Felix Moise
Apr 2, 2023

International Transgender Day of Visibility: why pronouns matter

Eleven ways you can make trans and gender non-conforming people feel more included.

Felix Moise (they/them): a diversity, equity and inclusion education specialist at Group M UK
Felix Moise (they/them): a diversity, equity and inclusion education specialist at Group M UK

“What if I am non-binary?” That was it. That was my “coming out” to my friends. Of course, this is an oversimplification, with me ignoring the years of reading, reflection, conversations and the lifetime of profound discomfort and sense of being “out of place”. 

I am (so) fortunate. I have been and still am surrounded by people that cherish and value me exactly how I am and who have gone out of their way to validate my experiences and protect me from harm. Me being trans was no big deal – “it makes so much sense”. Many trans people never experience such love and kindness. 

So, if I get so much care, why are trans and gender non-conforming people and I so pressed about pronouns? 

Whenever someone doesn’t use the right pronouns for me, whether it’s because they’ve just met me and are relying on what they think my gender is or because they aren’t used to deviating from the he/she binary, it hasn’t usually felt malicious. It’s simply felt incorrect, like a short circuit in my brain, as if someone were to have called me by a different name. Imagine, for a moment, that someone would use the wrong pronouns and gender for you. How does that feel to you? Not right? Cool. It is the same for me. 

The reality is that, for the majority of people, the most interaction they will have with another trans, intersex or gender non-conforming person is talking about or, if they’re fortunate enough, talking to us. So, for most people, the only way to validate and respect our identity is in how they speak to, and about, us. When you don’t speak to, or of, us in the right way, you negate our experiences. 

In essence, using people’s pronouns is a simple and concrete way to acknowledge and validate them and show basic respect. For people who work in marketing and advertising, this can be especially important. We interact with so many people on a daily basis and our work can reach and influence thousands. This visibility is incredibly valuable, and we should use it to further the inclusion of gender non-conforming people.

 

And I am not alone in feeling this way. Other people who work in the media and advertising space feel the same:

“My pronouns are she/they. I include ‘they’ as acknowledgement that I am non-binary but have grown up with ‘she’, which I'm used to and fine with. Generally, people stick with ‘she’ when referring to me but occasionally people will use ‘they’ and when they do I feel seen. I do however sometimes have people call me a girl and this upsets me because it feels like they're not allowing space for my masculine side. I don’t mind what you use to call me, but I do mind what box you put me into.”

India (she/they), producer 

“I was working at a store throughout uni to pay the bills, so my entire team was there at the beginning of my transition. I was casually having a conversation with my manager about being more comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns, and she was actually the first person ever to default entirely, without mistake or convincing on my part, to gender-neutral pronouns for me. And I’m, like, not a person that demands things out of others, really, so her doing that, it really felt like she was inviting me to feel more comfortable and to claim the space that I didn’t feel that I could claim for myself. That really gave me the push to use they/them pronouns across my life, my work, my creative practice. Her unequivocally believing in me, essentially, extending me that grace, that moment of allyship, was really impactful for me.”

Coda (they/them), community leader and artist

“My parents were really bad with using my pronouns for the longest time but eventually I sat them down and explained why it was important to me. Since then they’ve been extremely good about it and it’s made a world of difference in terms of me feeling loved and accepted by them – the first time my mom got my pronouns right, I nearly cried, it was such a deeply validating moment for me.”

Aendra (she/her, ze/hir), visual journalist

“I’ve been using the pronouns he/they for just over two years and as I ‘pass’ most of the time now I get called he a lot which is great but my ‘they’ pronouns tend to get missed. Not really by those that know me but by people at work for example, and this could be down to the fact that people are afraid to use them, are afraid to get them wrong or just don’t see it. (It’s worth mentioning that my pronouns are in my email signature and have been at my last few jobs.) I started a new job last week and during one of my check-in meetings with my MD, they asked what my preferred pronouns are as they had been using ‘he’ and ‘they’ but weren't sure which I used most. It’s the first time I've had an employer ask me and actually take interest in making sure I felt comfortable and seen. In that moment I felt safe, accepted and just so happy. It really is the bare minimum and such an easy question to ask but it still means so much when our pronouns are acknowledged.”

Colourist (who uses they/he pronouns) 

“I've not been out for long really so whether this feeling will last or not I don’t know, but when someone uses my pronouns, I honestly just feel all glowy and fuzzy. It also just means I feel like I can relax around that person and let me guard down a little. When it’s someone I know well, it’s a really nice reminder that they know me. Which feels lovely.”

Art director (who uses they/them pronouns)

“One time I was at Barburrito and someone asked for my pronouns while making my burrito. Also, one time I was on the train and there were two trans guys chatting about being transmasc, and they made a joke about it, and I laughed, then they started speaking to me and we talked about pronouns, and they said I passed well etc. I ended up getting their Instagrams, too.”

Ezra (they/them), advertising junior

“On my first day in the office, our head of insight asked me what my pronouns were, and I nearly cried I was so appreciative. I’ve never felt more welcome in a new role. In addition, I was worried about how conservative clients would react when I was introduced and I shouldn’t have been at all. Colleagues always get my pronouns right and it’s huge for me. Makes me certain they have my back in all situations.”

Izzy (she/her), strategy director

As you can see, such a small change can have a significant positive impact. So, as informally as I can, here is a simple guide to using pronouns:

1. Question your own gender

How do you know what your gender is? How do you define it? What pronouns do you use? What if someone used different pronouns to refer to you? How would that feel? 

2. Introduce your own pronouns

Wherever possible, introduce your own pronouns. It’s as simple as saying: “Hi, my name is X and I use y/z pronouns.” Add them to your email signature and to your badge or any name tag when you attend a workshop or event. Doing this not only makes the practice simple and casual, but it signals to trans and gender non-conforming people that it is safe for them to share as well. 

3. Ask for people’s pronouns

When in doubt, just ask. In fact, even when you’re sure: “What pronouns do you use?” Or, if you want to preface your intentions: “Hey, I just want to make sure that I refer to you properly. What pronouns do you use?” Simple, straightforward. 

4. Use people’s pronouns

Once you know what someone’s pronouns are, use them actively. Refer to them correctly when you’re talking to and about them. It’s particularly important to do this when they’re not present. Some people use multiple pronouns, like “she/they” or “any pronouns”. Use all of them interchangeably. 

5. Practice

Practice whenever you can. Talk to your family or friends about trans people you know about (including celebrities) and make a point of correcting yourself. 

6. Be flexible

Being trans is a profoundly individual experience, and people arrive at it in very different ways. Some might try out different names, different labels, and different pronouns. Some use neopronouns. Be welcoming of the change and encourage them to be open.

7. If all else fails, use their name

Getting used to something new can be difficult. If you’re finding it particularly challenging to use someone’s pronouns, use their name instead. 

8. Apologise for your mistakes

We’re not going to always get it right. I’m trans and I still mix up people’s pronouns. That, in itself, is not a tragedy, but don’t gloss over it. Apologise and correct yourself as soon as you can, and don’t make a big deal out of it. 

9. Correct others, especially when trans people are absent

Many trans people will not want to correct others because they’ll be singled out as being “troublesome”. Instead, use your privilege. It’s fine if you feel uncomfortable. But if you do, imagine how much more difficult it would be for a trans person to speak up. Do it for them. 

10. Don’t withhold your allyship

If you want to be an active ally to trans people, then you have to respect every trans person. We’re not going to like every trans person that we meet, and that’s totally fine. However, that doesn’t give you license to use incorrect pronouns for them. 

11. Encourage others to do the same

If you’ve read through this list, you can see that, in practice, it’s pretty simple. Encourage other people to do it as well. Use your commitment to this form of allyship to be a role model. The more this becomes commonplace, the easier it’s going to be for everyone to feel welcome and respected, especially trans people. 

There we go. I hope that this list helps makes it easier to take up using people’s pronouns. It is my sincere wish that this welcomes more trans people into your life. Every trans person that I have spoken to or befriended has brought such joy and wisdom, and they’ve transformed the spaces around me into better, more welcoming ones. I can only hope the same for you.


Felix Moise (they/them) is a diversity, equity and inclusion education specialist at Group M UK, and a member of Outvertising, the UK marketing and advertising industry’s LGBTQIA+ advocacy group

 

 

Source:
Campaign US

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