Some people use non-gendered pronouns to identify themselves because it better reflects who they are than “he” or “she.” You can make it clear that your congregation welcomes them by creating space to name our own pronouns. And—because we respect the grammar lovers among us—let us assure you that these are perfectly acceptable in English usage (check out the AP Style Book Guidelines on the singular they and other pronouns).
One easy way to make this statement is to provide name tags that are already printed with a range of pronouns and inviting people to select and use the one that best fits them. There are some examples on the right (be sure to leave a blank option to let people fill in their own if they use something you didn’t think of). You’ll probably have to print them up yourself, although here’s one link to pre-printed tags that ask people to fill in their pronouns. Other groups provide buttons that have different pronouns on them that people can add to existing name tags. Walking in the door and seeing that a congregation has already prepared this means of welcome sends a tremendous message about who you are. The National Council on Jewish Women also includes a number of examples in their guide to Gender Diversity and Judaism.
Make sure, too, that you ask everyone if they would like to state their pronouns, not just those who are transgender or non-binary. This process goes a long way to raising people’s consciousness about pronoun usage.
But, it is also crucial that you follow up this initial welcome by using the correct pronouns—as the person has requested—and being respectful of their name and gender(s). Need to brush up on the issues? No problem … there are great resources out there. One place to start is Workplace Diversity’s guide to Understanding Non-Binary People: How to be respectful and supportive.
For more on this important contemporary conversation,
- “Personal Pronouns: Pretty Please,” from Free to Be: Transcending the Gender Binary, a blog about the non-binary experience where we found the great examples of name tags
- “She, Ze, They? What’s in a Gender Pronoun?” from the New York Times, January 30, 2016
- “Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns,” from the BBC Magazine
- “Goodbye to ‘he’ and ‘she’ and hello to ‘ze’?” from linguist John McWhorter on CNN Social Commentary
- “How to use gender neutral pronouns,” from LifeHacker
By the way, these conversations also apply to the Divine! Check back for more on that in a coming post!