Simply put, there’s a lot at stake. Asking for people’s pronouns is one way to work towards inclusive spaces, by making sure that people are comfortable and being referred to by the name and pronouns they use.

It’s important that everyone at PHFO—internally, at community events, partner meetings, anywhere we are, really—feels respected, valued and safe. Using appropriate language is one way we can ensure that our transgender colleagues and partners are treated fairly in the workplace. We know that trans people are subjected to very high levels of violence and discrimination in the U.S., and it is critical that places of employment and their coworkers stand in solidarity with people of all gender identities, and particularly trans people. Using the right pronouns for someone is an easy way to make them feel welcome and safe.

As an anti-hunger organization, we need to be aware that not only are LGBTQ communities disproportionately impacted by hunger and poverty, but the impact is not evenly spread. Transgender people are four times more likely when compared to the general population to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year (2014) and we know this puts them at greater risk for food insecurity. Asking about pronouns is not just about creating an inclusive environment, but it is one piece of improving the equity of our work.

Nope! Gender expression isn’t the same as gender identity. While it is true that many people’s gender expressions and gender identities are aligned, that is not true for everyone. You can’t tell just by looking at someone that they are cis, trans, genderqueer, genderfluid or anything else. Plus, just because you think their gender expression is aligned with a particular set of pronouns doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true.

Beyond the fact that you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them, they might not use “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns! There are a variety of non-binary pronouns, the most well-known being “they/them”.

Here at PHFO, we want to “default to asking.” It’s better to know for sure rather than assume!

If someone asks you this question, you can also explain to them something like, “I’m just doing my part to be as inclusive as possible, I want to be a part of making our work environment a safe space and it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to make everyone feel comfortable.”

“What are your pronouns?”

Another way is to introduce yourself and your pronouns first. This is a good habit to get into, and let’s the other person know yours at the same time!

“My name is X, I use (She/Her) | (They/Them) | (He/Him) pronouns. What about you?”

If you mess up (and you will, everyone does, it’s a normal part of life), apologize, correct yourself and move on.

For the person you misgendered, or used the wrong pronoun for, excuses or lengthy explanations can be frustrating and/or triggering. Most people would prefer an apology and an assurance that you’ll do better. The Q Center has helpful resources on how to react if you misgender someone.

One thing you can do is practice using different pronouns! This handy chart shows how different pronouns are used:

“Traditional” Pronouns

She/Her – She laughed, I called her, Her eyes gleam, That is hers, She likes herself

He/Him – He laughed, I called him ,His eyes gleam ,That is his ,He likes himself

Gender-Neutral/Nonbinary Pronouns

These are often used by genderqueer or gender non-conforming people. A lot more than just the ones listed here exist!

They/Them – They laughed, I called them, Their eyes gleam, That is theirs, They like themselves

Ze (or zie) – Ze laughed(“zee), I called hir(“heer”), Hir eyes gleam(“heer”), That is hirs(“heers”), Ze likes hirself(“heerself”)


If some of the vocabulary used here is new to you, don’t worry! You can find some definitions below, or look at GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide ( which as a ton of information about gender and sexuality!

  • Cisgender (or “cis”) (adj.)
    A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as,” and is, therefore, an antonym of “trans-.” A more widely understood way to describe people who are not transgender is simply to say non-transgender people.
  • Gender Identity
    A person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity of man or woman (or boy or girl). For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of those two choices. Unlike gender expression (see below) gender identity is not visible to others.
  • Gender Expression
    External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine and feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture. Typically, transgender people seek to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Gender Non-Conforming
    A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Please note that not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming. Many people have gender expressions that are not entirely conventional – that fact alone does not make them transgender. Many transgender men and women have gender expressions that are conventionally masculine or feminine. Simply being transgender does not make someone gender non-conforming. The term is not a synonym for transgender and should only be used if someone self-identifies as gender non-conforming.
  • Transgender (or “trans”) (adj.)
    An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. People under the transgender umbrella may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms – including transgender. Some of those terms are defined below. Use the descriptive term preferred by the person. Many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. Some undergo surgery as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and a transgender identity is not dependent upon physical appearance or medical procedures.
  • Non-binary and/or genderqueer
    Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. The term is not a synonym for transgender and should only be used if someone self-identifies as non-binary and/or genderqueer

Other resources

This resource guide is adopted from Katie Frederick’s “Trans and Pronoun Info” guide.