What are gender pronouns and why is it important to use the right ones?

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Gender pronouns are the terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity. These might be he/him, she/her or gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them.

Knowing and using a person’s correct pronouns fosters inclusion, makes people feel respected and valued, and affirms their gender identity.

READ MORE | Educate yourself: Genderqueer, skoliosexual, transsexual or homoromantic - what does it all mean? 

The difference between sex and gender

While people may use the terms sex and gender interchangeably, they mean different things.

Sex refers to the physical differences between people who are female, male, or intersex. A person typically has their sex assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, including their genitalia and chromosome composition.

This is distinct from gender, which is a social construct and reflects the social and cultural role of sex within a given community. People often develop their gender identity and gender expression in response to their environment.

While gender has been defined as binary in Western culture, gender is on a broad spectrum; a person may identify at any point within this spectrum or outside of it entirely. Gender is not neatly divided along the binary lines of “man” and “woman”.

People may identify with genders that are different from sex assigned at birth, some people do not identify with any gender, while others identify with multiple genders. These identities may include transgender, nonbinary, or gender-neutral.

Only the person themself can determine what their gender identity is, and this can change over time.

READ MORE | Home Affairs officials now obliged to marry same sex couples 

Gender neutral pronouns

People who identify outside of a gender binary most often use non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns that are not gender specific. These include they/them/their used in the singular, ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he, and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her.

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