What's the Deal With Gender Pronouns?
By Shea Hazarian, originally posted February 23, 2016
Hello, blogosphere! My name is Shea, I work at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and my gender pronouns are she/her/hers.
For those new to LGBTQ+ terminology, you might wonder why we use gender pronouns during the Improving OUTcomes conference and add them to our conference name tags. We shall explain!
If I introduced myself to you at one of our events in the manner above, you might think: well, duh, Shea. You look like a woman and you seem to identify as a woman so of course “she” is your gender pronoun. But why ask when it’s so obvious?
Here’s why: not everyone identifies as “he” or “she”
Even though someone may “look like” a woman, they might not identify as a woman. Furthermore, the term “look like” is more subjective and leads to greater bias and discrimination.
Cisgender, Gender Identity, and Misgendered
I identify as cisgender, meaning that my gender identity (woman) is congruent with the sex I was assigned at birth (female). I am generally perceived as a woman, without question, and I am very rarely “misgendered,” which refers to labeling someone as a gender that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.
When a person’s gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, they might identify as transgender. We use the term ‘might’ to remind you that a person should identify first before making assumptions as to how they identify.
The idea of multiple genders has been around for many years, however, it’s not until recently that the concept has come forward in western culture. Those who identify outside the “male/female” binary are often met with confusion, fear, misunderstanding, and hatred. And many are often misgendered simply because they never received courtesy simply asking what they prefer.
Misgendering is shown to correlate with negative health outcomes and can lead to harassment, assault, and other kinds of violence. Last year was the deadliest year on record for trans Americans and by misgendering, especially in a public venue, a person might be put in harm’s way – even if it wasn’t your intention.
This is why it is essential to ask a patient for their preferred name and pronouns, especially in medical settings.
When Unsure, Use ‘They’
Trans patients are often faced with high rates of domestic violence, social and economic disparities, and lack of quality care. And changing one’s legal name and gender marker can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult depending on state of residence.
Often times they are also required to disclose their legal names for insurance purposes and going for simple screenings has the potential to elevate anxiety or invoke trauma depending on how they are addressed.
You can soothe the situation by asking the patient their preferred name and pronouns, and in conversation, take note from the Washington Post Style Guide and start using “they” for the single person pronoun.
So even though I am a cisgender woman who has the privilege of being able to take pronouns for granted, I want to create awareness and build an inclusive culture.
My pronouns are listed in my email signature, with a link to this blog post, and on my social media profiles. This is a good way to start the conversation about why we should ask in the first place.
I won’t lie; it’s tricky to start asking. You’ll feel weird about it and you’ll probably mess up at least once. And that’s okay. Often times we’re so scared of offending someone, we steer away from trying or neglect to ask at all. When you feel uncomfortable, just think about the discomfort that your patient may feel from having to correct others on their pronouns – even in the face of harm. By asking, you can immediately make them feel more comfortable and safe in your care.
Here are some more resources on gender pronouns:
- Gender Pronouns – Medical Queeries, a short video series created by medical students at the University of Western Ontario
- Providing Transgender-Inclusive Healthcare Services [PDF] – Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes
- What the Heck is a “PGP”? [PDF] – Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools
- Trans Student Educational Resources – an awesome resource to learn about the spectrum of gender and trans needs. Check out their Gender Unicorn!
UC Davis Health
Junior Specialist at the UC Davis School of Medicine
Improving OUTcomes coordinator