Pronouns Matter: An Ally’s Guide to Understanding and Supporting Trans*, Nonbinary, and Gender-Expansive Individuals

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Introduction to Pronouns and Allyship

If you have found yourself here, it indicates that you are interested in learning how to become a more effective ally to trans*, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals. This is a commendable pursuit! In this blog post, we will explore the crucial role of pronouns and their significance in our daily interactions. Without further ado, let us embark on this informative journey together.

The Significance of Pronouns in Gender Identity

Defining Pronouns

Pronouns are words that allow us to refer to individuals without mentioning their names explicitly. They are an integral part of our everyday conversations and encompass words such as “he,” “she,” and “they.” While they may appear to be minor components of our language, pronouns carry significant weight in conveying respect and recognition for people’s identities. By utilizing appropriate pronouns, we can demonstrate understanding and appreciation for the diverse experiences and backgrounds of those with whom we interact.

The Importance of Using Correct Pronouns

The appropriate use of pronouns is essential for demonstrating respect and validation toward an individual’s gender identity. By employing someone’s preferred pronouns, you are acknowledging their identity and providing them with a sense of dignity. Conversely, using incorrect pronouns can cause significant distress, even if the mistake is unintentional. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to remain cognizant of the pronouns we employ when speaking to or about others.

Pronouns as a Reflection of Gender Identity

Pronouns are intrinsically linked to a person’s gender identity, which is their internal perception of their own gender. This self-perception may not necessarily correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. Utilizing appropriate pronouns is among the most straightforward yet meaningful methods to acknowledge and reinforce an individual’s gender identity. As an ally, this supportive approach is precisely the kind of positive behaviour you want to exhibit.

Why Skipping Pronouns Isn’t an Option

Debunking Common Misconceptions about Pronoun Use

One might wonder, “Is it truly necessary to be attentive to pronouns? Can I simply avoid using them?” The response is unequivocally no. Pronouns constitute a fundamental aspect of our language, and attempting to sidestep their use could result in unclear or uncomfortable conversations. Furthermore, evading pronoun use does not demonstrate the respect and support that individuals merit, particularly concerning their gender identity.

The Value of Respecting People’s Pronouns

When you honour and utilize an individual’s preferred pronouns, you acknowledge their identity and afford them a sense of dignity. This seemingly small gesture is a potent means of expressing your support as an ally. In essence, it is a matter of basic courtesy. By making a conscious effort to use the appropriate pronouns, you exhibit empathy and comprehension, which can contribute significantly to establishing trust and nurturing positive relationships.

The Harm Caused by Using Incorrect Pronouns

Misgendering an individual by employing incorrect pronouns can have severe implications. It may cause the person to feel disrespected, invalidated, and unseen. Accumulated instances of such experiences can adversely affect one’s mental health, potentially resulting in anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. As an ally, you bear the responsibility of fostering a secure and inclusive environment for all. This crucial endeavour begins with the proper use of pronouns.

Embracing the Singular “They” in Language

Dismissing the Myth of “They” as Exclusively Plural

A prevalent argument against employing “they” as a singular pronoun asserts that it is strictly designated for plural reference. However, this assertion is inaccurate. The singular “they” has been an established component of the English language for centuries and is widely accepted in both informal and formal contexts. Notably, numerous esteemed dictionaries and style guides advocate its usage.

Historical Examples of Singular “They” Usage

The singular “they” boasts a lengthy and distinguished history within the English language. Renowned literary figures such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen have incorporated the singular “they” into their works. Even as far back as the 14th century, Chaucer employed it in “The Canterbury Tales.” Consequently, utilizing “they” to denote a singular individual is not a recent innovation—it has been a longstanding element of our linguistic tradition.

Linguistic Acceptance of Singular “They”

In recent times, various language authorities have formally acknowledged and supported the use of singular “they.” Institutions such as The Associated Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association all endorse its application as a gender-neutral pronoun. In a further testament to its acceptance, the American Dialect Society declared the singular “they” the Word of the Year in 2015. Rest assured, when using “they” to refer to an individual who prefers it or whose gender is unknown, you are in esteemed company.

APA Guidelines for Inclusive Pronoun Use

Overview of APA Guidelines

The American Psychological Association (APA) has developed guidelines for bias-free language to help writers and speakers communicate more inclusively. These guidelines aim to promote clarity, precision, and sensitivity when discussing topics related to gender, sexuality, race, and other aspects of identity. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your language respects and affirms the diverse experiences of the people around you.

Recommendations for Nonbinary and Gender-Neutral Pronouns

The APA guidelines serve as a valuable resource for avoiding language that might inadvertently perpetuate harmful stereotypes or reinforce biases. They encourage us to be more mindful of the words we choose and to consider how our language might impact others. By adhering to these guidelines, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone, regardless of their background or identity.

Addressing Pronouns in Scholarly Writing

Here are a few examples of how to apply the APA guidelines when it comes to pronoun usage:

  • Use people’s preferred pronouns, even if they don’t match their gender expression or appearance.
  • Avoid making assumptions about someone’s pronouns based on their name or appearance. When in doubt, ask!
  • Use gender-neutral language when referring to groups or individuals whose gender identities are unknown. For example, use “they” or “the person” instead of “he” or “she.”
  • Be mindful of using “he or she” as a default, as it excludes nonbinary and genderqueer individuals. Opt for “they” or other gender-neutral alternatives.

Introduction to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide

Background and Purpose of the Guide

GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide, currently in its 11th edition, aims to provide education and guidance on accurately and respectfully telling the stories of LGBTQ individuals, thus enhancing the quality of journalism.

The Guide is designed for journalists working in mainstream media outlets and content creators who wish to fairly and accurately portray LGBTQ individuals. While it is not an exhaustive glossary of language used within the LGBTQ community, nor a prescriptive guide for LGBTQ individuals, it offers valuable insights and recommendations. As there is no singular way to describe LGBTQ people, this Guide emphasizes the importance of asking individuals how they identify themselves and what pronouns they use, then reflecting those choices in media coverage.

For further information, additional resources, or potential interview sources, please contact GLAAD at

Key Notes on Pronoun Use in Media Coverage

  • Use the pronoun that a person asks you to use: Pronouns convey gender information, and it is important to respect the pronouns requested by individuals. For transgender and nonbinary individuals, social transition might involve adopting new pronouns to better reflect their true gender. If uncertain about which pronoun to use, inquire about the person’s pronouns. It is also acceptable to use the singular “they” when gender is unknown or unspecified. Please note that the terms “preferred pronouns” are no longer used, as they imply that pronouns are a preference rather than a fact.
  • Many nonbinary people use the singular “they” pronoun: Nonbinary individuals often adopt the singular “they” pronoun, which lacks gendered connotations. This pronoun is now recognized by leading style guides, including AP, APA, MLA, and Chicago, and is included in numerous dictionaries.
  • Some people may use both gendered pronouns and “they/them”: Individuals who use multiple pronouns might prefer consistent usage of one pronoun or interchangeable use of both. For example, “Jose is an excellent co-worker. He always turns in projects on deadline, and they also volunteer to organize the office holiday party every year.”
  • Neopronouns and honorifics: Some nonbinary individuals use neopronouns like “ze/zim” and “xe/xir,” either alone or in conjunction with “they/them.” Usage might vary depending on the situation and context. Gendered honorifics like Mr., Mrs., and Ms. can be replaced with the gender-neutral Mx. or omitted altogether at the individual’s request.

Exploring Nontraditional Pronouns

Introduction to Neopronouns

Nontraditional pronouns are gender-neutral pronouns that some people prefer to use instead of the more commonly known pronouns like “he,” “she,” or “they.” These pronouns provide an alternative for individuals who don’t feel that the traditional pronouns accurately represent their gender identity. Some examples of nontraditional pronouns include “ze,” “hir,” “xe,” “xem,” “ey,” and “em.”

Examples of Neopronouns

People may choose to use nontraditional pronouns for various reasons. For some, it’s a way to assert their identity outside the binary framework of “male” and “female.” For others, these pronouns provide a more accurate reflection of their gender identity or expression. In any case, using someone’s preferred nontraditional pronouns is an essential way to show respect and support their identity.

Respecting and Using Neopronouns

Here are a few examples of nontraditional pronouns and how to use them:

  1. Ze/hir/hirs: Ze is laughing. I like hir shirt. That book is hirs.
  2. Xe/xem/xyr: Xe is studying. I borrowed xem pen. The cat is xyr.
  3. Ey/em/eir: Ey is cooking. Can you give em a message? This is eir hat.

To ensure you’re using someone’s preferred nontraditional pronouns correctly, it’s best to ask them directly or consult a pronoun usage guide. Remember, making an effort to use someone’s preferred pronouns is a powerful way to show your support as an ally.

The Impact of Gender-Affirming Behavior on Mental Health

The Importance of Identified Pronouns in Mental Well-Being

Unfortunately, gender-diverse individuals—particularly trans*, nonbinary, and gender-expansive youth—face a heightened risk of suicide compared to their cisgender peers. Studies have shown that these individuals are more likely to experience mental health challenges, social isolation, and discrimination, which can contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The Connection between Gender-Affirming Behavior and Suicide Rates

Using someone’s identified pronouns is a simple yet impactful way to affirm and validate their gender identity. This seemingly small act can have profound effects on a person’s mental health and well-being. Research has shown that when gender-diverse individuals are consistently referred to by their correct pronouns, they experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

The Role of Allies in Supporting Gender-Diverse Individuals

Gender-affirming behaviour, such as using someone’s identified pronouns and respecting their chosen name, can play a significant role in reducing suicide rates among gender-diverse individuals. By creating an environment where people feel seen, respected, and supported, we can help to alleviate some of the mental health challenges they face. Additionally, promoting inclusive policies, raising awareness, and providing access to mental health resources can further contribute to the well-being of gender-diverse individuals.

Conclusion: Embracing Pronouns for Inclusivity and Allyship

Reiterating the Importance of Pronoun Usage and Understanding

As we’ve seen throughout this blog post, pronoun usage is an essential aspect of respecting and supporting trans*, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals. By taking the time to learn about pronouns and make an effort to use them correctly, you’re demonstrating your commitment to being a thoughtful and compassionate ally.

Encouraging Readers to Become Better Allies to Trans*, Nonbinary, and Gender-Expansive Individuals

Being an ally is about more than just using the right pronouns—it’s about standing up against discrimination, advocating for inclusivity, and listening to the voices of those who are often marginalized. So, keep learning, stay curious, and always strive to be the best ally you can be.

Resources for Continued Learning and Support

If you’re interested in deepening your understanding of gender diversity and allyship, here are some resources to explore:

  • National Center for Transgender Equality:
  • Gender Spectrum:
  • GLAAD:
  • The Trevor Project:
  • Rainbow Health Ontario | Education and Training:
  • Trans Care BC | Gender Inclusive Language:
  • Clayre Sessoms Psychotherapy | Transgender Glossary:

Remember, change starts with each one of us, and together, we can make the world a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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