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Why do pronouns matter? A lesson in allyship

By: Perry Cohen
30 Jun 2022

I run a lot of workshops where we talk about pronouns, how to ask for them, how to share yours and why it all even matters anyway.  After one workshop with an outing club at a college in New England a student came up to me and I could almost feel the excitement coming off his body.  I had never seen anyone so amped up about pronouns.  

“Perry,” he said, “I finally get it!  All through college whenever we did introductions we always shared our name and our pronouns.  No one ever explained why we did it; we just did it.  I assumed that it was a more advanced version of introductions.  In high school, we shared our names, and then the college level was to share your name AND add your pronouns. Now I know it’s not just next level, it’s a way for me to share who I am and how I want to be referred to without someone making an assumption about me simply based on how I look!”

He’s absolutely right.

perry cohen packing a backpack at the base of a rock climb

The reason I share my pronouns and the reason I invite others to do so is because I don’t like it when people make assumptions about me and, at the same time, I recognize that if I don’t tell them how to refer to me, I give them no choice but to take their best guess. Avoiding gendered language such as “hi guys” or “welcome, ladies”  also removes any assumption from the equation.

Try these alternatives instead: 

  • “Hey y’all”
  • “How’s it going, everybody?”

It can be scary to think about pronouns.  We all worry about messing up.  Just remember you only use pronouns when referring to a person, never when you are actually talking to them directly. If you’re nervous to talk to a person because you don’t know their pronouns know that you won’t have to use their pronouns in a direct conversation with that person and you can always ask.  For example, I might say, “Hi my name is Perry and my pronouns are he/him.  What’s your name and what pronouns do you use?”  That minimizes the It’s hard to think of a better way to be an ally than to use the name and pronouns a person uses for themselves. 

Pronouns are an impactful and tangible way to affirm an individual’s personal identity and give respect to that. It can create a comfortable environment for people to be themselves and feel accepted. And a very straightforward way to be an ally to LGBTQIA+ folks. 

perry cohen standing in a canyon at sunset

Find more resources for LGBTQIA+ and Allies on The Venture Out Project’s website. Founded by Perry Cohen, The Venture Out Project brings together queer, trans, and LGBTQ+ youth and adults to create community, develop leadership skills, and gain confidence through the shared experience of outdoor adventure. The Venture Out Project also serves as an educational resource to support schools and organizations in their effort to affirm their LGBTQ+ community members.

PERRY COHEN

Eddie Bauer One Outside Guide

Perry is an avid runner, biker, and backcountry skier who is Avalanche L1 certified. He’s also a lifeguard, a Wilderness First Responder, and the founder of The Venture Out Project, a non-profit organization that brings together queer, trans, and LGBTQ+ youth and adults to create community, develop leadership skills, and gain confidence through the shared experience of outdoor adventure.

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