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Overwhelmed by Pronouns? Don't Be!

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Hello all. One of my passions is inclusive communication – speaking, writing, and visual representation – in a way that includes everyone. Communication are very important part of being inclusive of co-workers, our community and people we care about.

Often times we assume how people identify based on appearances (based on gender norms) but in reality, we can’t assume how someone identifies based on how they dress, their mannerisms, who they befriend, or what we perceive their identity to be based on any social norms.

Most people often confuse sex assigned at birth, gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. I was one of those people until I realized my sexual orientation are separate from my gender identity. That self-reflection and being curious is actually what helped me understand that I am a transman and pansexual (someone who is attracted to all genders or gender is not important for my attraction to others).

Sex assigned at birth is the sex the doctor labels someone based on physical appearance at birth (often based on genitals). There are three sexes: Male, Female and Intersex. Intersex is a general term used for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and or chromosomal information that doesn't fit the boxes of “female” or “male.” At the end of the day this is just a legal identification – I.e. often times the sex that is attached to someone legally via a birth certificate, social security record and other documents used as a form of ID.

Gender identity someone’s own personal sense of self. Often times people gender identity are binary – male or female. Gender can also be expansive (meaning it doesn’t have to fit into the binary categories). Some people feel that they don’t identify as male or female. Some people feel their gender is fluid and some for some people, they just don’t feel gender is important or feel that they don’t have a gender ID. Gender expression (also called gender presentation) is how someone chooses to show their gender identify. Often times, that means that person's behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender in a particular cultural context. Often times that focus on the binary (how masculine or feminine someone appears to be) and generally relates on gender stereotypes.

Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to (men, women, etc.) physically and/or emotionally. For example, gay, straight, bisexual etc. are sexual orientations. Men can be gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc. just as an example. It’s also not dependent on being cisgender (i.e. gender ID matches the person’s sex assigned at birth) or transgender (gender ID does not match sex assigned at birth). Transmen can be gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.

Often times people confuse these terms use them interchangeably. Practice and exposure to the community helps clarify these terms for most people. If you would like more information about sex, gender, and sexual orientation or would like to example your own identity, check out the gender unicorn.

Did you know there is 57 genders? Gender is on a spectrum. For some people, they don’t identify as a man or a woman or their gender is more fluid. Pronouns and addressing people is very important in terms of being inclusive. Assuming everyone is like us is often times a barrier to being inclusive and making people feel safe and valued. People often assume I am a cis gender person, go by male pronouns and am straight because of my appearance (I have a long beard and stocky build – very masculine appearance). My gender identity is male; however, I have many interests and behaviors that are not in alignment with the norm of what people assume are male. I don’t enjoy sports and I often talk with inflection in my voice (my voice goes up and down when I talk – largely because women are taught to speak in that fashion).

There are actually more than just they/them for gender neutral pronouns. Refer to this table for more gender neutral pronoun options/usage:

This list is not an all inclusive list. For more information about pronouns, check out this resource.

Hopefully that table of pronouns is helpful. Obviously, not one expects you to know this information or be able to use pronouns flawlessly. It takes practice and commitment to do better. If you would like to practice your pronouns, use this helpful website to help.

If you would like start being more gender inclusive, you can start introducing yourself with your pronouns today (regardless of how you think people identify based on appearances). It’s super easy:

“Hi, my name is Ari. I go by He/him/his. How about you?”

“I go by He/him/his. How would you like me to address you?”

You can also place your pronouns on your social media, on your business cards, on your TEAMS or Zoom call name, as well as any other platform to encourage others to do the same. It’s a sign for others within the LGBTQIA+ community that you are a person who understands that not everyone identifies as binary and that’s OK.

A lot of times, people are nervous about making a mistake. Let me ease you and tell you that you will make a mistake. It’s part of learning. I, as a trans people, have misgendered someone. The important thing is to take the correction, apologize, and commit to doing better and practice! Remember, binary thinking is learned and we can unlearn it if we want to through practice and consistency. If misgendering triggers someone – understand that it has probably happened before and it brings back various other experiences for that person. All we control is how we show up – choosing kindness vs. being defensive is always going to result in a more positive outcome.

In terms of being more gender inclusive, here is a table to help with more gender inclusive words to add to your day to day communications:

The word communicate is actually inclusive! Folks who are deaf, unable to speak, or hear communicate in different ways – sometimes using sign language, braille, writing, etc. All of these are forms of communication. Often times when we mean to say communication, we often say words like “speak” and “talk” or “hear” or “see” which do exclude folks who communicate in a different ways. Using the words "communicate" make all people feel included including those with disabilities.

I hope this short blog has helped you be more inclusive in your day to day communications with others. If you have any questions, feel free and reach out to me, Ari, at

More information, check these sources out:

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