It’s pride month, so now’s a great time to talk about how being a nurse puts you at an advantage because you have an opportunity to meet a variety of awesome people every day.
Gender is a tricky subject. It wasn’t long ago we had male and female options with no grey area in between. Today, many parts of the world have recognized a need to give sensitive gender discussions a try and maybe even a different pronoun.
It’s important to note that gender identity has nothing to do with sexuality. A heterosexual male may choose to identify as female or male, or a homosexual female may choose to identify as non-binary.
You can bet now that your patient understands you will be accepting of their gender orientation, they will speak up and let you know if they use a different pronoun than the standard gender-assigned ones. You should also ask the patient if they have a different name they prefer to be called. If your patient has a preferred name that doesn’t match their gender, it may be hurtful for you to call them by their given name.
You likely won’t know the patient prefers a different pronoun unless you ask the question. Common pronouns include he/she/they and newer non-gendered options like ze/xe or per. Ask the correct spelling, and if you aren’t sure about how to use the pronoun in certain contexts, research or ask. Here’s an example of using “they” instead of him/her, “They are such an awesome friend; they always go above and beyond to help me when I don’t know how to use pronouns. If you aren’t sure, they are a great resource.”
If the person you are asking acts confused, it’s likely safe to assume they prefer the standard pronouns. If you make a mistake, apologize sincerely and move on. There is no need to overdo it. Your patient will feel a lot more respect from you if you acknowledge your mistake and fix it in future communications.
If you aren’t sure why it is so important, consider thinking of yourself as an alternative gender for a day. Once you are paying attention to pronouns, how often are you “incorrectly” labeled? How frustrated would you be if you truly identified as a different gender? You don’t have to say your plans out loud or correct the pronouns; just keep a mental count.
No matter how you feel about your patient’s gender or sexual orientation, you have a chance to treat them with respect and understanding. Nurses are great patient advocates; how can you support your patient today?