Words are powerful. Our choice of words says a lot about our respect for the people we are talking to – and too often reflects the assumptions we make about others. We have made a commitment at Women’s Health Clinic to choose our words wisely, address others respectfully and eliminate, as best we can, the erroneous assumptions that are all too easy to make. We want to speak to people and of people in the words they would choose for themselves.
In our society, we hear “she” and “he” used in day-to-day interactions in an automatic way – we look at each other and pick the one that appears to suit. Those whose self-identity aligns with their assigned biological sex (referred to as “cisgendered”) have the privilege of not having to worry about the words someone will use to address them. For others, being misgendered through pronoun use sends an inconsiderate and disrespectful message.
For many, this is unfamiliar territory. Most of us are only familiar with she and he, but there are others such as they, ze and hir. These are all ways in which individuals self-identify and using each person’s preferred pronoun sends a non-judgmental and respectful message. How, then, will we know what to say? To suggest that the answer is “ask” makes it sound simpler than it is. Here are some ideas:
Approach situations with an open mind and open heart
For most of us, we consider ourselves to be compassionate, respectful individuals. So what is the best way to use the right pronouns when we aren’t sure? If you feel comfortable, just asking people which pronouns they prefer is often the best way to proceed.
“What pronouns do you use” “Can you remind me what pronouns you use?
Don’t assume/assign a gender
But what happens when you don’t feel comfortable asking? It’s really important not to assume or assign a gendered term, as you run the risk of misgendering someone. You can use the term “they” (yes, it can be used as a singular term)!
“She is here for her appointment. Can you take her to the clinic room?”
“They are here for their appointment. Can you take them to the clinic room?”
“Jamie is here for their appointment. Can you take Jamie to the clinic room?”
We all make mistakes, it’s important to learn from them and grow
Women’s Health Clinic is working on what it means to be truly inclusive by speaking with many different communities about language we use. We will be including signs in our lobby areas to let us know if you have a pronoun that you prefer. We know language has power, and we are constantly evolving our language to let people know that WHC is a safe place. For instance, our pap days are now called All Gender Pap Days – so that if you need a pap, however you identify, you are welcome here.
For the Transgender Day of Remembrance which falls annually on November 20th, Health Educator Jen Davis created a window display at 419 Graham Avenue that featured people in the transgender community speaking about the importance of pronouns. The window will be up until mid-December – make sure you swing by to see the display!
We would like to extend our thanks to everyone took the time to share their personal stories with us. Your voice is so valued.