International Pronouns Day: Q&A with Student Equality Champion Maike

Why do we have a day to celebrate pronouns? Why do some people use they/them? If you are asking yourselves these questions, we are here to help you! RGU Student Equality Champion Maike (they/them), gives you some answers and reflects on their personal experience to help raise awareness of the importance of sharing and using the correct pronouns.

What is International Pronouns Day?

International Pronouns Day is celebrated every year on the 3rd Wednesday of October to make respecting, sharing, and educating about pronouns common practice. Pronouns are words we use to refer to things in place of proper nouns, e.g., I, us, you/your, she/her, they/them, xe/xem. International Pronouns Day is about third-person pronouns specifically and learning about how people may have a specific preference for themselves.

Some people are referred to by their name only or use one set of pronouns exclusively, while others use multiple or all sets of pronouns. They might have a preference permanently, depending on the day, the context, or no preference at all. Pronouns are not equal to one’s gender identity, and don’t always correlate to gender expression. Everyone can use the pronouns that makes them happiest and present in a way that makes them the most comfortable.

Why is it important to use the correct pronouns for someone?

Referring to someone by the correct pronouns is basic respect, like using someone’s name. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns is extremely hurtful and can increase gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria has a negative impact on mental health and can increase anxiety and depression.

Why do some people use they/them pronouns?

Many non-binary, genderqueer, and agender individuals feel that gender neutral pronouns reflect their existence outside of the binary gender concept of man and woman best. The most common gender neutral pronouns in English are they/them, and we use them every day when we don’t know the person we talk about. Neopronouns, such as xe/xem, ey/em, or fae/faer, are less established.

What can people do to make the sharing of pronouns more common?

Easy, share your pronouns whenever you can: on Zoom, in your email signature and when you introduce yourself. You can say “Hi, I am Maike and I use they/them pronouns”. It might feel awkward at first, but it gets easier every time you do it. And it makes a big difference for other people in the room. When I am the only person in a meeting that includes their pronouns in the introduction or next to their name on zoom, I feel alone, othered and excluded. Sharing your pronouns is also a great way to communicate that you are supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights and people are safe when they come out to you.

At an organisation like RGU with such a large international community, sharing your pronouns online is important for cisgender people, too. Names might be differently gendered in different languages. Since I started at RGU, I misgendered more cis people than trans people, because I wrongly assumed their pronouns from their first name.

It’s very important however to never force anyone to share their pronouns, not even when you think they are cis.

And what if I get someone’s pronouns wrong?

Just apologise, correct yourself, carry on, and remember next time.

Since you came out, do you correct people when they use wrong pronouns? Do people who know your pronouns correct others?

It took me a while to correct others. In the beginning I just froze, but it got easier every time I said something. It still takes a lot of courage to speak up. Of course, it makes a difference who misgenders me and when. It’s easier to correct someone if other safe people are around, or if it is one to one. And I don’t feel the need to correct people who get it right 90% of the time. It’s also less painful hearing the wrong pronouns from them. The worst is in written text, but it is also easier to correct.

I only noticed people correcting others a couple of weeks ago. They corrected others in my absence before, but I really appreciate when they do it in front of me, too. It takes away some of the pressure from me. I would say most people feel like that, but it’s always best to check with the person how they feel about it, and if they want you to correct other people in their presence and/or absence. It’s also important to keep in mind that someone might be out in one space, but not in another one, and it’s their decision when and if they want to change that.

Maike W. (they/them)

Student Equality Champions organise campaigns and events, arrange fundraisers, and liaise with the university and the Students’ Union to represent their peers identifying themselves as part of a specific group of underrepresented students to help solve the issues they might face.

In March 2022, former Equality Champion Kieran Soutter organised a successful event at RGU for Transgender Day of Visibility where he distributed stickers for staff and students to display their pronouns and show their support to the community.

Related blogs

Being an Equality Champion at RGU and supporting the LGBT+ community

Finding an inclusive community at RGU – my journey with Asperger Syndrome and dyslexia

RGU Peer Support Group – Here to talk about mental health

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