All the Colors Rainbow Center

Don’t let gender pronouns trip you up

All the Colors Rainbow CenterWhat’s in a name?

When some trans and gender non-conforming people chose a new name, it becomes a rebirth of sorts.
The same for pronouns. Unlike languages like German, which has the word “das,” English doesn’t give nouns any third or neutral gender options except the word “it.”

I am not an inanimate object. I am a person, and I don’t like to be thought of as just a “she” or just a “he.” I prefer the gender pronouns “they” and “them.”

I am a non-binary, gender non-conforming person. I am comfortable in my own skin, but it wasn’t always that way. I fall under the trans umbrella but have chosen not to fully transition. I am walking the world as just me, somewhere in between, and being a different kind of woman than when I was born.

Gender is not fluid for me; it’s just not binary. I get called sir, miss or ma’am on any given day – usually all three. Ma’am irritates me because it usually signifies age, which is another thing to navigate in this society. Sir commands respect and authority, but that’s a conversation for another day about patriarchal norms.

Back to gender nouns. “They” has usually been thought of as plural, and some grammar police may react against it. But then how do you explain using the word “they” when you talk about someone who isn’t there or who recently left the room? For example: Where is Kayden? Answer: They went to the gym.
I introduce myself using they/them pronouns because it feels right. It makes people contemplate how they should address me, and it isn’t all or nothing. “They” chooses something from both sides.

When you meet people, you should ask what pronouns they prefer. This may seem awkward at first, but it will go a long way in breaking the ice, recognizing gender identity and empowering people to appreciate that you are culturally competent around LGBTQ issues and gender identity spectrums. You will immediately put someone at ease, showing you genuinely care.

“Ladies and gentlemen and everything in between” is a nice way to greet a room. “Hi everyone, can I take your order?” is preferred over “Hello ladies.” Calling a group of people “guys” is dismissive. Using words like “folks” or “you all” not only sounds more familiar and friendly, it doesn’t exclude or insult anyone.

When all else fails and you are still tongue-tied, then focus on people’s names when talking with them or about them – instead of tripping up on what gender identity you think they are or should be.

With that said, if you get it wrong, simply apologize, confirm you have the right word and move on.

Stumbling over an apology and making it a big deal can be awkward. Then someone like me has to take care of your feelings instead of just continuing the conversation.

We are programmed at a young age to be acutely aware of gender and gender identifiers, but it’s best to pretend you have no idea what gender someone is – especially in a work or academic setting. Ask folks to identify themselves and what pronouns they prefer. It’s fun, and it may surprise you.

Jack Rednour-Bruckman is the executive director of the Rainbow Center serving the LGBTQ community in Concord. Send questions and comments to