By Abby Jeffers
Wednesday, October 16, 2019, marks the second International Pronouns Day, a movement that aims to “make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace” in an effort to celebrate individuals’ identities and the ways in which people present themselves.
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International Pronouns Day (Pronouns Day) is held on the third Wednesday of every October and began in 2018. The movement is volunteer-run and was founded by Shige Sakurai, who uses They/Them/Theirs pronouns and was the first person in the United States to receive an official nonbinary driver’s license, which uses an “X” instead of an “M” or “F” gender marker. They are also an active social justice leader for trans and nonbinary individuals and for people of color, especially in higher education, as well as the author of the MyPronouns.org website.
The Pronouns Day movement focuses on the English language, which has several sets of personal pronouns, most commonly “She/Her/Hers,” the feminine gendered pronoun, “He/Him/His,” the masculine gendered pronoun, and “They/Them/Theirs,” a gender-neutral pronoun. The singular, gender-neutral use of “They” was only recently added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in September 2019.
But there are more than just those three sets of pronouns. There are more – including “Ze,” “Xe” and “Ae,” among others. The University of Wisconsin provides helpful information and graphics with more pronouns and how to use them:
It’s important to use the correct pronouns when referring to a person, especially a transgender or nonbinary person, because some pronouns (usually “She” and “He”) have a gendered implication and using them involves assumptions about a person’s identity based solely on their appearance and how well they fit into society’s binary ideas of “man” and “woman.” Using the wrong pronouns can be harmful and offensive and can send the message that the user does not respect or believe in a person’s identity.
“Trans and gender nonconforming people, especially Black folks and those perceived to be feminine, are often harmed by many forms of interpersonal and systemic violence. An action as small as respecting names and pronouns can begin a conversation about justice and about creating the workplaces, educational environments, and communities where we all thrive,” said Sakurai. “For me, it’s a spiritual undertaking, and it’s about wellbeing. We have to end assumptions and erasure and the harm they create.”
If you’re not sure what pronouns a person uses, one option is to share your own when introducing yourself and ask them what pronouns they use – though you may indicate that you aren’t trying to force them to share their pronouns if they’re uncomfortable. Even if you are cisgender (your gender identity lines up with your sex assigned at birth), sharing your pronouns can help normalize the process and make it easier for trans* and nonbinary people to share their own when they feel safe to do so.
And if you or someone else accidentally mispronouns someone, don’t panic – there are several ways to respond, but the important thing to remember is not to focus the situation on you and your own guilt. Instead, you can apologize and correct yourself.
To participate in International Pronouns Day in other ways, the organization recommends (among other things) posting your own pronouns on social media, using the hashtag #PronounsDay to spread awareness, asking people around you what their pronouns are, making sure pronouns are a topic at meetings, running workshops or investigating and campaigning for better practices surrounding pronouns within your own organizations.
Ohio University, for example, adopted a preferred name and pronoun policy in 2015 that allows students to add their preferred name and pronouns to their online Student Center. This name is used for anything that does not require a legal name, and faculty and staff are expected to use that name and pronouns.
But there are dozens of other ways to get involved. For more information, register to participate this year and in future years on the International Pronouns Day website.
We endorse International Pronouns Day, which seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities. We encourage colleges, schools, workplaces, and local organizations to hold educational and empowering events on International Pronouns Day.