The Power of Pronouns

The idea of gender is pretty central to everything the YWCA does. After all, “women and girls” is actually written into our mission. We understand that sometimes a person’s view of themselves runs counter to how the broader society wants to define them. International Pronouns Day gives us the perfect opportunity to help equip our community so that the fullness of a person’s identity is seen and appreciated.

We offer our thanks to Dana Romero-Vogg, YWCA Triage Specialist and Chair of our LGBTQ+ Committee, for sharing her insights and guidance on the “power of pronouns.”

Today is International Pronouns Day and my goal is to help you understand what this day is about, and even more, the deeper meaning pronouns have, and why they are important.

Established in 2018 by Shige Sakurai (they or ze), MBA, MA with the University of Maryland, International Pronouns Day “seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace.” Compared to other LGBTQ+ awareness efforts, International Pronouns Day is a newcomer, but its importance is difficult to overstate.

As we all learned in school, pronouns are used in place of a person’s name and are intended to reflect the identity of the person referred to. In English, our most used pronouns (he/she) also convey a person’s gender. However, for queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, “he/she” may not accurately capture how they view their gender. That disconnect can create discomfort and cause stress and anxiety. Therefore, pronoun education and awareness are crucial.

The YWCA has begun the process of developing continuing education modules on key, LGBTQ+ related topics for our staff. The module on pronouns includes perhaps the best explanation as to the crucial nature of pronoun-understanding and awareness.  The following are comments from members of the YWCA’s LGBTQ+ Committee, individuals who have a deeply personal appreciation for the issue.

  • Pronouns are important because they are an opportunity for us to affirm the identity of the folks around us.
  • It shows a great deal of respect and open communication. Safe spaces are important for people to be able to express themselves in the way that they feel most comfortable.
  • [Using correct pronouns] shows respect and value in everyone.
  • Someone’s choice in pronouns gives them a sense of autonomy. It means that only they can choose how to identify themselves and no one else.
  • Often we have assumptions about what it means to look like a woman or a man and then we project these assumptions onto others. We assume that’s who they are. Sometimes those assumptions can be harmful and can force people to try to fit into certain expectations that don’t necessarily align with the way they may feel. It’s really important to go that extra step even if it is just asking what someone’s pronouns are, to be able to give them the space to show that they can be themselves outside of any of those expectations.

We understand that rewiring our brains can be challenging at first, especially when certain practices are ingrained after years of viewing gender in a binary way. Like any skill, it takes practice. That’s how we grow, and we are here to grow with you. You will make mistakes, and that is okay! So, what do you do when you mess up? Keep apologies brief and simple, correct yourself (make it a habit), commit yourself to continue learning, and most importantly, keep growing.

Dana Romero-Vogg
Triage Specialist, Advocacy and Resource Services
Chair, YWCA LGBTQ+ Committee
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers