The pronouns used in everyday speech and writing oftentimes implies gender. These associations are not always accurate or helpful. Mistaking or assuming peoples’ pronouns sends a harmful message. Using someone’s correct gender pronouns is one of the most basic ways to show respect for their identity.
Studies have found that when compared with peers who could not use their chosen name and pronoun, the young people who could experienced 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide and a 65% decrease in suicide attempts.
They / Them / Theirs
Although the pronoun “they” tends to be thought of as gender-neutral, a person who goes by “they” could be a man, a woman, both, neither, or something else entirely. It is acceptable to use “they” instead of “he” or “she” when referring to someone who has not expressed a clear pronoun choice.
“They are a writer and wrote that book themselves. Those ideas are theirs. I like both them and their ideas”
Please note that although “they” pronouns here are singular and refer to an individual, the verbs are conjugated the same as with plural “they” (e.g. “they are”).
What if I make a mistake?
You don’t have to make a big deal out of your mistake. You mostly need to fix it. You might have a follow-up conversation with the person to apologize and see if there’s something else you can do moving forward. Drawing a lot of attention in the moment is not helpful and could potentially be harmful.
Note: It is often acceptable to use the their person plural (they, them, themselves) instead of the third person singular (he/she, his/hers, him/her, himsel/herself) when referring to someone who has not expressed a clear pronoun choice.