4 Practices to Get Better at New Pronouns that You Can Do on Your Commute!

I want to do several posts addressing some of the common questions and struggles that come up when I’m talking to people about gender, and pronouns. This is part one of a series dedicated to pronouns.


Congratulations! You’ve met someone who’s changing their pronouns, or uses non-normative pronouns (not she/her/he/him). Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “It’s gonna be so hard!” or “I’m sorry, I’m going to mess up.” And that’s ok, but let’s not live there forever. Trust me, it gets better ;) . But, probably not without a little work, especially if it’s not someone whose pronouns you need to use regularly. After all, we’ll be breaking some pretty old habits. As someone who has they/them pronouns, and who has lots of loved ones with all sorts of pronouns, I have developed several practices that have helped me get better at using pronouns that I’m not used to, and break my ‘gendering’ habits in general. With that, here are some of my favorite, easy, pronoun practices:


Mental Pronouns Flashcards

This is a quick way to get better at your friend or co-worker’s different name or pronouns. First, imagine their face on a card. Now, “flip” the card and visualize their name and/or pronouns. To yourself, say their name, gender, and pronouns while imagining their face. Finally, go through several sentences using their name and/or pronouns. For example:

  • Susan is going to the Squash Festival. They sure do love pumpkins.
  • Susan also likes gourds. Their house is filled with gourds. They gave themself three giant squashes for Christmas last year.
  • Susan said it’d be sunny this weekend. They’re going to have such a good time at that festival.

One common pitfall when working on someone’s new pronouns is just focusing on the pronouns. It is much easier to change what pronouns you use when you actually think of them as their identified gender, and not what you have assumed or are used to for them. For help with different pronoun usages, checkout: http://pronoun.is/

Write a story!

If you like writing, consider writing a story with a character that uses non-normative pronouns. In writing, we use pronouns way more often than when we are talking to one another so it’s great practice. Remember, with writing any character that is different than you, it’s best to not lean on stereotypes or what you think their problems might be based on perceived differences. Instead, treat them like any other person or character, just with different pronouns (for more about this check out: http://writingtheother.com/ - it’s a whole site dedicated to writing characters different than you). You don’t have to publish it, or show anyone; the point is just to get used to using different pronouns.

People Watching Pronoun Practice

This one is great for cafes, trains - anywhere with people coming and going. Look at a person. What pronouns do you assume they use? What gender do you assume they are? Now, imagine they used different pronouns, or identified as a different gender. How does that change how you feel about them? In your head, describe what they’re wearing or doing using different pronouns than you initially assumed.

Love Your Neighbor

I once heard that, at least in the US, we grow up learning to automatically identify three things about someone: age, race, and gender. See for yourself, tune in to your own thoughts and see what you’re assuming about people when you look at them. For this exercise, look around at the people in the cafe or on the train. Say to yourself, “That is a person”. See how they are like you. Imagine how they have struggled like you. How they probably like watching sunsets, and smelling flowers. How they felt awkward when they were a teen. Feel how this person is more like you than anything else, because they are a human. Imagine these automatic assumptions melting away. If it feels right, practice loving this stranger. Pretend like they are a friend or family member. Wish them the best of luck.


Pronouns are pretty interesting when you think about it, and gendered pronouns doubly so. They require the subject to be pre-identified within the context of your conversation, but are useful shorthand. Adding gender to pronouns is even more interesting to me. It really highlights how important gender is in a society. Gender is a power system*, and by baking it into language we reinforce power differences and also make it seem like gender is inherent, objective, or natural. After all, some languages don’t have gendered pronouns, or pronouns at all, and some languages have gendered nouns, conjugations, etc.

It’s important to use someone’s correct pronouns, and to adjust to different pronouns as quickly as possible. It shows respect for the person you’re talking about, and it’s an all around good thing to do. It might feel uncomfortable, but like learning anything new, you’ll find that it gets easier and more normal the more you do it. Be confident that you’re making progress, you’ll get better, and that soon you won’t have to think about it at all. Good luck!


*pg.4 Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, by Catherine A MacKinnon, W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library, 2014.


Using Format