Dominique King Lean in with Love

Learning how to address ­others with proper pronouns

Dominique King Lean in with LoveQ. I find myself fumbling the words so as not to sound invasive or awkward when identifying another person’s pronouns or gender. How can I do this without making someone uncomfortable or feel like they have to stop their life to educate or correct me? – Brenda, 58, Walnut Creek

A. Brenda, as easy as it sounds to use correct pronouns or acknowledge an individual gender, it may be difficult for some based on age, culture and tradition. Learning a new skill or way of doing things requires patience and an openness to learn.

If you have never had to worry about someone getting your gender or pronouns correct, asking can feel invasive. However, for others, asking may be a welcomed and expected question.

Here are a few ways you can engage with a person when you are unsure of their pronouns or gender:

Use they/them/theirs. Using these pronouns sends a respectful signal that you are unsure about what the person wants. They may use their correct pronoun to answer your question, or they may say nothing at all as they are content with those pronouns. While this method does work, it places you in two conversations: the one you are openly having and the one you are silently having.

Use their name. Use their name until you learn their pronouns. This method takes a bit of practice and requires focus. We naturally shift out of names when we become more comfortable in our environment or conversation. We tend to associate words with gender, so it may be difficult not to slip up and use “her/him, she/he” pronouns when speaking, or you may substitute they or them. If they have given you their pronouns, this could be misinterpreted as you misgendering them.

Ask. To you, it sounds like prying. However, asking is the most straightforward way to say, “I care and respect how you identify.”

The landscape of how we connect, acknowledge and build with each other has never been cut and dry. We have all learned and adapted to how to occupy our own space and take part in others. Brenda, you may sometimes feel uncomfortable and awkward, but growth requires us to be uncomfortable at times.

A closing note: It is acceptable to ask how you can respect another’s identity, but it is not their responsibility to answer a “why” that might follow.

Be well; you are worthy.

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Dominique King
Dominique King

Dominique King is a blogger who centers around marriage, family, fitness and personal growth. Her insightful and practical approach to advice gives everyday couples, parents and individuals a space to get answers to their questions.