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They, He, She, Ze: What Are Pronouns And Why Do They Matter In LGBTQ Addiction Treatment?

They, He, She, Ze: What Are Pronouns And Why Do They Matter In LGBTQ Addiction Treatment?

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about pronouns lately. 

For example, you might have heard that Merriam Webster designated “they” (used as a singular personal pronoun) as their word of the year for 2019. Or you might have heard that British singer Sam Smith now uses non-binary “they/them” pronouns. 

Thanks to big news stories like these, more and more people are beginning to understand the importance of pronouns for those who identify as transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, or gender-fluid. 

We’re passionate about the topic of pronouns here at La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center. That’s why we want to share our knowledge about best practices for treating transgender and genderqueer clients.

We want to engage and inform other addiction treatment providers so they’ll feel empowered to better serve these populations. 

Read on to learn more about pronouns and why they’re so important in LGBTQ addiction treatment. 

What Are Pronouns?

Pronouns are words that replace nouns. There are several types, but the most common (and the one we’re focusing on) is the personal pronoun. Some examples include he, she, it, they. From now on, we’ll just say pronoun, but know that we’re referring to personal pronouns. 

Pronouns refer to a noun (a person, place, thing, or idea) that’s already been mentioned. They can replace a noun that doesn’t need to be mentioned specifically.

In English, pronouns are almost always gendered. He refers to men, while she refers to women. Most people don’t think twice about which pronouns people use to talk about them. Associating he with the masculine and she with the feminine is natural, normal, and not thought of. That’s not the case for transgender people or those who fall outside of the gender binary.

Many people in this group feel like their societally-prescribed pronouns don’t fit. In response, many have started using non-binary pronouns to describe themselves. The most common are they/them/theirs, but other options do exist.

Useful Terms

Now that you’ve got a grasp on pronouns, it’s important to know some other terms. Knowing these terms will help you better understand why pronouns are important in LGBTQ addiction treatment. 

Biological Sex (or Sex Assigned at Birth) – The classification of people based on a combination of their anatomy, hormones and chromosomes. Examples include male, female and intersex. 

Gender Identity – A person’s internal sense of being a man, a woman, both, neither of these or another gender(s). Often biological sex and gender are conflated, but they aren’t the same thing. Examples include man, woman, trans man or trans woman, non-binary or genderqueer. 

Cisgender – A person whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex.

Transgender – A person whose gender identity doesn’t correspond with their birth sex.

Gender Expression – The physical expression of a person’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, and body shape. These markers vary widely by country, culture and ethnicity. Examples include masculine, feminine or androgynous. 

Non-Binary Gender – The umbrella term to describe gender identities other than strictly male or female. There are many types of non-binary gender, but some of the most common are: 

  • Genderqueer – A catch-all term for individuals with non-binary gender identities.
  • Agender – Not having a specific gender identity or having a gender identity that is neutral.
  • Genderfluid – Moving between two or more gender identities or expressions.

Misgender –  To refer to someone using a pronoun or form of address that doesn’t reflect the gender they identify with.

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Why Pronouns Matter

Before we get into talking about why pronouns are important in LGBTQ addiction treatment, it’s essential to understand why they matter in general. We wrote an entire article on this topic that you can check out here, but here’s a quick summary.

Using Correct Pronouns Shows Respect 

The first reason using correct pronouns matters is because it’s a sign of respect. When you take the time to learn and correctly use someone’s pronouns, you’re showing that you see and value their gender identity.  

On the other hand, assuming someone’s pronouns sends a potentially harmful message—that people must look a certain way in order to demonstrate their gender. 

While assuming someone’s gender is problematic, in many cases it’s unintentional and benign. The real issue is repeatedly using the wrong pronouns, even after being corrected. In fact, Laverne Cox, the trans actress best known for her role in Orange Is The New Black, was quoted as saying “Misgendering a trans person is an act of violence.” 

Actively ignoring the pronouns someone has stated they go by may also send the message that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people do not or should not exist.

They’re A Form Of Allyship

When you introduce yourself using your pronouns, you give transgender and non-binary people the freedom to share theirs as well. It may seem like a small act, but being supportive about pronoun use can give genderqueer people the confidence to share their full selves with the world.

Using The Wrong Ones Can Create a Safety Risk

In most cases, using incorrect pronouns makes people feel invalidated and disrespected. There’s no doubt that these microaggressions are painful, but they don’t pose an immediate health or safety risk.

In some cases, however, misgendering or using the wrong pronouns can lead to more severe consequences, like outing a trans person before they’re ready. Not only is outing someone a violation of their privacy, but it could also lead to harassment, discrimination or violence from friends, colleagues or society at large.

Why Are Pronouns Important In LGBTQ Addiction Treatment?

Pronouns matter in LGBTQ addiction treatment for several reasons. First off, when you use correct pronouns with your transgender and genderqueer clients, you validate their gender identity. More specifically, you’re saying that you see truth in the client’s perspective. It also says that you acknowledge that their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors have causes and are thus understandable. 

Validation is essential in therapy because it helps build clients’ self-esteem and encourages them to actively participate in the therapeutic process. This is especially important when working with transgender or genderqueer clients. Many come to addiction treatment with low self-esteem as a result of the systemic rejection and discrimination they experience on a daily basis. 

Using the wrong pronouns, whether intentionally or not, will make clients feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or hurt. Understandably, this leads to poorer treatment outcomes. In fact, a study of 34 transgender people found that those who were subject to stigma and transphobia “left treatment prematurely after isolation and conflicts.”

What’s more, many trans people may feel hesitant about treatment or may distrust medical providers as a result of past negative experiences. Putting a focus on correct pronoun usage sends the message that your treatment center is LGBTQ-affirming and that trans clients can feel safe there. Changing this narrative means more honesty and openness during therapy, and consequently, better treatment outcomes

How To Incorporate Pronoun Use Into Daily Operations

Now that you know more about why pronouns matter in LGBTQ addiction treatment, here are some suggestions for incorporating them into your daily operations.

  • Encourage staff members to introduce themselves using their name and pronouns during intake, verbal introductions, and check-ins. Try asking questions like: 
  • “What pronouns do you use?”
  • “How would you like me to refer to you?”
  • “How would you like to be addressed?”
  • “My name is John and my pronouns are he, him, and his. What about you?”
  • Add pronouns to staff ID badges
  • If doing online sessions, change your display name to include your pronouns.

Pronouns Matter At La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center

As a national leader in LGBTQ affirmative addiction treatment, we know how important your pronouns are. We promise to use and honor them whenever we can. 

But we won’t stop there. Here at La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center, we’re committed to providing the best addiction treatment possible to every one of our sexual- and gender-diverse clients. 

If you or someone you love is transgender or genderqueer and is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, then contact us to learn more about our addiction treatment center in Los Angeles.  

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