If you asked the vast majority of people what a pronoun is, many probably couldn’t even tell you, but they are intrinsic to our daily lives. We get a coffee, “That barista? She was so nice!” We’re telling a story “He told her!” Most of us don’t question these sorts of things, they’re just part of our language. However, for some, these words – she, her, his, him – can be hurtful and detrimental. They can also be incorrect. The more we learn about people, the more we realize that these neat little boxes we’ve always put them in just don’t fit anymore. There is a wide variety of gender identities that span from male to female to non-binary to genderqueer. This brings about a new concern. How do we address these folks in conversation? If you’re a genderqueer person, you likely don’t identify with being called “him” or “her,” so how do you talk about these people or to these people, especially when you are a business owner and want to maintain professionalism and inclusivity? It’s easy. Ask! Yes, I did just tell you to ask someone how to address them. One of the very first questions in a potential client communication should be “what are your preferred pronouns?” If your clients don’t know what you mean, you can simply tell them that you don’t like to make assumptions about the gender identities of others. If they do know what you’re talking about, they will likely appreciate the consideration and also think you’re a badass for running such an inclusive business.
So, let’s get down to it. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. We are talking about the former, not the latter. Gender identity is defined as “a person's perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.” Take that in for a moment. Not everyone identifies with their sex at birth and that’s great! It’s wonderful that we live in a world where people can really be true to themselves. If you’re like me, you might remember growing up there was a kid who said “I’m not a girl, I’m a boy.” 20-something years later, that hits home for me. I don’t know what happened to that person, but having the ability to explore and identify your own gender is imperative. If you work in event planning, it’s always a good idea to ask about the preferred pronouns for guests, too. A friend of mine, a wedding planner, told me about a wedding in which a couple of guests preferred “v” and “z” as their pronouns. So, when referring to that person, you would say “Does V prefer white or red wine?” Or “That’s hilarious! Did V really say that?!” It’s definitely second nature to us to assume and use traditional pronouns and not using them takes some getting used to, but it’s a change that needs to be made. I know a lot of this is confusing, which is why I started offering consulting services for businesses that want to ensure they’re inclusive. Also, I think, a lot of times, people are afraid to ask. They think they’ll sound stupid. But, I’m certain you could ask anyone who doesn’t identify with the traditional set of female/male pronouns and they would be thrilled that you asked. Because, let’s be honest, the old saying about assuming making an “ASS out of U and ME” still holds true.