What are pronouns? Where do we use them? Why are pronouns important? Here the LGBTQ Staff Forum have provided a useful guide which answers these frequently asked questions and more!

What are pronouns?

Pronouns are used to refer to people in place of their name. People’s pronouns should not be  
assumed based on their appearance or their gender identity.

The best approach is to ask, “what are your pronouns?” and then use those pronouns to refer to that person. Using the correct pronouns for someone is validating and a minimum signal of respect.

Where do we use pronouns?

It is important to ask everyone what their pronouns are to not create environments where only trans, nonbinary, and/or intersex people are expected to share their pronouns; asking only people you perceive to be members of these communities can mark them as “other.”

The University of Essex encourages all staff and students to put their pronouns in their email signature with a link to this guide:

Pronouns: they/them/theirs [you would insert your pronouns here]
Find out more about pronouns

There is also Zoom feature which allows you to update your pronouns in your user profile rather than adding them to your Display Name

Examples of pronouns in use

Some pronouns in English are “she/her/hers,” “they/them/theirs,” “ze/zir/zirs” and “he/him/his.” Some examples follow: 

  1. She likes to read books about queer theory
  2. Ze is an excellent professor, and I always attend zir academic support hours.
  3. To celebrate their birthday, they bought themself a new book about inter-sectional feminism.

While some of these may not be familiar to you, they are all linguistically valid. The singular use of “they” was the Linguistic Society of America’s word of the decade in 2020. 

Some useful terminology

Useful concepts 

  • Gender identity is how each of us understands our own gender
  • Assigned gender is a categorisation at birth based mostly on genitalia (this is generally binary in Western cultures, e.g. “male” or “female”)
  • “Sex” is a combination of physical characteristics, including chromosomes, external genitalia, and hormones
  • Gender identity is not assigned gender.

Useful terms

  • Some people’s gender identity does not match their assigned gender (transgender, trans)

  • People whose gender identity does match their assigned gender are cisgender or cis

  • Some people are born with sex traits which differ from “expected” binary male and female physical characteristics (intersex)

  • Some people identify with a gender identity outside the binary (nonbinary, genderqueer), some do not identify with any gender (agender), and others identify with multiple genders (bigender, genderfluid)

  • All gender identities are valid

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Contact us
If you have any queries regarding this guide, please contact the LGBTQ+ Staff Forum chair Libby Johnson.