A Guide to Pronouns

The third International Pronouns Day was celebrated throughout the U.S. on October 21st, 2020. International Pronouns Day aims to normalize respecting, sharing, and spreading information about personal pronouns– it promotes the basic human decency that comes with referring to people by their pronouns. The truth that so many people that are against the idea of “personal pronouns” refuse to accept is that everyone has pronouns– they are not reserved strictly for those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. 

In recent years, there has been a rise in popularity in people sharing their pronouns across all platforms: in their instagram and twitter bios, on their zoom display names, and even in their email signatures. Like with every important move towards inclusivity, sharing personal pronouns has been questioned time and time again by people all over the internet: “Shouldn’t we just be able to tell someone’s pronouns by looking at them? Why does everyone have to announce their pronouns all over social media?”

This mindset perpetuates the idea that it is okay to assume someone’s pronouns based off of one’s perception of their gender– physical appearance is not an indicator of someone’s gender identity. People’s pronouns are never “obvious,” because perceiving someone as a certain gender based on their body, voice, or mannerisms plays into traditional and outdated roles of gender-conformity. Whether someone identifies with the pronouns he/him, she/her, they/them, or any variation of pronouns, the way that they introduce themselves is the only indicator of their gender. Nobody can be assumed to be a male or female because “they look like one;” gender is a spectrum, and identities range from person to person. 

Still, why are displaying personal pronouns online important? While many would argue that it is a trivial subject, sharing personal pronouns can have profound positive effects on the transgender and gender nonconforming communities. Those who are trans and gender non-conforming often include their pronouns on their social platforms to avoid being misgendered, while people who are cisgender don’t have the same fear because their pronouns are never invalidated or disrespected. When cisgender people share their pronouns, it works towards reducing the stigma associated with pronouns and helps stop the alienation of those in the trans community. Acknowledging the marginalization of others and making steps towards advocating for everyone, no matter their gender identity, is what displaying personal pronouns is all about– it is more than a trivial issue, or a partisan issue, or something new that Generation Z has found to be “sensitive about.” 


Members of the Zenerations community have provided their own opinions and experiences with why displaying pronouns is necessary.

When asked why education on pronouns and normalizing making them visible on social media platforms is important to them, Kat, who goes by they/them pronouns, expresses that,

“Essentially, the question is why not? What would be the reason not to?”

They go on to explain, “Most cisgender peoples answer to this question is becausue they are “obviously female” or “obviously male,” but this notion only reinforces cisheteronormativity and the belief that someone’s gender expression (how they dress/are outwardly perceived) defines their gender identity (how they identify in their mind.

Beyond that, if every cisgender person did not put their pronouns in their bio, email signature, etc. It would automatically “other” trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people who need to have their pronouns so people do not misgender them. Adding pronouns to zoom names is also incredibly important because it begins to erase the stigma against sharing pronouns and allows a trans person to avoid being misgendered and constantly being called by the wrong pronouns.” 

Trendy young ethnic man twisting hands in front of face

When asked, an anonymous responder who identifies with the pronouns she/they provides a more personal take on the topic. They write, “Growing up in a midwestern small town, I’ve been surrounded by people who haven’t had any education on the difference between sec and gender and most don’t understand what pronouns are. Recently, I’ve discovered my pronouns are she/they, which is a hard concept for even my closest friends to understand. I wish more of them were educated on pronouns, I’d feel a lot more safe and comfortable. I’ve been referred to as “it” by multiple of the peers at my school, and I can’t lie, it hurts a little. By choosing to go by she/they pronouns, I shouldn’t have to be mentally strong, I should just be normal.”

Another responder, Ray, who goes by he/him pronouns, simply states that, “To me it’s important so that I’m not outing myself as trans just for putting my pronouns in my bio. Everyone should.”

An ally to the trans and gender-nonconfoming community, Joshua, who goes by he/him, describes education on pronouns and the respectful use of gender pronouns as “A key element of creating a safe space for people of all gender identities.”


Ray, whose pronouns are they/them, wraps up pronouns perfectly.

They write: “Really, the pronoun debate boils down to this: language is fluid. Pronouns, what they mean to us and how we use them, are changing and that is hard for many people to understand and accept. The section question is easiest to answer, really. Why is it important for us to normalize asking for and displaying our pronouns? As more places become safe for trans people to exist, they need to become accommodating for trans people, as well. It’s not enough for our existence to be tolerated, because that’s not truly acceptance. For cisgendered people, it’s generally accepted to assume someone uses binary pronouns based on their appearance. However, for trans people being misgendered is, intentionally or not, an uncomfortable and oftentimes triggering experience. By normalizing asking or displaying pronouns, you are essentially showcasing that you are a trans-inclusive space. Not every trans person has the luxury of passing as their gender, and having others affirm their pronouns is helpful for creating an accommodating environment.

When cisgender people display their pronouns, it allows trans people to go by their pronouns without having a marker that they are trans. Rather than becoming an “other,” trans people feel welcomed. But why is education on pronouns important? Like I mentioned earlier, the way we understand pronouns is starting to change. As we become more free to explore the complexities of gender identity, more people are beginning to openly identify as something outside of the western men/women binary. Gender, and particularly pronouns, have become a means of expression. This is particularly relevant in neurodivergent spaces, where neo-pronouns are becoming very common. No longer are we limited to he/him or she/her pronouns, and many trans people identify with multiple sets of pronouns. But, most people outside of trans communities do not know or understand this. How can we change an idea that people are oblivious to? Education. It’s in part reliant on activism, you can’t expect other people to explain civil debates to you so a large part of the responsibility is on ourselves to make sure we’re doing our research to fully understand other people’s problems. Empathy is required.

In addition, using the correct pronouns is a matter of respect. We can’t control how other people perceive us, although we try to by putting pronouns in our bio and expressing ourselves how we see fit. But we can control how we treat others. To make a safer, more accommodating world for trans people, you need to start by respecting the struggles of trans people, even if it’s not something you can sympathize with. Trans people are no longer trying to fall into binary genders so they can “pass” in a pre-designated construct. We’re trying to create something entirely new. The world simply needs to keep up.”

When cisgender people display their pronouns, it allows trans people to go by their pronouns without having a marker that they are trans. Rather than becoming an “other,” trans people feel welcomed. But why is education on pronouns important? Like I mentioned earlier, the way we understand pronouns is starting to change. As we become more free to explore the complexities of gender identity, more people are beginning to openly identify as something outside of the western men/women binary. Gender, and particularly pronouns, have become a means of expression. This is particularly relevant in neurodivergent spaces, where neo-pronouns are becoming very common. No longer are we limited to he/him or she/her pronouns, and many trans people identify with multiple sets of pronouns. But, most people outside of trans communities do not know or understand this. How can we change an idea that people are oblivious to? Education. It’s in part reliant on activism, you can’t expect other people to explain civil debates to you so a large part of the responsibility is on ourselves to make sure we’re doing our research to fully understand other people’s problems. Empathy is required.

In addition, using the correct pronouns is a matter of respect. We can’t control how other people perceive us, although we try to by putting pronouns in our bio and expressing ourselves how we see fit. But we can control how we treat others. To make a safer, more accommodating world for trans people, you need to start by respecting the struggles of trans people, even if it’s not something you can sympathize with. Trans people are no longer trying to fall into binary genders so they can “pass” in a pre-designated construct. We’re trying to create something entirely new. The world simply needs to keep up.”

-Ray, they/them

Important things to remember when becoming acclimated with the topic of pronouns is that everyone is affected by gender and everyone wishes to be referred to by their pronouns. Even if you don’t necessarily care about your pronouns and don’t wish to display them all over your social media, it’s vital to make sure to use other people’s pronouns correctly because your lack of investment on the topic cannot dictate how others are treated. When having trouble remembering someone’s pronouns or simply not knowing them yet, a good rule of thumb is that the word “their” is universal. It can be applied to everyone, and is an important way to practice referring to people who’s pronouns have not been confirmed to you. In the event that you misgender someone, it is important to correct yourself and avoid becoming defensive: saying things like “how am I expected to know?” do not aid the situation and can sound like a way to make the person who has corrected you feel guilty about their pronouns. Equally as important as displaying your pronouns is to avoid pressuring others to share their pronouns; not everyone feels strongly connected to their pronouns and some people might prefer to strictly be referred to by their names. In events like these, it is important to not equate gender to identity, as a person’s pronouns do not define their gender identity. Advocating for education on personal pronouns should not have to come with forcing anyone to display things they are not comfortable with. 

Example of how one can contribute to making the display of personal pronouns commonplace.

So, how can you contribute to making the display of personal pronouns commonplace? Simple ways can be to put them in your bios on social media, in your display names for Zoom or Google Meets, and including them in your email signature. Making it a normal occurrence to familiarize yourselves with the pronouns of the people around you and making it a point to respect those pronouns not only affirms those around you but promotes awareness of trans and gender nonconforming communities. Visit https://pronounsday.org/# to get ready for International Pronouns Day on the 3rd Wednesday of 2021.


Dylan Follmer

Director of Editing, Writer

Dylan is a 16-year old junior at Bayonne High School, who displays multiple interests in politics, activism, writing, reading, and journalism. She is passionate about making changes in the world as a member of Generation Z, and strongly believes that the youth can influence and change the world in the best way possible.

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