/ Company

The Pronoun

We all navigate conversations daily, with strangers, with colleagues and with friends and family. And I hope that in most, if not all of our conversations, we bring a generous heart and an intellectual curiosity – whether it is a casual ‘get to know you’ with someone new, or a deepening connection through more thoughtful conversations with those who are close.

What you might not realize is that the pronouns you use or assume in your language could very well alienate and create tremendous angst for others that might feel uncomfortable responding truthfully to your innocent inquiries and shared verbal exchanges.

I am sharing what I know to be true for me and perhaps for many others, AND asking for your respectful consideration of language when you next converse. The most innocent of questions can trigger immense fear for the responder, and I for one, often find myself in a provoked state when people make assumptions with the questions they ask me. I have also learned and become quite skillful at giving ambiguous responses, avoiding the pronoun to give me some relief from feeling judged or rejected. Even though I have been out for decades, I carry with me a personal history of being rejected and hated simply for who I love. And this deep personal hurt unfortunately is a part of my story that still surfaces when I find myself using “they” instead of “she”, or “my spouse” instead of “my wife”. I am always on-alert when it comes to the pronoun – listening to the language of others to see if I am ‘safe’ in responding truthfully, or if I need to generically respond in a way that doesn’t reveal too much, but isn’t a lie either.

Perhaps by sharing a typical conversation exchange that I find myself navigating (almost daily), it will help you to become more conscious of the potentially exclusive language that you use.

Other: Are you married?
Me: I am – quite happily!
Other: What does he do?
This is where an inner terror quietly erupts in me. I have to decide if I feel safe enough to answer this honestly, or if I need to be more cryptic with my response so that I am not judged, rejected or vulnerable to physical retaliation.
Ambiguous me: My spouse is a creative executive at Disney.
Truthful me: She is a creative executive at Disney.

So how can you be more inclusive in your language, and not assumptive with the pronoun?

Other: Are you married?
Me: I am – quite happily!
Other: What does your spouse do?
The clear choice that this person has made in not assuming I have a husband gives me tremendous relief and a feeling of safety to respond truthfully. This inclusive language gives me the freedom to respond in kind AND an option to be more revealing if I choose to.
Truthful me: She is a creative executive at Disney.
Optional ‘in kind’ response from me: My spouse is a creative executive at Disney.

This seemingly benign shift from ‘he’ to ‘spouse’ gives me immediate relief from the historical rejection and spewed hatred that I have endured over the years.

In celebration of Pride Month, I would encourage you to add pronoun awareness to your conscious vocabulary.

Happy Pride!