Scholar: Proper use of personal pronouns shows respect, courtesy

Scholar: Proper use of personal pronouns shows respect, courtesy

By Brittney Bomnin Garcia

Scholar: Proper use of personal pronouns shows respect, courtesy

By Brittney Bomnin Garcia
During an online discussion, the University community learned how using and supporting the use of pronouns can make the workplace more inclusive and help individuals feel more comfortable.

Last month, 103 University community members gathered online to discuss the use of appropriate pronouns and how to incorporate them into their personal and professional lives. During the event, hosted by Human Resources’ Office of Workplace Equity and Inclusion in honor of Pride Month, Claire Oueslati-Porter, an anthropologist, senior lecturer, and interim director of the College of Arts and Sciences’ gender and sexuality studies program, shared her insights and answered questions about navigating our evolving culture and society. 

“You can’t know what someone’s personal pronoun is by looking at them,” Oueslati-Porter said. “Don't assume how someone is doing gender or gender expression.” She explained that, by attempting to use the appropriate pronouns, we can further move toward respect, dignity, inclusion, and courtesy in our workplace and in all social institutions. 

If you find yourself in a situation—whether you witness someone else forgetting to use the correct pronoun when referring to another individual or you’re the person who makes a mistake—Oueslati-Porter suggests acknowledging and correcting the mistake before moving on. With 78 pronouns—and counting, it can be challenging to get it right all the time. But, approach the conversation with sensitivity, kindness, and with the goal of supporting a diverse and inclusive environment. “We are all students when it comes to this and are bound to make a mistake,” she added. Learn more and find a list of personal pronouns at mypronouns.org

During the webinar, Oueslati-Porter also challenged participants to think about adjectives that are used to describe women and men in society. “Women and men—all genders are from earth,” she explained, referring to the best-selling book titled “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” which promotes the gender binary that pervades our culture and society. Understanding how a person’s identity, sex, expression, and attraction interact and exist together is part of the foundation for acknowledging each other and embracing the use of pronouns.

“There’s nothing new about multiple gender identifications or using many pronouns,” Oueslati-Porter added. “There are hundreds of cultures that have historically and presently recognized multiple genders.” 

To better understand the terms used in the United States today, explore the following list of gender identities defined by Oueslati-Porter.

  • Cisgender applies to a person whose gender identity is perceived by themselves and others in their culture to match their assigned sex at birth. 
  • Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth.
  • Two Spirit is a contemporary, umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe Native people who fulfill a third-gender ceremonial and social role. 
  • Nonbinary pertains to a person who does not identify entirely as a man or woman, but whose gender identity extends across the gender binary.
  • Gender fluid pertains to a person who does not identify as a man or woman and whose identity is outside the gender binary and may change over time.
  • Genderqueer is similar to nonbinary and gender fluid. Queer is also a political and theoretical term that is used to challenge gender and sex binarism. 

Among the takeaways from the event, attendees learned that identity and culture is personal. Pronouns can change over time and are a way to demonstrate respect and courtesy. By using and supporting the use of a person’s correct pronoun, employees and their leaders can make the workplace more inclusive and help individuals feel more comfortable. With consistent application, using personal pronouns will become easier. 

Watch the recorded presentation to learn more. Find LGBTQ+ resources and ways to get involved, including the University’s LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Network and LGBTQ Student Center. Faculty and staff members and students are invited to join the Miami Beach Pride planning committee and attend the event, which is scheduled for Sept. 19.