Share, ask & learn: A guide to getting pronouns right

Victoria University recognises and celebrates the right for people to choose how they refer to themselves to reflect their gender identity.

Gender pronouns are what we use to refer to our gender. They’re an important part of affirming our identities, and the way we see ourselves within our worlds.

Being referred to by our correct pronouns is tantamount to our sense of being respected and included – and is a way to foster celebration of our intersecting identities.

International Pronoun Day aims to make respecting, sharing and educating about personal pronouns widespread and commonplace. So, what exactly is behind these three principles, and how can we ensure we are working towards this?

Respecting pronouns

Using correct pronouns is crucial to self, because it affirms that people respect you and value your lived experiences and identities.

Respecting pronouns leads to inclusion and validation. It also can have a direct effect on mental health. Studies have shown that using correct or chosen names or pronouns reduces the risk of depression and suicide in transgender young people.

Tips about respecting pronouns

  • Misgendering, misnaming or mispronouning can be mistakes – and mistakes are okay. More important is your response to an error: demonstrating an understanding of where you went wrong, and an ongoing consciousness of correcting yourself.
  • Using gender neutral or inclusive language is another way to show your awareness and care of others, and to avoid gender assumptions.
  • Showing respect as a friend, colleague or fellow student by using others’ correct pronouns and using gender-neutral terms is important; however, there is always more you can do to educate yourself.

Sharing pronouns

Sharing your pronouns with others can be an important step in fostering openness, inclusion and a safe and welcoming environment for all – and it normalises and creates space for other people to share theirs too.

VU lecturer Dr Brandy Cochrane, who is also the Senior Chair of the VU Pride and Ally Network, gives a few ways to begin the conversation:

“Sharing your pronouns first and then asking others is always a good starting point. Putting pronouns in email signatures is popular, and updating your Zoom name with pronouns assists others in feeling free to share their pronouns.”

Asking about other people’s pronouns is also an easy way to demonstrate that you’d like to respect and validate their identity.

Tips for sharing pronouns

  • If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, has a good guide with some tips and examples. Asking privately is a good idea to reduce the risk of discomfort.
  • If you’re around someone whose pronouns you’re not aware of or you haven’t been able to ask, don’t assume – refer to them by their name until you do know.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to use pronouns as part of gender affirmation. For some people, their pronouns may change over time, or from day to day.
  • Be as mindful as possible when a change or update of pronouns is communicated to you. “If your co-worker or student updates their pronouns, get on board! It’s not hard, and don’t worry about making mistakes—it happens to everyone,” says Dr Cochrane.

Learning more about pronouns

There is a lot to learn in the spheres of gender identity, sexuality and pronouns. The differences between sex, sexuality and gender are one place to start.

Educating yourself might start with reading and sharing your own pronouns, but your learning should be ongoing – particularly in regards to workplaces. Fostering respect, inclusion and well-being isn’t a job that has an end date.

Tips for learning more

  • It’s important to remember that there is work we can do by reading, engaging, asking, and learning – rather than putting the expectation on LGBTQIA+ people teach us.
  • To be an ally when it comes to pronouns, practice! Make sure you’re using the correct pronouns where possible, and take note where you’ve made mistakes.
  • Your workplace or organisation might have an LGBTQIA+ training module (such as VU’s Understanding & Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Identities guide, which we encourage all staff to complete). Get in touch with your HR, People and Culture or Engagement team to find out.
  • Minus18 focuses on the wellbeing, health and celebration of young LGBTQIA+ people and has a great library of informative articles on a number of topics ranging from gender, to pronouns, to coming out.
  • is a fantastic source for information, answers to questions, and tips on sharing and asking.
  • If you’re on-site at our Footscray Park Campus – head down to building M to see the Pronoun Wall, which has facts on pronouns, flag information, and other resources on pronouns and gender.