If you've been along to an EFR run since 2018 you'll have noticed we share pronouns alongside names as we circle up at the start of the run. For many people this isn't something they've come across before, so this page is here to help explain a few quick things about why we do it, why it's important, and how they actually work.
Before we get into the details though, what are pronouns? Basically, they're short words that we use to refer to nouns (in this case, people) to make life easier. Examples are: I, you, me, one, us, myself, yourself, themselves, as in "I hear you're joining us for a run tomorrow".
More on the grammar later.
1. The EFR (equality) context - why we share pronouns:
At EFR we share pronouns for a few reasons. The most important ones are to empower people who don't use she/her or he/him by giving them a simple and regular platform to state their pronouns, and making space for them to try on different pronouns for size.
EFR is intended to be a safe space for everyone in the LGBTI+ community, and a huge part of that is feeling free to express your true identity in ways that may not be possible in the wider world. For folks who use gender-neutral pronouns this may be their only safe space, so it's important to empower them.
It's also a handy reminder that pronouns aren't necessarily easy to read from someone's appearance - and as it's hard enough remembering people's names on the first hearing, it's always helpful to get a second chance at hearing their pronouns too!
2. Important principles - and how to work with pronouns:
Sharing pronouns is optional: the whole point of this exercise is to make people feel more comfortable, so if it has the opposite effect on you when we circle up, for whatever reason, just skip them - your name's enough on its own!
Pronouns are not always obvious from someone's appearance or presentation: while many (most?) people's do align with the binary stereotypes society has brought us up to expect, plenty of folk use different pronouns, and it's important to use them if at all possible.
Ask if you don't know, or look for clues such as pronoun badges. But also listen carefully when you're first meeting someone, and listen to how people who know them well refer to them (or ask their friends).
You will get pronouns wrong sometimes, and trans and non-binary people know this, and can tell the difference between someone who's messed up and someone who's doing it intentionally because they don't respect their gender. If you do mess up, correct yourself quickly and move on - apologising too profusely can make it into a bigger deal than it is and make the other person feel like they're asking too much by using different pronouns.
Non-binary pronouns in particular will take practice. Non-binary people know this and will make allowances, especially if it's obvious you're trying. We've all been programmed in certain language patterns by the people around us as we grow up and it can take time to learn new speech patterns. But please also remember that non-binary people are likely to get misgendered on a regular basis all day long, and it can be exhausting - so every little helps.
Many non-binary people will be happy to explain the grammar, use, or everyday effects of different pronouns on them, but not all, and definitely not all the time - so feel free to use the internet to do your own research, or ask knowledgeable allies who are not directly affected themselves by misgendering. Of course, this guide's not a bad start!
And finally, please don't underestimate how affirming and validating it can be to hear your pronouns used correctly! It's incredibly empowering to overhear a conversation that refers to you by the correct pronouns if you're used to being misgendered by people who are only trying to be polite (for example, in the use of Sir, or Madam, by shopkeepers or random strangers), and it can genuinely make someone's day :)
3a. The grammar bit - third person pronouns:
In the introduction we outlined what pronouns are, so now it's useful to explain that we started with 1st person pronouns, but the 3rd person ones are the important ones here - because they're how people refer to other people without using their names... e.g. "He's out running just now", or "She needs another pair of new trail shoes because she's training for her next ultra".
We all have 3rd person pronouns, we've all been using them without thinking since we learnt to speak, and essentially, we use them because it's quicker and easier than saying someone's name over and over again (and less confusing). The binary he/him and she/her will have been the first you picked up for humans and animals, and it for inanimate objects.
3b. The grammar bit - gender-neutral pronouns:
Some people use gender-neutral pronouns rather than she or he - and we also use them when the gender of the subject is unknown or irrelevant.
There are a few gender-neutral options. You'll know they/them as singular pronouns even if you don't think you do, and you'll also use these all the time without thinking ;) Some folks will try to tell you they're only valid as plurals, but as it happens they've been in perfectly normal use in the singular for at least 600 years (ask Shakespeare, Chaucer, and others).
You'll be most familiar with them in sentences when you don't know who you're talking about or they're not specified, such as "Someone left their running shoes behind, I wonder if they're coming to brunch?", or "We've a new person joining us on Wednesday and they want to join us for the social". [Yes, EFR are as obsessed with food and socialising as we are with running.]
There are also some newer pronouns that have been adapted from other words or languages or sometimes invented to fill a void, which we know collectively as neopronouns. Some of these are: ey/em/eir, per/per/pers, xe/xem/xir, zie/hir/hir.
Some texts still attempt to cover all bases by using he/she or (s)he to be inclusive. Apart from being somewhat clumsy and laborious, this also (unintentionally) has the effect of specifically excluding people who use other pronouns, so if you see it, please gently call it out. Using they is grammatically tidier, quicker and easier to say, and much more inclusive. You'll probably find that whoever's using it is doing so with the best of intentions, and will be happy to learn a more inclusive way.
4. Further reading:
The above is a deliberately brief surface-scratching of the world of pronouns to make it accessible and focused to the EFR context, so we'd highly recommend you check out some of the following, more comprehensive resources, and/or talk to us at a club run or social. We welcome your questions and input!
Medium.com's TransTalk Pronoun FAQs
Wikipedia's Singular they
The OED's Brief history of singular they
A short video by As/Is: Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People