Why Inclusive Pronouns Matter
| 3 min read
Varsity athlete. Soccer mom. Senior adventurer. As our place in the world and how we see ourselves continues to evolve, perhaps no discussion about identity has been more far-reaching recently than the increased use of inclusive pronouns. How someone sees themselves – and how they want others to address them – has become an issue that has changed the way many of us speak and write about others, being careful to use the correct pronouns that best describe a person’s identity.
What are inclusive pronouns? Decades ago, when many people were taught how to use pronouns in school, they likely learned to use only two basic types of pronouns: she/her for a female and he/him for a male. The limits of the English language didn’t offer pronouns for people with other gender identities, like those who identified as transgender or nonbinary. These days, there are several more pronouns in common use. These are called inclusive pronouns. Inclusive pronouns – or gender neutral pronouns – do not associate a gender with the person they are referring to, according to the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Some examples of commonly used pronouns include:
Why are inclusive pronouns used? According to the GLADD organization, taking care to use a person’s preferred pronouns is just as important as learning to pronounce their name correctly. It conveys acceptance, inclusion and respect. When you use a person’s correct pronoun while talking to them, it’s a way to affirm their identity.
Inclusive pronouns have become more commonly used not only in conversation, but in places like news stories and people’s workplace signatures on emails and documents in recent years. This has increased as issues of equality for nonbinary and transgender people continue to be a social topic.
How many people are using inclusive pronouns? A rising number of people in the U.S. say they know someone who uses a gender-neutral pronoun to describe themselves, or is transgender, according to a Pew Research Center survey done last year. That survey found:
- 42% of Americans say they know someone who is transgender, up 5% from 2017
- 26% know someone who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun to describe themselves, up from 18% in 2018
- About 50% of those surveyed say they would be comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone else if asked to do so
- 53% of those surveyed who were younger than 30 say they know someone who is transgender, an increase from 44% in 2017
- The number of people in the 50-to-64 age bracket who say they know someone who is transgender has also increased
The survey found that across all age groups, there is an increase in the number of people who say they know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns to identify themselves.
Not sure which pronoun to use? With the increased attention on inclusive pronouns, it’s always a good idea to ask people what they prefer. A simple, “What pronouns do you use?” is a professional question in a work or school setting.
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