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Proper pronouns

Skill-builder addresses ever-changing language

One may not realize just how often pronouns are used within the span of a day. In an ever-changing language, properly using pronouns can be a difficult ground to navigate.

To help others better understand different pronouns and how to use them Northern Michigan University professor Rebecca Ulland and Shirley Brozzo, associate director of NMU’s Multicultural Education Resource Center, hosted a skill-builder workshop Wednesday: Gender Pronouns 101.

This event, along with a past workshop on using the language associated with the LGBTQ community and upcoming skill-builders on rape culture and personal privilege, were topics chosen to be featured in October in recognition of Gay History Month, Brozzo said.

Wednesday’s presentation focused on how to validate and respect the identity of all. Attendees were able to practice using pronouns out of their own norm in a space free of judgement.

Ulland and Brozzo’s presentation addressed how to determine an individual’s preferred pronoun, with their first point being don’t assume. If you’re unsure of someone’s pronoun, the best way to find out is to ask. They suggested asking, “How would you like me to refer to you?” or to introduce your own pronouns and then ask theirs.

“If I just look at you and assume and start calling you ‘her,’ well maybe that’s not your pronoun,” Brozzo said. “You go by ‘they/them,’ maybe you go by ‘he/his.’ It’s not for me to define how you define yourself. It’s better for me to ask you rather than for you to always say, ‘Oh, I use they/them pronouns or whatever your chosen pronoun may be.”

They also noted that if you make a mistake and address an individual by the wrong pronoun, don’t make a big deal out of it. This can be embarrassing for the person. The best action to take is to apologize and continue the conversation using their proper pronoun, they said.

A good way to create conversation about pronouns is to add your preferred pronoun to your email signature, Brozzo said. This lets people know they can have a conversation about pronouns with you and begins incorporating preferred pronouns into everyday conversation.

“If you start incorporating that into a lot of your conversations or using it as your tagline in your emails, people start catching on, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t just use ‘he’ and ‘she’ pronouns,” Brozzo said. “If we can infuse that into the culture, it makes the conversation a little bit easier. I think where we see this happening most often is with our trans population, especially if you knew a person before. They had a transition into whom their new person is and then if you continue to mislabel them, really it’s a hostility, it’s an aggression if you continue to call them by their old or their birth name rather than the name they go by now.”

The two noted other ways to become more gender inclusive such as saying mail person, chairperson or waitstaff instead of assigning gender to those positions, like mailman, chairwoman or waiter. Skill-builder attendees also did exercises using pronouns they may never had heard of before such as Ze, Zim, Zir, Zirs and Zirself. Though the language surrounding pronouns changes frequently, it’s important to use proper pronouns and validate every individual’s identity, Brozzo added.

“I think it’s really respectful because people like to be addressed by what their name is; whatever their pronoun is, people should respect that and to be kind as Ellen (DeGeneres) always says be kind to one another,” Brozzo said. “It doesn’t cost anything to do that or to show respect to someone, so by calling them by the right name and the right pronouns, you’re valuing them as a person and I think that that’s very important, especially in this day and age.”

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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