FAQ about Pronouns & Trans People
In the workshops I’ve conducted on trans-inclusive language, the aspect of language that provokes the most questions is always pronouns. In this FAQ I’ve collected some of the most commonly asked questions in those spaces, along with additions from friends and colleagues. Feel free to suggest additional questions to be addressed, and I welcome feedback, especially from trans folks, on my answers.
This post contains a list of all the questions discussed in this FAQ; the actual answers are in 3 separate posts that you can reach via links below. Part 1 will introduce you to basic ideas pronouns and trans people. Part 2 addresses practical issues for implementing these principles. Part 3 focuses on more “advanced” questions concerning the linguistics of pronouns and related issues.
If you like this guide and want to read about other language issues related to trans people, please recommend it and subscribe to Trans Talk.
- Why are pronouns so important?
- Why are people asking me about my pronouns even though I’m not transgender?
- How do I know which pronoun to use for a transgender person?
- If someone tells me their pronouns are they/them, ze/hir, or another less common pronoun, do I have to call them that?
- What if it’s difficult?
- What if I just avoid pronouns completely when talking about trans or non-binary people?
- Is it insulting to ask someone for their pronouns? Won’t people feel like they’re being singled out?
- Is it like outing someone to ask for their pronouns?
- What if I don’t have the opportunity to ask someone about their pronouns?
- Is this about being “PC”? Why do you have the right to tell me how to talk?
- How do you actually go about asking people for their pronouns (while minimizing the chances someone might take offense)?
- What do I do if I make a mistake and use the wrong pronoun?
- How can I improve my pronoun accuracy?
- What if someone gives me more than one set of pronouns or asks for pronouns at different times?
- What should I do if I hear someone else misgender a trans person? Should I correct them?
- Is it appropriative for me, as a cis person, to advertise my pronouns?
- I’ve noticed that trans people don’t always ask me/one another/everyone for their pronouns.
- Isn’t it grammatically incorrect to use they to refer to one person?
- Is the rule against singular they really arbitrary? Don’t we need to keep a clear distinction between singular and plural pronouns?
- How realistic is it to think you can change the way people use pronouns?
- What’s going on with pronouns like ze and hir?
- Do I use the singular or plural form of the verb with singular they? (In other words, is it they are or they is?)
- What about themself versus themselves?
- What about you guys?
- Will gender pronouns ever be completely replaced by a gender-neutral alternative?
- Is it okay to refer to everyone as ‘they’?
- Why do people call them ‘she/her/hers pronouns’ instead of “female/feminine pronouns” and “he/him/his pronouns” instead of “male/masculine pronouns”?
- What can I do about titles like Ms. or Mr.?
- What’s wrong with the phrase “preferred pronoun”? What should I call them instead?
Thanks to those who added questions or gave feedback on this FAQ, including: Daniel Shor, Alex Mechanic, Kris Geda, Sameer ud Dowla Khan, Kyle Inselman, Scott Kiesling, and Rebecca Greene.