Pronouns and supporting your patients

The pronouns we use to describe ourselves are an important part of who we are.

Asking about and correctly using someone’s pronouns is a key way to show your respect their gender identity.

If you use the wrong pronouns, it can make someone feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric.

You can’t always tell someone’s pronouns by looking at them.

Common pronouns

She/her/hers and he/him/his are a few commonly used pronouns. Some people call these “female/feminine” and “male/masculine” pronouns, but many avoid these labels because not everyone who uses he feels like a “male” or “masculine.”

There are also lots of gender-neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:

  • They/them/theirs (Shea ate their food because they were hungry.) This is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun and it can be used in the singular. In fact, “they” was voted as the Word of the Year in 2015.
  • Ze/hir/hir (Tyler ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.
  • Just my name please! (Ash ate Ash’s food because Ash was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead.

What if I make a mistake?

It’s okay! Everyone slips up from time to time. The best thing to do if you use the wrong pronoun for someone is to say something right away, like “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun)”.

If you realize your mistake after the fact, apologize in private and move on.

How can I show the patients I support that I will respect their pronouns?

Wearing a badge that shows your own pronouns is a great way to communicate to your patients that you are aware of this issue and that you respect the pronouns of others.

Download a poster about using pronouns, design for for Leeds Teaching Hospitals (330Kb, pdf format)

Pronouns – common DOs and DON'Ts

Do:

  • volunteer your own pronouns when you meet someone (if you want to and it feels safe)
  • ask someone’s pronouns if you don’t know them
  • correct yourself and move on if you make a mistake

Don't

  • avoid the topic because you feel uncomfortable or unsure
  • assume someone’s gender based on the pronouns they use
  • overly apologise or make it about you if you make a mistake