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Understanding Gender Pronouns and Why They Matter

Doctor On Demand Blog

What are gender pronouns?

We use gender pronouns to refer to each other in conversation daily. We often use pronouns to replace a person’s name when we’re talking about them, and we also use pronouns in reference to pets, plants, and random objects. The most common pronouns we use are he, she, they, and it. For example, if you were in conversation with your friend about a doctor’s visit, you might say to them, “I haven’t gotten my test results back from my doctor. He hasn’t even called!” “He” would be the pronoun you use in reference to your doctor. 

The following table shows examples of different gender pronouns someone may use. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many other pronouns someone may like you to use, though. So, be sure to ask them before you assume any of these are their correct gender pronouns.

Why are they important?

We assign a gender to a person when referring to them using a gender pronoun. We commonly assume a person’s pronoun based on how they look, but these assumptions are not always correct. Some people are gender fluid or experience gender dysphoria, so they may choose a different pronoun than the one you might automatically assign them. This is why it’s important to ask a person their pronouns. 

When we assume a person’s pronoun, we send a message that they should look or act a certain way according to that gender. For many individuals who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary, assuming their gender pronoun feels offensive and often creates anxiety. Asking a person their pronoun builds an inclusive environment and using their correct gender pronoun shows them respect. Just like you wouldn’t want to be actively addressed by the wrong name or gender pronoun, calling someone else by the wrong gender pronoun is disrespectful.

What is a gender neutral pronoun?

“They” and “them” are the most common gender neutral pronouns that people use. Other gender neutral pronouns include ze/hir and xe/xem. Gender neutral pronouns do not assign gender to a person. The use of gender neutral pronouns acknowledges a person’s sense of gender fluidity or non-binary gender identity. 

Some argue that “they” is not a grammatically correct way to refer to a person in English, but the pronouns’ gender is neutral. APA and Merriam-Webster acknowledge this by including it as a way to refer to a non-binary person in publications. We use “they” naturally to refer to people we do not know such as when we have only been given a person’s job title or their name is gender neutral. 

How do gender pronouns tie to gender identity and mental health?

Gender identity is someone’s innermost concept of themself as male, female, both, or neither. The term “transgender” is an umbrella term for those whose gender identities differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. It often also can include people who identify as gender fluid or non-binary, which is when someone’s innermost concept of themself is both male and female or neither.

Some people who are transgender experience “gender dysphoria”, which is psychological distress caused by the incongruence between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. Imagine waking up each day and feeling like you were in the wrong body and couldn’t escape. You’d probably avoid looking in the mirror and would maybe even stop going out with friends. You might also feel trapped, down, and frustrated.

Research has found that those who are transgender have a higher rate of attempted suicide, self-harm, and experience more depression and anxiety. Research has also found these individuals are more likely to experience harassment and discrimination leading to mental health difficulties.

Can identifying and using correct gender pronouns promote improved mental health?

When we use the wrong gender pronouns, ignore someone’s gender pronouns, or assume a person’s gender pronouns, it can send the message that we don’t care about them or we don’t take their identity seriously. When individuals experience this type of erasure daily, it leads to feelings of hopelessness, anger, anxiety and shame. A recent study found 42% of LGBTQ+ youth were seriously considering attempting suicide in the past year; however, those who had their pronouns respected attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not. Being inclusive and respectful of a person’s gender pronouns often helps them feel validated and improves their mental health.

About Doctor On Demand by Included Health

At Doctor On Demand, we have a very diverse medical practice, which enables us to speak to a variety of patient needs. One of the things that we’re proud of is that 69 percent of our primary-care physicians are women, and 43 percent of our doctors are from different ethnic minorities. Within that category, 21 percent of our providers are African-American, compared to the national average of 5.7 percent. And among our behavioral health providers, 20 percent identify with the LGBTQ community. Learn more about scheduling a behavioral health visit with a therapist or psychiatrist.

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