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Why Pronouns Matter: How Accepting Language Creates a Community of Respect

For many people, introducing yourself to someone new is pretty simple. In the words of Claire Carden, senior at The Marin School high school in San Rafael, “You’ve been introducing yourself your whole life. You’re a total pro.” But as she reminds us, with each generation, the ways we show respect to one another are always changing.

In late November, with the support of TMS’s LGBQT+ Club, two TMS seniors presented to staff and faculty about the importance of honoring pronouns. More than just an informative lecture on modern semiotics and grammar conventions, we were reminded how paying attention to an individual’s pronouns is a big step in creating an open and accepting environment.

At The Marin School, we pride ourselves on providing a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all. Though our community was an early adopter of sharing “preferred pronouns” in introductions, part of staying on top of best practices involves gladly accepting the honor and opportunity to be “schooled” by our students. They gently reminded us that saying “preferred” could imply there is some other option, or that being transgender is somehow a choice. They reminded us that even cis people should share their pronouns because people’s gender should be self determined, not assumed by others.

Their presentation — which we encourage you to watch here — also included a helpful overview of gender and sexuality spectrum — namely that gender and sexuality are not the same thing — they are more nuanced. There is your gender identity, and there is the sex you were assigned at birth (biological characteristics of a person). When it comes to our sexuality, someone might be emotionally attracted to certain biological characteristics and physically attracted to others.

Want to really be an ally, but notice you tend to slip into old speech patterns? Practicing can help. If someone corrects you, say thank you. The best way to show you care is to correct yourself and move on. To quote our students, Respecting someone’s pronouns doesn’t cost you anything, but it might mean everything to them. It’s ok to make mistakes — it is our willingness to learn, and not the mistakes we make that are important.

Some other important tips for being an ally:

  • DO use gender-inclusive language — watch the video presentation for examples of gender neutral pronouns for groups like “folks.”

  • Never assume someone’s pronouns based on their physical appearance — if you need clarification, doing so privately and thoughtfully is a good way to go. There is never a good time to ask if someone is trans, that story is theirs to share with you at THEIR discretion.

  • Remember — it is not the job of a trans person to educate you — don’t ask them to speak on behalf of the entire trans community. It can feel tokenizing, and exhausting to answer questions about gender identity. Every voice in the trans community represents a completely different experience.

For more information on how YOU can be an ally: check out The Marin School’s curated resources, or contact Fel Agrelius at the Spahr Center, a non-profit community agency devoted to serving, supporting and empowering Marin’s LGBTQ+ community.


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