Pronouns fact sheet

Gender Pronouns

 What is a pronoun? 

Pronouns are words that replace a noun or noun phrase to eliminate unnecessary noun repetition, while gender pronouns refer to a specific person or persons.

Pronouns are part of a person’s gender expression, and need to be used correctly for respectful conversations. Examples of gender pronouns include, but are not limited to: she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zem, or a combination of these!  Pronouns do not always match a person’s gender identity, and two people who identify similarly may prefer different pronouns. Some people may also prefer not to use pronouns at all, and would rather be called by their name only (e.g. Billy is going to eat Billy’s sandwich for lunch).

What is the impact of misgendering someone? 

Misgendering someone is not only rude, but can have long-lasting effects on a person’s confidence, mental health and career advancement (including in the natural sciences). Read the perspective of some 2SLGBTQIA+ scientists, and how they would like to be included in STEM workplaces.

The easiest way to avoid misgendering someone is to ask someone their pronouns, and use they/them as the “default”. It may feel awkward, but normalizing asking those you meet which pronouns they use, and sharing your own pronouns when you introduce yourself, makes it safer for others to share theirs. However, if someone doesn’t want to share their pronouns, don’t pressure them.

What can I do as: 

1. The perpetrator

     a. Ask yourself why you are misgendering someone.

          i. Is it due to implicit biases you hold?

Take the Harvard implicit bias test on transgender bias. Then read about how you can change your unconscious bias, and learn from your mistakes.

Try engaging in a 10 minute conversation where you take the alternative perspective – that of a person being misgendered. This study demonstrated that practicing alternative perspectives can decrease transgender prejudice for at least 3 months.

          ii​​​​​. Is it due to unintentional ignorance?

Learn more about the importance of pronouns by taking 2SLGBTQIA+ training courses, listening to the experiences of trans and gender nonconforming individuals, or speaking to cisgender allies.

          iii. Are you ‘grammatically conservative’?

“They” has been used as a singular form for over 600 years. Read here about the word “they”, which was named the word of the year in 2019 due to its increased usage as a gender pronoun.

     b.  Get into the habit of introducing yourself with your gender pronouns. Avoid forcing people to divulge their pronouns, as this can unintentionally “out” someone beyond what they are comfortable with.

     c.  Apologize! If you realize you’ve misgendered someone by accident, apologize and correct yourself, then move on; profusely apologizing can make the impacted individual feel awkward. You can also apologize later if you realize your mistake after the interaction.

2.  An observer 

If you observe someone being misgendered: 

     a. First, follow the impacted individual’s lead- give the impacted individual a chance to advocate for themselves. If they cannot advocate for themselves, gently correct the perpetrator, and move on. Don’t cause a scene that may make the impacted individual uncomfortable in public.

     b.  Find an opportunity to use the impacted individual’s correct pronouns in the conversation.

     c. Speak to the impacted individual after the interaction and ask if they would like you to remind the perpetrator of their pronouns.

     d. Take some time to learn how to be a good ally to transgender and nonbinary folks.

 3. The impacted individual 

     a. Practice self-care in the moment, and afterwards. The onus is on others to use your correct pronouns.

     b. Find allies to help advocate for you, or if you feel comfortable in the situation, correct the perpetrator.

Everyday language is often gendered.

Here are some alternative ways to make statements gender neutral, and use inclusive and affirming language.



Use gender neutral language (e.g., folks, they, Mx., partner/spouse, esteemed guests, people who menstruate)

Use words like ladies/guys, he/she, Mr./Mrs., husband/wife, ladies and gentlemen.

Use terms like “women” or “men” when discussing large groups of people with specific organ systems, as is done in clinical or public health research (i.e., a trans man may have a uterus, but is not a woman)

Trans(gender) person




“He is a man/ was assigned female at birth”

“They used to be a female/ want to be a man”

“They transitioned”

“They had a sex change”

Curious to know more?  

Read this blog written by a nonbinary graduate student at McGill University. 

Check out the EDI committee’s resource page. Week 6 of our Biology EDI challenge also focuses on LGBTQ2SIA+ from a resource and introspection perspective. 

Questions or comments? Reach out to the EDI committee.