Wearing our pronouns with pride: small words, big impact

Pronouns are those small words that other people use to talk about us – he, they, or she, for example.

My name is Eddy and my pronouns are he/him or they/them. I want to make experiences of health services better for LGBTQ+ people, and particularly for trans people.

Fear, of not being seen or understood, or of prejudice, is one thing that holds us back from accessing services. This is even more important in the context of a global pandemic, when many more of us are likely to need to access healthcare – making the need to acknowledge and address these inequalities more pressing. This is especially true for people facing multiple inequalities, including trans people of colour and disabled trans people.

While there is much focus in the media and elsewhere on Gender Identity Clinics, these are not the only services that trans people use. It’s also important to acknowledge that there are many trans people whose transness is not defined in medical terms, but who still come into contact with health services and who need to feel safe. Just like everyone else, we will need to use a wide range of NHS services at various times in our lives, and there are a number of ways we could make trans people’s experiences of these services more positive. Again, this is especially important for disabled trans people, who may need to use mainstream healthcare services much more than other people.

I have had many interactions with healthcare staff where I have been misgendered or a person has misunderstood my needs as a result of not having a grasp of my gender. Others’ experiences have often been worse. It’s because of this that I decided to start a campaign to improve the relationship between clinicians and trans patients.

A lot of the time, people who are not trans have not lent a lot of time to thinking about their gender and pronouns, or how important they might be to someone else. But a simple solution presented itself.

I was lucky enough when I started thinking about this project to both work for the NHS myself, and have a close friend who is a nurse at St. James’ hospital in Leeds. This gave me an insight into work already going on, particularly in hospitals, to improve patient/clinician relationships and promote compassionate, human care to some of the most vulnerable patients.

Some people probably know about the ‘Hello, my name is…’ campaign, but for those who don’t, here is some background. Kate Granger was a doctor who became diagnosed with terminal cancer. In Kate’s words:

‘During a hospital stay in August 2013 with post-operative sepsis, I made the stark observation that many staff looking after me did not introduce themselves before delivering my care. It felt incredibly wrong that such a basic step in communication was missing.’

It was after this realisation that Kate began the ‘Hello, my name is…’ campaign, with the aim (again, in her words) of ‘making a human connection between one human being who is suffering and vulnerable, and another human being who wishes to help.’ It uses badges, lanyards and other merchandise, as well as social media, to promote staff introducing themselves with their name to their patients.’

Kate very sadly passed away in 2016. Since then, Chris, Kate’s husband and co-founder of the campaign, has kept ‘Hello, my name is…’ going, and it continues to change lives with its power to transform the way that healthcare is given and received.

This really resonated with me. Introducing yourself to a patient with your name shows respect and a willingness to connect on a human level. Using your pronouns goes one step beyond; it shows an understanding that assumptions cannot and should not be made about gender, and gives people space to open up about their own pronouns, and perhaps with that, other issues that they might not otherwise have felt comfortable discussing.

With Chris’s support, I have been in touch with all the official providers of ‘Hello, my name is…’ products, and asked them to create new templates so that the badges now read ‘Hello, my name is… and my pronouns are…’. All three providers agreed and are selling these now.
As a result, today you will be seeing photos of colleagues all over the NHS wearing these in support of International Pronouns Day. My hope is that today’s campaign will increase awareness and visibility of trans people and build a more open and compassionate relationship between health staff and trans patients, breaking down some of the barriers that prevent us from accessing the health services we need. We hope you join us.

Eddy Phillips

Eddy Phillips is a network manager in the Learning Disability and Autism Engagement Team at NHS England and NHS Improvement. His pronouns are he/him or they/them.

Outside of their day job, Eddy is the trans and nonbinary lead for the NHS England and NHS Improvement LGBT+ staff network and they also work as an engagement officer for TransLeeds. They are also a Trans Pride Leeds committee member.

Eddy campaigns for trans rights and for autistic rights.