FAQs on Pronoun use
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are pronouns?
Pronouns are the shorthand words we use to refer to someone without explicitly calling them by their name.
- “Jordan noticed the beautiful weather, so she took her bicycle to work today.”
- “Since Amit’s final exams were over, they decided to stop by their favorite bakery to celebrate.”
It is not necessary to use pronouns as you can always refer to someone by name or profession (ex: “Coach” or “Professor”). In fact, assuming which pronouns someone uses may be inaccurate and harmful when considering pronouns often imply gender identity. Pronouns can be masculine (he, him and his), feminine (she, her and hers), or gender neutral (they, them and theirs, among others).
While the use of gender neutral pronouns is increasing in the United States1, the Merriam-Webster dictionary reports that the singular they/them/theirs has been used since the early 1300s2. Although in no way exhaustive, you can find a list of commonly used pronouns below3.
- Why are pronouns important?
Just like our names, pronouns are extensions of our identities as human beings. Choosing not to use someone’s correct pronouns can be as insensitive and offensive as calling someone by the wrong name. Conversely, referring to someone by their correct name and pronouns demonstrates a respect for that person’s identity and wellbeing.
For individuals who are transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, or non-conforming, being referred to by the wrong name or pronouns can be more than just an annoying or embarrassing experience. In fact, affirming one’s identity through the use of an individual’s chosen name has been shown4 to reduce the risk of depression and suicidal behaviors in transgender youth.
- How do I know what pronouns someone uses?
The best way to learn someone’s pronouns is to ask them! One’s pronouns shouldn’t be assumed, may not match their gender expression, and may change over time. People may also choose to use a variety of pronouns. If you’d like to learn someone’s pronouns, you can lead by example and share your pronouns first during introductions. For example, you may say, “My name is Elijah. I use he/him/his pronouns.” This provides an invitation and creates space for others to share theirs. In a classroom setting or in a meeting, people can provide their pronouns as they go around the room and introduce themselves. Outside of the introduction setting, you can also simply ask, “What are your pronouns?” or “What pronouns do you use?”. With practice, this becomes routine. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns and would like to refer to them, it is best to call them by their name.
- Why are pronouns important across the medical campus and in patient care?
As members of the health care community, it is necessary that we educate ourselves about, respect and acknowledge the identities of our colleagues and the patients in our care. There is evidence that transgender and nonbinary medical students face barriers during their training, including witnessing stigmatizing and discriminatory care of transgender and nonbinary patients5. Transgender patients face multiple barriers in seeking medical care, including fear of discrimination6. Eliminating these barriers to care is necessary to address health disparities in this population7. In a national survey8, 50% of transgender individuals reported the need to educate their doctors on transgender healthcare. This is something that can be directly addressed and prevented by training the next generation of healthcare professionals9.
- What if I make a mistake?
Mistakes happen, and though it can be embarrassing to realize you’ve accidentally referred to someone using the wrong pronoun, it’s important to consider how embarrassing it can be to experience being misgendered, especially in a group setting.
If you realize that you’ve accidentally used the wrong pronouns when referring to or addressing someone, consider apologizing as you would if you had accidentally called someone by the wrong name. If you’ve been in this situation before, you’ve probably learned that it’s best to acknowledge the mistake and to move on as quickly and graciously as possible.
- What can I do to support and normalize asking for and using correct pronouns on the medical campus?
Consider wearing a pin, sticker or other item that shares your pronouns, which serves as a sign of support. Pronoun pins from DAC are available in the Yale School of Medicine DICE Office in the Sterling Hall of Medicine. Including your pronouns in your Zoom display name and/or in your email signature are also excellent ways to normalize the use of pronouns in everyday interactions. Yale University students can also set their pronouns in the Yale Student Information System. Instructions for doing so are available on the University Registrar’s Office website under Gender Policy and Use.
International pronoun visibility day is annually, on the third Wednesday of October.
For more information on pronouns and other LGBTQIA+ terminology, please reference the DAC’s LGBTQIA+ Glossary of Terms for Teaching in Health Care.
References (in order of appearance):
- Minkin, R. and Brown, A. “Rising shares of U.S. adults know someone who is transgender or goes by gender-neutral pronouns.” Pew Research Center, 27 July 2021, https://pewrsr.ch/2UReetq. Accessed 7 September 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/27/rising-shares-of-u-s-adults-know-someone-who-is-transgender-or-goes-by-gender-neutral-pronouns/
- “Singular They.” Merriam-Webster, Inc., September 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/singular-nonbinary-they. Accessed 7 September 2021.
- Foster, Haidn. “Gender Pronouns: A Provider’s Guide to Referring to Transgender Patients.” Pride in Practice, https://www.prideinpractice.org/articles/transgender-pronouns-guide/. Accessed 7 September 2021.
- Russell ST, et al. Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2018;63(4):503-505. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.04.016
- Dimant OE, et al. Experiences of Transgender and Gender Nonbinary Medical Students and Physicians. Transgend Health. 2019; 4.1. https://doi.org/10.1089/trgh.2019.0021
- Seelman KL, et al. Transgender Noninclusive Healthcare and Delaying Care Because of Fear: Connections to General Health and Mental Health Among Transgender Adults. Transgend Health. 2017;2(1):17-28. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/trgh.2016.0024
- Streed CG, et al. Self-Reported Physical and Mental Health of Gender Nonconforming Transgender Adults in the United States. LGBT Health. 2018;5(7) https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2017.0275
- Grant JM, et al. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Washington DC 2011 https://www.thetaskforce.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ntds_full.pdf
- “Patient-Centered Care for Transgender People: Recommended Practices for Health Care Settings.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 April 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/clinicians/transforming-health/health-care-providers/affirmative-care.html. Accessed 7 September 2021.