Tips for Using Gender Neutral Pronouns
You cannot know someone’s gender just by looking at them. Gender is a societal construct. Gender stereotypes also have been created by society as a way to make sense of and categorize the world around us.
Somewhere along the way in society, it was decided what defines “man” and “woman” and our brains have been wired to not only conform to this in the way we present ourselves but also by how our brain perceives others: we see makeup, long hair, “feminine clothes” and our brain registers “female” whether we are actively thinking about it or not. This is not surprising considering the word has defined gender for us the second we come out of the womb with blue clothes for boys and pink for girls, “feminine” or “masculine” names then even as toddlers we either go to the “boy” section or “girl” section to look at clothing or toys.
What to know about gender:
- One does not have to be feminine in order to be female and one does not have to be masculine in order to be male.
- Gender is a spectrum, and many people fall in the middle of the binary
- Body parts do not determine gender
How to increase gender-affirming behavior:
- Introduce yourself by saying not only your name but pronouns
- Ask people their pronouns along with their name
- Do not assume one’s gender based off of gender presentation
- Do not assume one’s gender based off the pitch of their voice
- Use gender neutral pronouns (they) or eliminate them all together (i.e “the barista” instead of “she”)
Frequently, we feel as though we need to know someone’s gender. Why is this? Do we need to know someone’s gender in order to know how we should treat them?
One of the most helpful things you can do is rewire your brain. I invite you to stop seeing gender and instead, see people. Unless someone has told you their pronouns or how they identify, eliminate “he” and “she” all together. When you are out in public and you are referring to the barista, the server, the police officer, or any other random stranger, try to eliminate pronouns or use “they/them”. It’s also helpful to be mindful of just using gender neutral nouns:
- Server instead of waitress
- Police officer instead of policeman
- Humankind instead of mankind
- That person instead of that girl
Remember, we do not know someone’s gender by looking at them! You can take it a step further by teaching your brain to undo its attachment to gender stereotypes: As you walk through this world, catch yourself every time you see long hair and want to say, “that girl over there” or “ma’am” or when you hear a deep voice and want to refer to them as “sir” or “that man/boy”. Slowly, your brain will undo what it has been taught. Your brain is operating on gender stereotypes unconsciously, but this we can undo!
Undoing gender stereotypes is liberating for cisgender people and transgender people alike. Note that many cisgender people do not like the expectations or gender roles that come with gender assignments stereotypes!