One of the most important things to keep in mind when existing in LGBTQ+ spaces is how to respect pronouns.
As someone who exists largely in these spaces, it hadn’t occurred to me that others are not regularly talking about pronouns. In queer spaces, a round of introductions with names and pronouns is entirely commonplace. It wasn’t until I gave a talk at ARC several years ago, and my slide talking about pronouns was initially met with laughter, that I realized this is not at all normal in other environments.
Using pronouns and identifying gender differences are listed as speech and language milestones for 3 year olds. From a very young age, we are taught how to respect pronouns by being informed of our own pronouns, being told the pronouns of the people around us, and being given a general list of identifiers in assuming others’ pronouns. Pronouns are reinforced again in elementary school once we start reading and writing. This is generally the point many people stop actively thinking about pronouns.
We need to do better than relying on the tools we were provided with as children to assume others’ pronouns. One way we can do that is by normalizing talking about pronouns.
The most common pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, and ze/zir/zis/zieself. She/her/hers and he/him/his are second nature and easy to remember for all cisgendered people. They/them/theirs is the most commonly used gender-neutral pronoun and ze/zir/zis/zieself is an alternate gender-neutral pronoun. Some people do not identify with any pronouns at all and want to be referred to by their name instead. It is impossible to know someone’s pronouns without asking, so you need to normalize talking about pronouns in your business.
You can normalize talking about pronouns by first sharing your own pronouns. You can share your pronouns on your website, on your social media bios, and in your e-mail signature. Sharing your pronouns creates a safer and more welcoming space for everyone to share. When cisgendered people publically share their pronouns, it helps reduce the othering felt by trans and nonbinary people sharing their pronouns, and it encourages others to think about pronouns as well.
Why “Preferred Pronouns” is Bad
Once you have shared your pronouns, it is time to start asking your clients for their pronouns. You can do this on your contact form and on your questionnaires. When you ask for the names of important people you will interact with at the wedding, ask for their pronouns as well.
When asking for pronouns, do not ask for their “preferred pronouns”. Prefer, by definition, means to “like (one thing or person) better than another or others; tend to choose”. Identity is not a choice. By suggesting that someone’s pronoun is preferred, it implies that it is optional. Using the correct pronouns is not optional if you want to affirm LGBTQ+ people in your business. If you feel unsure about using the correct pronouns at a wedding, make sure you practice using them ahead of time.
What About Offending People?
“But what will my non-LGBTQ+ clients think?” This is a common reason vendors give for not asking for pronouns on their forms. And, for the sake of being fully transparent, it will offend some people. There will be clients who are repelled by LGBTQ+ affirming business practices. Ultimately, it is a choice you need to make as a business owner – is being fully welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community a priority for you and your business?
If yes, you need to accept that it will offend people and let those potential clients go. Other clients may not be familiar with sharing their pronouns and it will become a learning opportunity. Explain to them why it is important for you to ask about pronouns in your business. Normalizing pronouns means reaching beyond the LGBTQ+ community.
How to Respect Pronouns at the Wedding
Now that you have shared your pronouns, asked your couple for their pronouns, potentially educated some other clients about their pronouns, it is time to use them! Something to consider is asking for pronouns on your final questionnaire, particularly if it has been some time since the couple originally booked your services. Pronouns can change over time, so make sure you have current information going into the wedding day.
If you make a mistake and use the incorrect pronouns, do not draw a lot of attention to your mistake. Acknowledge your mistake, correct yourself, and continue. If someone corrects you, thank them, correct yourself, and move on. Do not apologize when you misgender someone. An apology puts the responsibility on the misgendered person to alleviate your discomfort and tell you “It’s okay.” It’s not okay to misgender someone. Sit with your discomfort and learn from it to avoid misgendering in the future.
You may encounter people who are not using the correct pronouns at the wedding. Many wedding vendors do not ask for pronouns and will spend the day misgendering the couple or their guests. If you have a moment to speak to the vendor, inform them of the person’s pronouns. You may also find that some family members are resistant to using the correct pronouns. This is an extremely sensitive area for many LGBTQ+ people and their families and is not a place for you to insert yourself. Continue to use your couples’ pronouns in conversation and you will be doing your part in normalizing them to any resistant family members.
Did you catch your brain trying to assume the pronouns of anyone featured in this blog post? What characteristics did you use in making these assumptions? Make a list. Acknowledge that this list is based on tools you were provided with as a child. Recognize that these tools are harmful and are not serving you or others.
Now go normalize talking about pronouns in your business.
Did you like this post about how to respect pronouns? Click here for more wedding industry education posts. Check back next Tuesday for the next post in the series all about gender identity and gender expression.