Pronouns are a small set of words such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’ and ‘him’, ‘her’ that take the place of using a person’s name. For example, if you say “Joe saw Jill, and he waved at her”, the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘her’ take the place of ‘Joe’ and ‘Jill’, respectively.
In English, pronouns associate a person with a particular gender, eg, ‘he’ for males and ‘she’ for females (in te reo Māori all pronouns are gender neutral).
However, not everyone identifies as male or female, so using ‘he’ and ‘she’ can lead to false assumptions and mistakes. This can leave people being identified in the wrong way and result in them feeling excluded, misunderstood and potentially disrespected or demeaned.
Many trans and gender non-conforming people experience the repeated use of incorrect pronouns, which can be harmful to them. People who are gender neutral, non-binary or gender non-conforming may choose other pronouns such as ‘they’, ‘their’ and ‘them’.
Below are some tips for using pronouns.