, we are FRCC.