Pronouns carry a lot of power.
Everyday society typically assumes she/her pronouns for folks who look and sound female, and he/him pronouns for folks who look and sound male. However, as we know, pronoun use is not that simple, so many people use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them or neo pronouns.
Learn more about what pronouns are and why they matter in this blog I wrote "Pronouns - What's the big Fuss?"
If everyone gets your pronouns right, you might not have to think about pronouns much. But I urge you to start thinking and to start trying to understand the daily impact that pronoun misjudgement may be having on the mental health of people who are not in this privileged position.
As a counsellor who works with LGBTQ clients, I’m all too familiar with the psychological effects pronouns can have on people. Therefore, I thought I’d share – anonymously, of course – the sorts of things I’ve heard sitting in the counsellor’s chair.
People getting my pronouns wrong is like a paper cut. Once, I can cope with; but 20 times a day and I am bleeding.
Why can’t people just ask my pronouns? Why do I always have to bring up the subject?
It’s so exhausting and isolating having to correct pronouns.
I am so sick of feeling the pressure to conform to my sex assigned at birth.
I often avoid places where my pronouns are not going to be respected.
When people misgender me it affects my body image and increases my anxiety.
It makes me so angry seeing the bullying and discrimination online that I am scared to share my pronouns publicly.
Having to keep answering to the wrong pronouns and name gets very exhausting and over time can eat away at self-esteem, which can lead to depression and anxiety. It’s no wonder that, sadly, the rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts are higher in trans and non-binary communities.
Suicidal risk is something that is on my mind a lot as a counsellor, as I am aware how vulnerable and isolating it can be for many people to come out and share their correct pronouns. The microaggressions, when others around them continue to make very little effort when that person’s correct pronouns have been shared, can be very stressful.
Many trans men, trans women and non-binary people use pronouns that others don’t automatically get right, and this forces them to have to assess the risk of whether it’s safe to be themselves in every interactive situation.
In essence, they have to choose between making others comfortable or themselves comfortable.
But if they choose the latter, the trans/non-binary person is likely to feel even more awkward by the underlying stress that at any moment the other person could misgender them and not bother to correct themselves, or make a big deal out of the situation.
Having knowledge and understanding about the importance of pronouns and how they can impact on mental health is something I believe is essential for all counsellors. However, from my experience of teaching counsellors at LGBTQ awareness workshops I know this is not the case and that we have a long way to go. This is why many clients are choosing to seek out counsellors that have lived experience of being in marginalised groups and are part of the LGBTQ community.
I want to change this and help more counsellors who are not LGBTQ feel more confident with pronouns.
If you are trans and/or non-binary and any of the above resonates with you, then the last thing you’re going to want is stress surrounding the use of pronouns in your counselling sessions. You need to feel comfortable and safe that your counsellor is going to understand why your pronouns are so important and that they are going to make a conscious effort to get them right. You also need them to not be fazed by you using they/them pronouns if you talk about other people in your life such as friends, partner(s) and colleagues.
I feel very strongly about the need for more people to learn about the power of pronouns and why they are important. Understanding the mental health impact that misgendering can have will help more people (including counsellors) make more effort with pronouns.
Please share this article to help more people learn, and help make our world less stressful for people who get misgendered by misguided use of pronouns.
Remember: mental health is stronger when the correct pronouns are used.
Are you a counsellor wanting to learn more?
Download your free copy of my top tips pronouns guide here