Month: July 2012

Risking offence? When to ask or not ask someone’s pronoun preference

Anonymous asked:

“I’m worried about offending people if I ask what their pronoun preference is. I’ve been told to ask people up front but what if I make someone uncomfortable? Who do I ask and who do I not ask?”

This is an excellent question and a common concern. Some people will be offended, or just will simply not understand. I’m going to go out on a limb and imagine this play-by-play is what worries you: you ask someone, they don’t understand what/why you are asking, you explain why, the person thinks that they look like someone who would have a gender-related i.e., pronoun issue, they get upset.

People get upset because ‘looking like xyz person’ with a pronoun preference generally means, in the popular imagination, looking like something other than normatively straight or normatively gendered. And what’s so bad about that? Basically, people would likely be offended because of a stigma based in homophobia or its cousin, transphobia.

But just because we can trace the roots of the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This situation still has to be somehow navigated.

The question remains: are there certain people who you should ask or not, based on a visual survey? I feel like this is dicey. Follow your gut, but do your best to be open to whatever reaction someone may have. Even someone as queer-looking as the day is long (like me for instance) might not appreciate the question, and that’s ok.

In workshops and other spaces where mindfulness around pronouns is an established habit (i.e., at the beginning everyone says their name and pronoun preference), we sometimes imagine that this practice will permeate the social world. I have my doubts, at least for some time to come. And I promise that groups of pronoun-conscious people at, say, a BBQ do not generally stop and do pronoun go-arounds.

So what do you do?

In reality, I very rarely have to ask someone what their pronoun is because I generally just listen to how other people describe them and avoid using pronouns for them until I am sure. If I am still really unsure or if I think someone’s pronoun (or chosen name) has shifted, I find a quiet moment to ask an acquaintance, a mutual friend, etcetera.

Other people doing this work without getting the pronoun user involved is really nice, and also completely possible. So consider listening and refraining from using any pronouns until you have figured it out, and if that fails, ask someone else.

Hope that helps,


Welcome to TIMP!

Welcome to They Is My Pronoun!

Whereas many blogs or news stories on singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun are invested in the debate as to whether ‘they’ as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct, TIMP is different.

Instead of focusing on grammar, TIMP focuses on actually using singular they in real life, and on enabling the choice to use gender-neutral pronouns for yourself or for others.

TIMP is dedicated to a few simple ideas:

1. You are not a bad person or homophobic or transphobic or ignorant just because using they stresses you out.

There are many reasons why using they as a singular pronoun is hard. TIMP is about recognizing this and exploring where resistance comes from. TIMP offers suggestions for working through difficulty, and not arguments about why it shouldn’t be difficult.

2. When people respect your choice of pronoun, this feels really good – good enough to make a big difference in someone’s quality of life and well-being.

Most people who have not had to ask others to use a particular pronoun do not realize how good this feels. You can generate so much happiness, make such a large contribution to someone’s well-being, and even make someone feel better about being in a workplace or group or get-together, just by using the pronoun they ask for, and apologizing when you make a mistake. You can make someone want to come back to your office, clinic, store, house, or Facebook page. It is truly astonishing what a difference this can make.

3. Using they gets easier with practice and time, and it is worth it.

So, scroll on down and stay tuned to TIMP for answers to questions from users, allies and curious questioners of all kinds (which I accept, even anonymously, on my twin Tumblr site), reflections and resources on singular they!

If you are a business owner or are interested in receiving some support tailored to your own particular circumstances, whether personal or professional, head on over to They’re Here! – my consulting, training and advocacy company.

Resource: Helpful usage tips from Dean Spade

Copied and pasted from Dean Spade at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun as misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.

4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.

“I am flummoxed by the controversy over [they] and by the resistance of many people to accept it. Singular they has long been used in literature and in conversation, and though it still has an informal taint, it seems to me absurd to resist adopting it when it satisfies an aching need.”

From Mark Nichol on Daily Writing Tips.