“Is that a joke?” asks a middle-aged man incredulously, pointing to a sign attached to the cash register that reads: "Please use gender-neutral pronouns when addressing our staff. Thanks for being a pal."
It’s Sunday morning at 9 a.m. I’ve been here since 6 a.m. I have had three cups of cold coffee.
I’ve had this conversation for four years now, with supportive friends, confused family, and belligerent strangers. It has not gotten easier, and it’s one of the main reasons for writing A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
When Tristan and I created A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
, we wanted to include a chapter about work, specifically how to support nonbinary folks in your workplace and how to ensure that when future queer, trans, and nonbinary people start working for your employer, there are already systems in place to make them feel safe and supported.
It can be so exhausting to have to constantly advocate for yourself — no amount of strong coffee can save me — so here are six simple things that allies can do to help a pal out.
1. Normalize asking for and sharing pronouns.
An easy way to start this is to include your pronouns when you sign your name in emails or to list them on your business cards. Insist that it become a regular activity for pronouns to be shared at work — you don’t have to wait until there’s someone who is openly nonbinary or transgender to do this! When folks introduce themselves, they can include pronouns with their names during meetings, email chains, on name tags, or however it make sense at your place of business.
2. Be ready to talk about it.
Take the time to explain to folks why it’s important to use nonbinary language and pronouns. Leave a copy of our book in your breakroom! Give one to your mom! Share the love! We tried to keep this book easy and entertaining to read so it felt like a friend explaining they/them pronouns — not a lecture. We gender-nonconforming folks often have to explain and reexplain our identity on the daily, so anytime an ally can step up means one less conversation we have to have on our own.
3. Advocate for folks who get misgendered, even if the person being misgendered isn’t there.
Our book offers various ways to go about this, the first rule being communication and not being afraid to call folks out when they are doing something wrong. It actually gets easier and doesn’t have to be a big deal!
4. Make it a safe space.
Gender-neutral bathrooms are a great place to start! Perhaps ask that your HR department bring someone in to talk about inclusivity! If you’re a teacher, I cannot even begin to explain how much it means to youth to have their teachers ask what names/pronouns they use. Starting the conversation can sometimes be the first step in creating a safer space for everyone.
5. Don’t make it a big deal when you mess up (and you will mess up).
Apologize and move on. We provide some scripts and samples of what this looks like in our book, but a quick, “I’m sorry, I’m going to work on getting better,” is all that’s needed.
6. Correct your own language.
There’s a lot of gendered language that we use without thinking: “ma’am,” “sir,” “ladies,” “guys,” etc. While it might be tough at the start, we can actually train ourselves out of using this language and replace it with gender-neutral alternatives. A Quick and Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns
includes some simple charts of words to replace and what to replace them with. As someone who has worked in the service industry for years, I can absolutely promise you that when you address staff in a gender-neutral way — or when you address your customers in a gender-neutral way — it will make someone’s day better (or at least not worse), and that alone is worth practicing!
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is a queer cartoonist living in Minneapolis whose work has been published online, in anthologies, and in mini-comics, and whose first graphic novel, Out of Hollow Water
, was published by 2D Cloud in 2013. They are the creator of The Grease Bats
, a monthly webcomic for the queer feminist website Autostraddle, as well as a contributing cartoonist to Everyday Feminism. Their most recent book, with Tristan Jimerson, is A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
is a freelance copywriter living in Minneapolis. His award-winning work has been featured in publications such as Creativity
magazine and The Egoist
. He has written copy for everything from exercise equipment to electronics. In fact, if you've been inside Best Buy within the last 6 months, you've probably read something he wrote. Tristan grew up on the rolling plains of rural Iowa, and after deciding that it wasn't cold enough, moved to Minnesota.