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Understanding Gender Identity

How Pronouns Translate to Better Care

She/Her/Hers.

He/Him/His.

They/Them/Theirs.

We often use pronouns without even thinking about it. For those who do not identify with their birth sex or as male or female, it is a sign of respect and consideration to use their correct pronouns.

Friends and family can help support their loved one's gender identity journey by using the right pronouns. "Everyone's journey is different, but ultimately, gender identity comes from an internal sense. It's not determined by body parts," says Sumanas W. Jordan, MD, PhD (she/her/hers), plastic surgeon and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Gender Pathways Program. "By recognizing a person's identity, you are acknowledging their journey," she explains.

Led by a specialized multidisciplinary team, the Gender Pathways Program provides gender-affirming care to transgender and gender nonbinary patients. More than one-third of transgender people report a negative experience with health care. But, this program provides a space where they can receive inclusive, trans-competent care. Not using the correct pronouns could impact patients' physical and mental health.

It may seem small, but using someone's correct pronoun is a huge sign of respect to the transgender and nonbinary community. This simple act meets a person where they are in their authentic life and signals to others that you are a safe person. Through the Gender Pathways Program and other trans-competent programs, you will find a safe space for your healthcare needs.

In addition, Northwestern Medicine providers are able to enter patients' pronouns into their chart. You can also enter your pronouns via your MyChart patient portal.

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This is how patient pronouns appear for clinicians in their charts. 

It all starts with a pronoun and acknowledging each person's journey.

Gender Identity: More Than Just Pronouns

Gender identity refers to a person's internal sense of being male, female, both, other or something else. It can reflect the sex a person is born with or differ from it. Part of understanding why it is important to use correct pronouns means understanding the complex landscape that is gender identity. This is especially true now, as the use of nonbinary pronouns is on the rise.

Here are some other terms to know:

Sex: A person's biological and anatomical status assigned at birth. Sex is based on a person's anatomy. It can be male, female or intersex. Intersex is a term used to describe people who have reproductive anatomy, chromosomes or hormones that do not fit into the categories of male and female.

Sexual orientation: A person's physical, romantic, sexual and emotional attraction to others. This is separate from gender identity. Sexual orientation describes who a person is attracted to, while gender identity describes who a person is. 

Gender expression: A person's outward presentation of their gender. This is typically through their appearance, dress and behavior.

Cisgender: A person whose personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.

Transgender or trans: A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Nonbinary: A person who does not identify as exclusively male or female. Someone who is nonbinary has a gender identity that does not fit into the male/female binary. Other terms nonbinary people may use include, but are not limited to, gender nonconforming, genderqueer or gender diverse.

Genderfluid: A person whose gender identity changes over time or at different times.

Genderqueer: Similar to genderfluid, this is a person whose gender identity falls outside of male or female, and is beyond genders or is some combination of genders.

Offer Your Pronouns

For those who do not identify as transgender or nonbinary, sharing your pronouns can help build trust. By adding your pronouns, you are showing someone that you are an ally. It shows that you have knowledge about why it's important and helps others feel safe.

What's more, it helps create a world that is both inclusive and supportive.

Gender-Affirming Care

Featured Experts

Sumanas Wanant Jordan, MD, PhD
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