Wholeness Healing Today

LGBTQ + Mental Health Gender Identity and Pronoun Guide

Understanding more about gender identity and pronouns is a key element of affirming and supporting LGBTQ+ folks and their wholeness and wellness. This article’s purpose is to offer a guide toward that understanding.

Because the relationship of gender and pronoun use is so intertwined, first clarifying definitions and distinctions among gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex may be helpful. Biological sex is a medical determination based on primary and secondary sex characteristics (physical and physiological), generally assigned at birth (UConn Rainbow Center, 2018). Gender has often been assumed to align with biological sex characteristics, but this may not always be so. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their gender, not necessarily dependent on biological characteristics, physical appearance, or how a person presents themselves in the world. This presentation – voice, hairstyles, clothing choices, chosen name, etc. – is gender expression.

For LGBTQ+ folks, personal pronouns can be integral to aligning with their gender identity and presenting authentically in the world. Using chosen names and pronouns is one deeply valuable way to show needed support for LGBTQ+ persons, considering youth particularly, to respect and affirm them. This validation carries tremendous value to mental health and holistic well-being, helping create an inclusive environment, whether at home, school, workplaces, or other spaces.

Personal pronouns are words we use for others in the third person. It can be all too easy to make gender and pronoun assumptions based on someone’s appearance, gender expression, or name. Accurate or not, these assumptions can end a harmful message, that a person needs to appear or be a certain way to be referred to by certain pronouns (mypronouns.org, 2017). An appropriate and mindful action is to refrain from voicing assumptions, and to inquire by which pronouns a person wishes to be referred (e.g., What pronouns do you go by?). Offer an invitation to share without pressure to share; share your own pronouns.

While he/him and she/her are the most commonly used personal pronouns, not everyone feels these pronoun sets align with their gender identity or expression due to the binary ideas of sex (male/female) and gender (man/woman) they represent. For those who identify as transgender, non-binary, genderqueer/genderfluid, or otherwise gendernonconforming, gender neutral pronouns offer more opportunity to define themselves. Some individuals may prefer to use no pronouns, in which case the name of the person is always used in place of pronouns (e.g., Jack left Jack’s book here) (mypronouns.org, 2017). They/them is one of the most known gender neutral pronoun sets (these are my pronouns). While it may seem awkward to use they/them to refer to a singular person, they has already been used for centuries to refer to those of unknown gender. Other more commonly used gender neutral pronoun sets include ze/hir/hirs or xe/xem/xyr. (A helpful article on gender neutral pronouns and how to use them: www.them.us/story/genderneutral-pronouns-101-they-them-xexem). Because gender and pronouns are connected, intentionally or unintentionally using incorrect pronouns is a form of misgendering someone (Glsen.org, 2019). Not using someone’s explicitly expressed pronouns, especially intentionally, can feel offensive, harassing, or minimizing to them. However, mistakes happen, and if you realize or learn you accidentally used the incorrect pronoun, whether in the moment or later, apologizing and correcting yourself is the best course of action (mypronouns.org, 2017). Mindful accountability and genuine, consistent efforts are important in this process. Speaking for my own personal pronoun experiences, both genuine effort and the grace of a simple, clear acknowledgement and correction is appreciated and deeply meaningful!

Note: an upcoming article will explain using gender neutral and gender inclusive language across contexts.

Works Cited:
Glsen.org (2019). pronoun guide. www.glsen. org/activity/pronouns-guide-glsenmypronouns.
org (2017).

UConn Rainbow Center (2018). Gender and pronoun guide 1.rainbowcenter.uconn.edu/wpcontent/uploads/sites/2262/2018/08/Genderand-Pronoun-Guide-1.pdf.

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  • Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner


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