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Why Pronouns Matter

Equitas Health Institute logoHave you ever felt like you didn’t matter? Like you had to hide something important about yourself to keep a job? To receive needed medical care? To stay safe? Has a loved one or a healthcare provider ever refused to call you by the name that you have told them is yours? Have they persistently referred to you with the wrong personal pronouns? For many transgender, non-binary, and gender-variant folks, experiences like these are commonplace.

But why does this matter? Why is it such a big deal to a trans person when someone identifies them with the wrong gender, also known as misgendering?

Many trans people navigate relentless minority stress, brought on by environments that deny, discount, and distort their lived realities. Trans folks, particularly trans people of color, face disproportionate rates of poverty, unemployment, housing and food insecurity, and workplace discrimination. They are also more likely to become victims of violence. This ambient stress can fuel a range of health challenges related to mental health, substance use and misuse, and sexually transmitted infections.

A political climate that is increasingly hostile to trans people only exacerbates these inequities. In July, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a state budget that includes a “medical practitioner conscience clause.” This thinly veiled license to discriminate lets healthcare professionals refuse services to LGBTQ+ patients based on personal or moral beliefs. Sadly, Ohio is not alone in the push to legislate against trans lives.

State legislatures across the U.S. have introduced or passed more than 100 bills to restrict trans rights. Many of these bills target trans youth by attempting to ban them from school sports, deny them access to affirming healthcare, and stop them from using bathrooms at school that match their gender identity. Such laws will only increase fear and stigma for trans youth who are already more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, also known as cisgender.

You might feel powerless to help. You are not. Now, especially now, we must all do our part to make our world safe for everyone – one where we respect everyone’s identity.

And it starts with language.

When you misgender a trans, non-binary, or gender-variant person, it can sound like this: “I know you are telling me who you are, but you are wrong. I know better.” By contrast, when you introduce yourself with your pronouns – she/her, he/him, they/them, or others – you create a space of mutual respect. When you offer your pronouns, the person you are talking to feels safer sharing theirs. Offering and receiving pronouns means no one has to guess another person’s gender based on how they look or sound. In a small yet powerful way, you are laying the foundation for non-judgmental dialogue.

Getting pronouns right isn’t just polite. It is essential. When you learn someone else’s pronouns: use them, every single time. It will make a world of difference for your trans co-workers, family members, friends, and neighbors, because gender affirmation has tremendous positive benefits. Trans folks who feel empowered to live their truth are more likely to have positive relationships with family members, be more productive at work, and live happier and healthier lives.

Let’s practice!

“Hi. I’m ________. And my pronouns are ____________. How are you?”

Inclusion starts with simple acts. As we continue to advocate for a world where trans people can thrive and receive medical care that is consistent with who they are, personal pronouns matter more than ever.

Jan Huebenthal, Ph.D. (he/him)
Education Manager, Equitas Health Institute

Ramona Peel, MA (she/her)
Lead Trainer, Equitas Health Institute

If you or your organization want to learn more about LGBTQ+ inclusion in your community or workplace, please visit the Equitas Health Institute at https://equitashealthinstitute.com.