By Suzanne Charles-Watson
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Language is a powerful tool that helps us to connect with each other and to create communities of belonging, despite our various identities.
Gender identity is one way in which individuals choose to articulate their experience of gender and their current place on the gender spectrum. Gender identity is a personal and individual expression that can either be aligned with an individual’s sex and gender expectations assigned at birth, or not. Gender Identity is not static and can change at any time over the course of a person’s life.
Gender inclusive language is an important demonstration of respect for all individuals’ identities and a useful tool in creating inclusive, culturally welcoming, barrier-free environments. Click here for the QTip.
Gender pronouns – sometimes referred to as nonbinary pronouns, gender-neutral pronouns, gender inclusive pronouns or neopronouns – are an example of gender inclusive language and are indicative of how individuals choose to refer to themselves based on their current gender identity.
Individuals may choose to go by gender-specific pronouns such as she/her or he/him.
Alternatively, they may choose gender inclusive pronouns, which do not associate a specific gender with an individual, such as they, them, their, ze, sie, zie and hir.
If you find yourself unsure of someone’s pronouns, be attentive to how others refer to this person. If you are still unclear or concerned that people might be using the incorrect pronoun, politely and privately ask that person what pronoun they prefer to be used.
You can be more inclusive in the use of correct pronouns if you:
- Ask: You cannot tell someone’s name or pronoun just by looking at them
- Respect: If someone takes the time to let you know their name and pronoun use and respect it. It’s not up to you to decide someone else’s identity
- Practice: If you have difficulty using someone’s pronoun and name, practice. Ask co-workers, peers and friends to point out when you have made a mistake
In everyday work, you can start all meetings with everyone introducing themselves and stating their pronouns. All name tags and name plates can also have space to display one’s pronouns. Pronoun buttons can also be used to help answer the question everybody should be asking, instead of assuming someone’s identity. The buttons help us to be more inclusive and their use is an act of normalizing seeing everyone how they wish to be seen.
We all have the right to feel safe and to be validated. When someone is referred to with the wrong pronouns, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, and/or alienated. Moreover, in Canada the law recognizes that everyone has the right to self-identify their gender and that “misgendering” is a form of discrimination.
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