Culture Moments: Let’s Talk About Gender Pronouns

What are gender pronouns and why do they matter in the LGBTQ+ community? What do you do when you misgender someone in the workplace? What’s it like to be misgendered?

Culture Moments podcast host Larry Baker (he/him) is joined by LCW Associate Consultant Ada Vargas (they/them) for a candid discussion on Ada’s experience joining LCW, how LCW upskilled staff on pronoun use in the workplace, and why you should be having these conversations within your own organization.

This Brave Conversation was originally a live stream discussion recorded on June 2nd 2022.

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Listen to the conversation below (Run time – 30:38) or scroll down for the full transcript.

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Show Transcript

Larry Baker: Hello everyone and welcome to the culture moments podcast. I’m your host, Larry Baker. And I’m thrilled to have you join us for our second season called Brave Conversations with LCW.

In these episodes, you’ll hear from a panel of guests from specific communities offering a range of perspectives on the past two years. We’ll hear about their own experiences as well as their insights on what’s changed and more importantly, what needs to change to move equity forward.

As we all know so much has shifted and changed over the past two years, and for many of us we’re still in recovery from a very difficult 24 months.

So hello everyone. And welcome to Brave Conversations Live with LCW. I am your host, Larry Baker. I use the pronouns, he and him and I am thrilled to welcome you to our very first livestream conversation. Each month, we will be making space for timely and important conversations that we hope will help educate, generate discussion and help you take some actionable items back to your organization and your daily lives.

For those of you who are not familiar with LCW we are a global DEI training consulting and translation firm that partners with organizations to develop global mindsets and to help you develop your skills and systems to succeed in a culturally diverse world.

Today, we are talking about gender pronouns…what they are, how to use them, and how you can upskill those in your life. On this topic. I am joined today by my colleague, Ada Vargas, who is here to talk about what we all can do to create more inclusive spaces. So Ada take it away.

Ada Vargas: Absolutely. Larry, thank you so much for hosting this today and for kicking off pride in such an incredible way.

My name is Ada Vargas and my pronouns are they/them/theirs. And I’m really thrilled to be here with you all to have this conversations on pronouns and inclusive, um, being more inclusive towards the trans community during pride month, I am a subject matter expert on the LGBTQ plus community, and I am part of the community myself.

As a queer and non-binary trans person. So I’m very, very excited to be here and dive in because I love to share my knowledges and experiences in with LCW and then many other avenues within LCW to make workplaces more inclusive for people of all identities. So. Um, I’d love to just jump right in.

Larry Baker: Awesome. Thank you. But before we jump into that conversation, Ada, I want to let you all know that after our discussion, we’re going to answer all the questions that you have. So as we dive in, please, don’t be afraid to ask your questions in the chat. We have folks monitoring that, uh, the chat as well. So Ada let’s just begin with some of the basics.

Let’s talk about what are gender pronouns and why is it so important to the LGBTQ plus community?

Ada Vargas: Well, quite simply pronouns are words that we use to refer to someone in the third person without using their name. Right? Whether we realize it or not, people frequently use pronouns when speaking about us.

And this is something that we are very used to very intuitively and often when speaking about an individual. Third person pronouns can have gender implications. Like he, him implying a person is a man or a boy. And to her implying a person is a woman or a girl, and these implications can be deceiving.

And before I kind of dive into that a little further, the reason why this becomes really important for the LGBTQ plus community is because gender and sexual orientation are two things that are. Within the LGBTQ plus community and gender and language is something that we encounter in our day to day lives.

Right? So when we are beginning to pay attention to the conversation around gender pronouns, we are actually accessing one of the easiest places for inclusion for the community. This is of course the whole community is not a monolith, but it can be a huge signifier for people in the community that a space is safe to be themselves, whether they are trans or not.

If they’re seeing people introducing themselves with their pronouns, if they’re seeing inclusive language, that isn’t just very binary and exclusive. So those pieces are kind of messages for the LGBTQ plus community that people are safe and that they can, um, they can begin to really be themselves in those spaces.

Right. So, yeah, going back to kind of those implications and assumptions that can be. Because of the way that pronouns have gendered implications. When we assume what pronouns to use for someone, even when we get it right, it can reinforce ideas of gender norms and really send a message that people have to look a certain way to demonstrate the gender that they are, or they’re not right.

And when you share your pronouns, Again, you make space for people to share theirs that sends that signal to the community that you’re someone safe to be around, or that organization is someone safe to be around and not assuming people’s pronoun and using the correct ones is really as important as calling someone the correct name and using the correct pronunciation for their name.

Larry Baker:

Awesome aid. I’m glad that you pointed out the fact that, you know, we use pronouns normally. It’s just that. Now we are asked to be more conscious of how we actually use those pronouns when we are addressing individuals from the LGBTQ plus community, to make sure that we’re creating these environments where they feel comfortable.

So I absolutely appreciate that insight, um, on that conversation, but aid, I wanna ask you something more specific. Talk to me about what was your experience like coming into a new workplace as someone that uses they then pronoun specifically?

Ada Vargas: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve actually had this experience a couple of times, so I’ll, I’ll share a broader experience.

Um, I have encountered some challenges in my experiences, joining new teams as a gender nonconforming person who uses data on pronoun. At a few employers. Now I have been the very first gender nonconforming, more non-binary employee that those teams have ever had. Right. And so there’s a bit of a dance to figure out of the people that I’m joining are already trans competent and to see how much self-advocacy, I’m gonna need to do in those spaces.

Right. This is like something that, um, People in the LGBTQ plus community at large, in particular, trans people have to constantly be assessing the spaces that they’re in and language around. Gender is something that comes into play. Like I mentioned in our day to day life at work because pronouns often have those gender implications, right?

So this can prove really tricky for trans people like myself to navigate because you’re left with. Couple of choices, right? You either have the choice of not educating your team and being constantly misgendered. If they’re not already upskilled in that way, or you have the choice of doing additional emotional and upskilling labor to like help your team become more trans competent, right.

At the very least with gender neutral pronoun. And I wanna say right here that these and other decisions made by trans people on how to engage in their workplace are all very valid, right? Like if somebody chooses not to do that education, not to do that labor, like to not be fully out, like that’s a valid choice for them and that’s entirely in their hands.

For myself, there are places in my life, for example, with extended family that I might see once or twice a year where I don’t bother to do that heavy lift of educating them and others and there’s places where I will pour a ton of myself to educate folks like at a workplace where I will interact with people daily.

Right? So there’s like cost benefits to, to where trans folks are gonna kind of be making those decisions. And it should never be a person from the trans or gender nonconforming population. to have to educate their peers, but that often does become our labor. Right. So there’s a lot of negotiation that I have to do with myself in entering a new workplace in that, in that way.

Larry Baker: Yeah. I absolutely resonate with that comment. Uh, that you mentioned about the cost benefit because in many scenarios being a black male on the team, feeling like we always have to be the one to explain the black experience to someone else. Right. So that always resonates with me when it comes to the cost benefit.

Is this worth my time to dig into this, to really break down those experiences. So I absolutely appreciate that insight. Ada, I’m gonna ask you to get far more transparent and really talk about us at LCW because I wanna know, what did you do as a result of your experience in your first few weeks working with us at LCW?

Ada Vargas: Absolutely. So, like I mentioned earlier, when I’ve entered new workplaces, gotta assess the situation. Right. And when I arrived at LCW I was misgendered quite a lot, um, like within the first two weeks, it happened more than had happened in years at my previous workplace. And that was pretty shocking to me.

And I realized that there was some upskilling to be done. LCW is really a culture of learning and of growth and of cultivating cultural competence. I feel, I felt like I was a project that I was willing to take on, especially because in joining the team I wanted to bring on, I wanted to bring on my skills and my experiences to kind of level us all up.

Right. And so I wanna take a moment to talk about what that word means, misgendering, uh, so that we are all on the same page, right? Misgendering is when someone uses incorrect language to refer to someone. Like pronouns or gendered greetings. Right? So if somebody at a restaurant welcomes me and a friend and says, hi ladies, that would be a misgender, uh, an essence of an instance of misgendering, or if somebody used, uh, pronouns, other than they, them, for me, that would be an instance of misgendering.

And this is a type of microaggression, like any other microaggression, right? They have a cumulative impact on a person and that can make them feel less included and have a greater impact on psychological and physical health in the long term. Right. I want to be clear that I don’t think all or any trans people should have to do this, this kind of work that I’m gonna talk about, which is why we are here.

We wanna share all this information here and assist you in your journey to be more trans-inclusive. So what I ended up doing at LCW. To get into it a little bit more said, I proposed a series of educational spaces where we would talk about like, what is gender? What is, what does it mean to be trans?

What does it mean to be gender nonconforming or non-binary or any of those other identities that fall under those umbrellas? And then, uh, with the help of our intern that summer, who was also, um, under the non-binary umbrella, um, they identified as agender. We built out a series of emails that we sent out every Thursday called They/Them Thursdays.

Uh, and we sent out information to people, resources and how they could practice working on pronouns that they hadn’t encountered before. Um, more experiences of other. Uh, trans and gender non-binary people so that people could begin to kind of soak up this content and make it and make it part of their, their learning journey.

And those emails kind of really cultivated people beginning to think about these things and, and. Sort of soak all of that up. Right. And folks at LCW from my perspective, and you can tell me your perspective, Larry, but it seemed like folks really appreciated the upskilling and it helped move them on that particular journey significantly.

Yeah. And I really appreciated the willingness that people had to, to do that. Of course people make mistakes and still do, but I also equip them with the knowledge of how to correct this, their mistakes, which we’ll talk about more, a little bit later.

Larry Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I definitely know that you can put me in that category of making the mistakes, because I think for me, what was beneficial to They/Them Thursdays was it created that awareness for me. Um, because I being a member of an underrepresented group as well, I absolutely do not want to create spaces where, uh, there, uh, I am engaging in microaggressions. Right. So that was always extremely important to me. But the other part of that that really had me excited is because Ada, you had mentioned that I was part of that inspiration that allowed you to do that. And you reminded me of a conversation that we had way back, like within the first, I don’t even remember week that you had started with LCW and I was encouraging you.

To find your voice, find that thing at LCW that we can look to you to say, Ada, we really need you to guide us in this area. And, you know, I, I say so I have so many conversations with new folks as they onboard to the organization. When you brought that to my memory, and I was able to see that you took that to heart and you brought it to our organization.

I was extremely proud because I know that this is what we needed in the organization. And I’m super excited that you took that and ran with it. So that’s another part of they, them Thursdays that really resonated with me. So I absolutely appreciate. Um, you, you bringing that gift to our organization so that we can then share it with others and it’s absolutely needed and necessary.

So Ada, I do wanna jump into asking you a question, because like I said, in the beginning, I was probably one of the main folks to do misgendering and I always wanted to know, okay, so what should I do? What I mean, I absolutely understand that my impact was creating a microaggression. So I wanted to know what, what is it that I could do.

So I’d love to get that insight to share what can we do or what should we do when we misgender someone?

Ada Vargas: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a couple of types of right. Misgendering. There’s the intentional misgendering, which is actively trying to invalidate a person, um, or there’s also the unintentional, which is what happens most often.

Right. And so what that’s, what we’ll touch on is the, when you unintentionally misgender someone, if you make a mistake and that is an, an honest mistake, it’s something that you’re working on, um, on upscaling, on what, um, What I really recommend that people do is very, very quick and simple. And it is of very often preferred by folks in the community.

Say, for example, you were, um, you were talking about me, uh, to somebody else and you used the incorrect set of pronouns and you realized it in the moment you would just say, oh, I’m sorry. They use the on pronoun. And then just continue onward. Right? You acknowledge the mistake. You fix the mistake. and you quickly move on, right?

Because often what can happen and you might have, uh, experienced this with microaggressions that you’ve experienced. Larry is that if people. Then stop and make it entirely about themselves. Oh, I’m so sorry. Yes. I feel so bad. I, I can’t believe I did that and they just kind of lavish onto it. Then it becomes your job as the person who just to make them the microaggression exactly.

To make them feel better. Right. And so when you do misgender, someone say you use a name that they don’t want no longer use, or you use the incorrect set of pronouns, just simply say, thank you for correcting me or correct yourself and quickly move. Because that shows that you’re being more self-aware and you’re not putting the onus on that person to then make you feel better.

Larry Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I definitely appreciate that fact about keep it moving. Right. Let’s not then put the burden back on the person that actually was the, uh, the recipient of the microaggression acknowledge. Hey, this was on. and this is where I’m moving from it and let’s keep going. I actually think that’s some great.

Ada Vargas: And I’ll just add right. That mistakes will happen. Yes. This for many people, it’s the first time they’re going to really be deconstructing their ideas of gender and the gender binary and just like anything when you’re first learning, it takes effort to learn.

Uh, our colleague Tamara actually likens this early awareness of noting race in oneself, right? There was likely a time when you didn’t even think about race in particular, if you were in the majority group until you. And then you started to note the different levels of privilege and difference that come with that.

And so when we’re learning about gender in this way, that allows space for inclusion of trans folks, we’re likely to make mistakes. Yeah. And I love to share a quote, um, that we love here from Megan Carpenter, carpenter around making mistakes.

Larry Baker: Yes. Go ahead. Yeah. If we have it, there we go.

Ada Vargas: Awesome. Yeah. The, the quote that I, I just love and I wanna like really welcome folks to sit with this, the quote, read.

I want a bunch of people who are interested in becoming allies to me to get it wrong, because I promise you, you will get it wrong likely more than once, but please get it wrong for me. Be wrong on my behalf. Try stuff, learn stuff, make attempts, and fail. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing of not being certain of not understanding and then be motivated enough to learn and get better.

I will give you grace, if you give me effort.

Larry Baker: That that is amazing. That is absolutely a quote that resonates with me because I think that that’s really at the heart of all of our conversations in regards to being a part of underrepresented groups. If you give me effort, I will give you grace, regardless of all the things that happened in the past and the mistakes that have been made, if you give me that sincere effort to understand and to move forward, I’ve got the grace to engage in that conversation because that’s all that I’m looking for.

I don’t want you to turn it and make it all about me, that I have to feel like I have to make you comfortable in that mistake. So that, that, that’s an amazing, amazing quote. Um, I do believe Ada that we have a video that, that kinda. Bring some of this home. Is that something that you’d like to share as a learning opportunity?

Because I think it’s fantastic, but

Ada Vargas: yeah, absolutely. Uh, so there’s a really great video we’ll show you from indeed. And for those of you listening to this on the podcast later, where the video is going to be about some, uh, a non-binary person getting ready for a job interview. And so we’ll debrief the video a little bit after we watch it, but let’s go ahead and get that, um, Up on the screen for folks.

Larry Baker: I’ll leave it to you, Ada. Cause it, me, it just, it just resonated with so many things. In regards to setting the tone, setting the culture, creating that welcoming environment, you could almost see the relief in the interviewees face once that happened. So I will let you. Yeah..

Ada Vargas: Absolutely. And for those of you listening on the podcast, you could likely just hear, uh, at the very beginning of the video, uh, Taylor, who uses they, them pronouns is trying to get ready, trying to figure out how to show up at this, um, at this interview.

And when they finally get to the interview and the interviewer introduces himself and shares that shares his pronouns. and asks Taylor for their pronouns. You can hear, and you can see the relief in this person’s face in their body language, that they can really be who they are in that space. And kind of the, the takeaway from that video is that we can’t be, we can’t show what we can do unless we can show up as who we are.

Right. And I think that comes back to the conversation. You brought up Larry around how I felt like I could. Be, uh, be myself here and bring my full knowledge because even though people were making mistakes, people were willing to learn and I was willing to give them that grace and I was willing to show up with all of my, uh, with all of my talents and all of my skills to share that within the organization.

Right. And that’s really at the crux of why this conversation about gender pronouns matters. Yeah, because when you’re putting in that effort and you’re making people feel welcome and included, they can actually show up fully and, and present their full, their full talents and their full gifts to the organization they’re joining.

And that’s what we really want out of our talent. Is it not?

Larry Baker: Absolutely Ada and I, you know, I don’t speak on behalf of everyone at LCW but I am so excited. That environment was created for you, because it’s obvious that we benefit from you being able to show up as you’re true, authentic self, and it just shows in the work that you do and the passion that you have it’s obvious.

So we appreciate the fact that that environment has been created for you to show up as your full. Because we absolutely need it and we appreciate it. Um, I’m not sure, but I think we may have some questions in the chat. Ada, would you be willing to respond? Do we have a couple that we can? Uh, yes. Okay. So we do have a question and hopefully I am not butchering this name. Shana Atkinson. The question is if someone uses two pronouns – i.e. he, they – how do I know when to use each?

Ada Vargas: Great question. And actually, uh, Max who worked on this process project with me early in the, in last summer, uh, used he and they pronouns and really what, what he shared and what other people that I know, uh, and have come, come across that use multiple pronouns is that you should just ask people, uh, what their preference is, right?

Because they might have two sets of pronouns, uh, for a variety of reason. And some people might want you to use both interchangeably or some might prefer one over another. And so really like with anything, just ask simply as, Hey, I see you use two sets of pronouns. Do you have a preference with how I can use these?

I just wanna know how to best address you so I can be respectful. That’s really, really it. Just go ahead and ask because people have different reasons why they use two sets of pronouns.

Larry Baker: Yeah. I love how, how, when we. Have these conversations aid up. What we realize is that some of the, some of the things that we fear the most, it has a pretty simple resolution, right.

Because I used to have that question asked a lot. Do you prefer to be called black or African American? How do I know what to call you? Just ask mm-hmm it can be, we can complicate things so much because we’re so into our head. So I absolutely appreciate you making. Nice and simple. Uh, do we have another question?

Okay. This is from Carrie. And if I mispronounce your last name, please, I’m not trying to do this on purpose, Estrella. What about what has become socially neutral with masculine roots when referring to groups like, “hey, you guys” if in reference to multiple people of various genders.

Ada Vargas: Yeah, it’s a great question, Carrie. And I’m based in Chicago where “you guys” is a really common way to refer to a group of people. And there’s a variety of opinions on this. Largely. I think it matters with, again, the people that you’re surrounded by. So I try to pull language that I see anybody kind of bristle at, out of my, out of my vernacular, but I think that it becomes a really regional.

Regional piece. I know plenty of queer folks and trans folk who are in Chicago, who were like, oh, I really just think about that as, as gender neutral. But I think that if you are, when in doubt, um, just go ahead and try to find a, a different, uh, word that you can use. I use y’all many people have thought that I am from south because of how much I use the word y’all.

I’ve had colleagues, uh, really point out that sometimes I will use the word y’all three times in one sentence . And so that’s a favorite of mine to replace you guys, which was, uh, deeply ingrained in me as a Chicagoan.

Larry Baker: But yeah, I tend to use folks. I try to use folks or, you know, gang or something like that.

Ada Vargas: Friends, if you’re welcoming a group of people like hello, ladies and gentlemen, honored, honored guests, dear friends, uh, all of those pieces. So. It is highly contextual. Um, but I would say that you can find other alternatives that you can then yes. Make sure are being more inclusive already from the get go.

Larry Baker: Absolutely. Absolutely. So Ada, this has absolutely been an incredible conversation. And I I’m so excited that this was our first live session, uh, specifically because we are in pride month. This is fantastic. I absolutely, uh, appreciate this. And what I want our audience to know is that it doesn’t stop here because you absolutely can keep your learning going.

I would love for you to sign up, to receive They/Them Thursday emails every Thursday throughout June using the link that I believe, yes, we have it right there on the screen. And if you wanna partner in creating inclusive workspaces in your own workplace… just let us know, contact LCW at

Uh, and, and we will definitely be more than willing to engage you in this conversation. Once again. Thank you so much, Ada for being our very first guest on our live stream. And thank you all for listening. Be prepared for our next live stream session. It is going to be on June 16th and we’re gonna be talking about Juneteenth.

That is going to be another interesting conversation. So with that, this has been Brave Conversations with LCW live. My name is Larry Baker. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you so much.

And to all of you that are listening, we want to know what were your biggest takeaways from this conversation? Please share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn at language and culture worldwide, or LCW.