Why Pronouns Matter

Dec 20, 2022

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

In 2022, the Gulf Coast Synod Assembly approved a resolution to spend a year in discernment on whether the Gulf Coast Synod should become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Synod, a designation committing the synod to the welcome, inclusion, and celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in the life of the synod. This includes learning about what RIC means (and doesn’t mean), and why it matters. This article is part of this yearlong educational process.

“Hi. My name is Chris, and my pronouns are he/his.” Recently, more and more people are introducing themselves and including the pronouns they associate with. Many people have begun adding their pronouns to their nametags, business cards, email signature lines, and website profiles. But why? Why is this important?

First, a quick primer: Pronouns are those words used as replacements or substitutes for nouns and noun phrases. They typically have a general reference. Examples include I, you, she, this, we, it, who, what, etc. Personal pronouns are used to represent the number of people (I/we), gender (he/she), person (I/you) and case (we/us).

Personal pronouns are… well, just that. They’re personal. They are what we want others to use when they are talking to us or about us.

Have you ever had a time when someone called you by the wrong name? How did that make you feel? I remember once when I was younger at a Wendy’s drive thru giving my order. When I was finished, the employee asked, “Is that all ma’am?” And I am not one who would prefer to be called ma’am. The experience of being misgendered (having someone use the incorrect pronouns to refer to you) can be uncomfortable and perhaps even hurtful, especially when it is done intentionally or with malice.

Science has helped us better understand the difference between sex, gender, and gender identity:

  • Sex is a label – male or female – that we are initially assigned at birth by a doctor based on genitalia and hormones. There are some who are born intersex, having both male and female genitalia, and the doctor and parents may choose one sex over the other.
  • Gender is a complex nebula of social and legal statuses, as well as societal expectations and standards about the way people should behave based on their gender, which is also generally male or female. But instead of being about body parts, it’s more about how you’re expected to act, because of your sex.
  • Gender identity is how we feel inside and how we express our gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins very early in life and can evolve over time.

Many people identify as male or female. But, even within this framework, some females feel masculine, and some males feel feminine. Some do not feel male or female, or feminine or masculine. Some choose labels like “genderqueer” or “gender fluid” to describe themselves.

Some people’s assigned sex and gender identity are pretty much the same. They are called cisgender (e.g. someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a man, etc.). There are others who feel that their assigned sex is of another gender than their gender identity. They may have felt like this their entire life. They are often referred to as transgender or trans.

But here’s the thing, friends: You don’t have to understand all of this! It may be new or seem strange to you. You may even not agree with it. That’s okay. However, it is a human kindness to use the pronouns a person asks you to use for them, even if you don’t understand why they want to be called that way. It doesn’t cost you anything to do so. And isn’t it what you want others to do for you?

ReconcilingWorks offers the following tips when using pronouns:

  1. Model using pronouns in introductions by sharing “Hi, my name is ___ and my pronouns are ____.”
  2. Ask people what their pronouns are when you meet them. “I want to make sure I am using the proper pronouns for you, which pronouns do you use?”
  3. Add them to the signature of your emails.
  4. Add pronouns to your social media accounts.
  5. Make space for people to add their pronouns to name tags for events and gatherings.
  6. If you make a mistake and someone corrects you, thank them for teaching you their pronouns. You don’t have to feel bad. Just learn!

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