Whether it’s he, her, them, ze, or judy, getting pronouns right isn’t so hard


Today is International Pronouns Day, yes there really is a day set aside to acknowledge that not everyone identifies by the simple categories of ‘he’ and ‘she’.

When people want to make fun of the LGBTI community the go-to-gag is to add as many letters on to the acronym as possible, including TLC, BLT and RSVP, maybe even an OHMS. Then you follow it up with a dig about pronouns, are they he, she, ze, them, they, or something else?

Then complain it’s too hard to keep up, and ridiculous to think that other people would be expected to remember how you like to be addressed. Bring it to a close by muttering something about the destruction of the english language and how you think it’s outrageous that the Merriam Webster Dictionary has recognised ‘they’ as a singular pronoun.

When you think about it though, using pronouns like ‘they’ comes quite naturally when needed. At the moment there is a lot of political discussion about a whistleblower in the USA whose gender is at this time is unknown. Nobody seems to have any problem using ‘they’ as a pronoun when talking about this subject on the news, but the same talking heads of TV got into conniptions when singer Sam Smith asked to be referred to as “they”.

The way we address each other is always changing, not too long ago it would have been scandalous to address a person you didn’t know well by their first name.

In workplaces everyone was addressed as Mr, Miss, and Mrs. Just like in the ever popular 1970’s sitcom, it was a world of Captain Peacock, Mrs Slocombe and Mr Humphries. Even a verdant fan of the show would struggle to recall Mr Humphries first name.

Wikipedia reveals it was… Wilberforce. Not long before that women used to be addressed by their husband’s names – Mrs Charles Smith, like they were property.

Times change and in a modern society we need to recognise that less emphasis is placed on gender and more options are welcomed for descriptions of how people would like to be recognised.

Many years ago we stopped using titles like Mr, Miss and Mrs in OUTinPerth – most people didn’t notice and the total number of complaints we received about the change was – not a single one.

To be proactive we started started running our gender pronouns in the signatures of emails with a link to an explanation of what some of the different pronouns are.

Last week CNN host Chris Cuomo apologised for making a joke about pronouns. When Democratic Presidential nominee Kamala Harris took to the stage at an LGBTIQ town hall meeting she said “My pronouns are she, her and hers,” Cuomo responded “Mine too”.  The wisecrack fell flat, and the apology was quickly dispatched.

But is it really so hard to remember what pronouns people prefer, we managed to remember titles like who is a doctor, who is a professor and who is a your majesty. We don’t have a problem remembering that I have a Grandma, you have a Nana, and our friend has a Nonna.

So embrace the diversity and move with the times, ask people which pronouns they prefer and do your best to remember.

Graeme Watson

he / his  / him