“Good morning, boys and girls!”
“Hello, ladies and gentlemen.”
It might surprise you to learn these common greetings can be exclusionary—or a microaggression—for people in the LGBTQ+ community. As a cisgender communication sciences and disorders (CSD) faculty, we learned from our students and colleagues how simply changing the language we use to address people creates a more inclusive environment.
What’s the big deal about pronouns?
No one set of pronouns fits all. It’s impossible to know what pronoun a person uses without asking them. As speech-language pathologists, we understand the value of pronouns to each individual, as well as how to correctly use them. Using someone’s personal gender pronoun is a vital step toward inclusion.
The binary pronouns are she/her/hers and he/him/his. Non-gender-specific singular pronouns include they/them/theirs or ze/hir/hirs.
Misgendering occurs when referring to a person using a word, most likely a pronoun, that does not reflect the gender with which they identify. This occurs intentionally or unintentionally. Misgendering can cause feelings of disrespect, invalidation, or even invisibility.
A senior undergraduate student in our department described their experience of being misgendered:
I use “they/them/theirs” pronouns because those pronouns feel comfortable to me. I feel like those words accurately describe who I am, and when my pronouns are not used I feel like I’m not seen. It takes immense bravery and strength for someone to live as their authentic self. To be open and honest with the world about your identity, just to be constantly reminded that you’re viewed as someone you are not, is harmful.
After working with students and colleagues in other departments, here’s what our CSD faculty learned to do to avoid misgendering with incorrect pronouns:
- Introduce yourself with your pronouns. This offers others the opportunity to do the same. Or ask what pronouns a person prefers: “I don’t make any assumptions about the pronouns people use; which pronouns would you like me to use for you?”
- Share your pronouns in email signatures, name badges, business cards, and on your office door. Sharing your pronouns normalizes the practice and reduces the chance for someone to be misgendered.
- Use “they/them/their,” when you don’t know someone’s pronouns. If you unintentionally misgender someone, promptly apologize, continue on with the conversation, and try again at the next opportunity.
- Address groups with gender-inclusive terms such as: everyone, y’all, folks, colleagues, or friends. Avoid binary terms such as “you guys” or “ladies and gentlemen.”
- Talk about what title, if any, someone prefers. Avoid gendered titles such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, Sir, and Ma’am. Consider inclusive titles such as teacher, professor, student, Mx (“muks”/“mix”), and Misc (“misk”), or use their name.
- Advocate for changing outdated binary language in standardized assessments, clinical materials, forms, documents, and written policies.
ASHA’s Code of Ethics obligates us to provide services in an atmosphere free from discrimination. The current lack of diversity in our field means we must be increasingly vigilant to seek opportunities to advocate and learn from those around us. Let’s model gender-inclusive language and gently educate others when an opportunity arises.
Susan Mack, MS, CCC-SLP, pronouns: she, her, hers, is an associate clinical professor in communication sciences and disorders at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. She coordinates and oversees educational clinical placements. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 11, Administration and Supervision; and 16, School-Based Issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dawn Vogler-Elias, PhD, CCC-SLP, pronouns: she, her, hers, is an associate professor in communication sciences and disorders at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, and directs the speech-language pathology graduate program. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language, Learning, and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 11, Administration and Supervision. email@example.com
Thank you to our contributors:
Anna Goings, pronouns: they/them/theirs, and Erin Potter, pronouns: she/they, are undergraduate students at Nazareth College. Olajiwon K. McCadney, pronouns: he/him/his and they/them/theirs, is the director for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Education in the Division for Community & Belonging at Nazareth College.