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4 Easy Steps to Becoming Gender Inclusive

Pronouns are used when people are referring to us without using our name. They’re often associated with gender, such as “she” or “her” when we’re speaking of a woman or a girl, and “he” or “him” when we’re referring to a man or a boy, and, “they” or “them” when addressing somebody who’s gender-neutral.

People will often make assumptions about another person’s gender based on their name or their appearance and choose a personal pronoun based on their guess. When we make these assumptions, especially when we’re wrong, it sends a harmful message to that person that they’ve either: failed to look a certain way, aren’t passing as their gender, aren’t respected, or aren’t wanted or accepted.

Why do pronouns matter?

Have you ever experienced a moment where another person wrongly assumed something about you or judged you for your appearance? Perhaps you’ve been misgendered or treated unfairly. How did that feel? Imagine now, how that might feel if you were to live this moment over and over again or in addition to other forms of discrimination you may already face.

From a very early age, we learn that it’s harmful to call somebody names, but it’s just as harmful to ignore or guess someone’s pronouns or to refer to them using pronouns that don’t reflect how they wish to be known. It can be incredibly stressful to continually be told that your identity doesn’t matter or to feel as though you’re being erased. For some, they may feel insecure or unsafe when their pronouns aren’t used properly. For example, if in public, a passerby was to call a trans woman who’s presenting as feminine, “he,” this could be overhead and could lead to this woman being verbally or physically assaulted. Although this could seem like an unlikely event, research in Ontario has found that trans people experience high rates of violence and discrimination every day (Trans PULSE). It’s for this reason that the province of Ontario and now Canada, have laws in place to protect people from gender-based discrimination (Bill C-16).

Instead, when we ask and use someone’s correct pronouns, we show respect for them and create an inclusive and welcoming space. This is one very small act of kindness that can make a profound difference, especially for those who may feel vulnerable when they enter a new environment. With a few minutes and a little extra effort, we can set a tone of allyship and provide a safer space for all people.

Here are 4 steps that will support you in becoming more gender-inclusive:

1. Introduce Your Pronouns

We may find ourselves in a situation where we haven’t learned a person’s name and pronouns from their email signature or a name badge. So, one way that you can open up the conversation about pronouns is by introducing yourself and your own personal pronouns.


“Hi, my name is Jess. I use they/them pronouns.”


By doing this, you’re demonstrating openness to experiences and an understanding of how gender-based assumptions are harmful. This could also create a more comfortable environment for the other person to also share their pronouns.


“I recently learned about personal pronouns and I realized I’ve always used he and him pronouns to refer to you. Are you okay with me using he and him or should I be using another set of pronouns?”


You may also ask another person to share their pronouns with you. Avoid asking what their “preferred” pronouns may be and other intrusive questions related to their experiences of gender. Remember to also share your own pronouns and to ask in a gentle and kind way, that respects their privacy.


“How should I refer to you?”

 “Would you mind sharing the pronouns you use?”


It’s important to invite people to share their pronouns, rather than force them. This becomes especially relevant when you’re part of a group discussion.


“Hi, my name is Logan. I use she/her pronouns. Before we begin today’s discussion, could we go around the room and share our names and pronouns? For example, she/her, he/him, they/them, etc. This isn’t about sharing your gender or any private information. I’m only asking that you share your pronouns so we can make sure that we are referring to you in the right way. If you feel uncomfortable sharing this information, you can just share your name. Does anyone have any questions before we begin?”

2. Using Pronouns Properly

 They/them pronouns are often the most accepted personal pronoun to use when you’re unsure how someone identifies.

“They really are amazing! I truly appreciate them and everything they do to support me.”


Some people feel that using the singular “they” is difficult to do because it’s grammatically incorrect. But did you know we have been using the singular “they” for centuries? Since at least the 1300s. Some of the most famous historical writers to use the singular “they” have been: Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Jane Austen (Singular “They”). Even today, when we don’t know a person we will often default to using the singular they.


“Somebody called for you, while you were out.”

“Oh! Did they leave a message?”


It’s also possible to avoid using pronouns altogether and to only use the person’s name.


Chris is a photographer who often goes to the lake when doing a shoot.”


People may use other pronouns such as, ze/hir, ze/zir, ey/em, ve/ver, xe/xem, etc. In these instances, it may be best to check with the person who uses these pronouns and to read online resources to learn the proper way to pronounce and use them in a sentence (Pronoun Activities).


“Jay is a writer. Ze wrote that book about zirself. Even the photos in the book are from zir life.”


Some people may also use multiple sets of pronouns. This usually means that they’re comfortable with you using any one of these pronouns — but it’s always best to ask about their preferences before making any of these assumptions.

3. How to Overcome Mistakes

If you make a mistake: be accountable, make the correction, and move on.


“He plays baseball — I’m sorry, I meant to say they play baseball with some of my friends, so we met after one of their games.”


You don’t have to draw a lot of attention to it and you certainly don’t need to heavily criticize yourself for fumbling. If you make it about you and your intent, it’s not supportive of the other person and could be perceived as even more harmful. It’s important to then apologize and move forward. Be gentle with yourself. Keep practicing and learning.


“I’m really sorry I used the wrong pronouns during our session. I know you use they/them and I’ll use these next time.”


People may not be open with everyone about the pronouns they use. Somebody may ask you to use one set of pronouns but haven’t had the same conversation with others yet. For this reason, it’s best not to correct others who may be using the wrong pronouns (unless you have permission to do so).


“Jo came by last weekend to talk about his new job.”

“Jo isn’t using he/him pronouns anymore.”


If you now they are public about their pronouns, you could provide a gentle reminder by responding to the conversation with the pronouns you understand to be correct. If you are unsure, try a gender neutral pronoun like “they.”


“Jo came by last weekend to talk about his new job.”

“Oh? What are they doing now?”

When you’re with a new group of people, it may be difficult for everyone to remember each other’s pronouns. One way to respond to another person making this mistake is by talking about it after the discussion or by addressing the room and then bringing the conversation back to the topic.


Marley has asked that we use they pronouns when we are speaking about them. I know this may be a new concept for folks and that we have all just met and it is easy to forget and revert back to the assumptions we’ve been programmed to make, but it’s really important we continue using the right pronouns for everyone. If you have any questions about pronouns or if you’d like to practice, I’m happy to provide that kind of support. Thanks for validating Marley’s comment. I agree it was a really important point to highlight! Do others have thoughts they’d like to share?”


4. Continue Learning

People experience their gender and pronouns in so many different, unique, and wonderful ways, but this makes it difficult to offer one comprehensive resource. Since there may be excellent information missing from this blog, we encourage you to look at as many resources as possible and get to know people whose lives are impacted by pronouns more profoundly. It is not other people’s responsibility to answer your questions, so a good way to learn more about these experiences is to check out the following resources and to share what you’ve learned with others:


Human Rights in Ontario and Canada: Gender Identity and Expression

The Ontario Human Rights Council 

Parliament of Canada, A Legislative Summary of Bill C-16



2 Spirits

Canadian Centre for Gender + Sexual Diversity

Egale Canada Human Rights Trust

Rainbow Health Ontario


World Professional Association for Transgender Health


Pronoun Sets

Practice with Pronouns

LGBTQ Life at Williams



Bill Nye on Sexuality and Gender Spectrum

Egale Explains Bill C-16

Two Spirits, One Voice

Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People


Written Articles

9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary

Call Me ‘Her’: Why Pronouns Matter

This is What Gender Non-Binary People Look Like

Transgender People in Ontario, Canada

We Asked 14 Trans Activists How Cis People Can Be Better Allies in 2018


Written by: Jess Boulé, Pronouns: they, them, theirs / she, her, hers

Jess is our office strategist at Bliss Counselling. Jess is a Master’s graduate from the University of Guelph. During their degree, they focused on aging and end-of-life, communication, human sexuality, LGBTQI2S+ health, inclusive practice and policies, knowledge mobilization strategies, research methods, and program evaluation.

How to Handle Financial Stress in your Relationship

It’s no secret that money problems can be a huge source of relationship strife — in fact, most surveys report money as the main source of stress in a relationship, and it’s easy to see why. If the money isn’t there, it can seep into every part of your life and affect every part of your day. From grocery shopping, to a friend’s birthday, to what you think about before you go to sleep, money is always there. It’s an incredibly difficult scenario to be in — but new research shows that it affects some of us more than others.

Recent research from The Harris Poll and Ally Bank surveyed more than 1,400 American adults about where their relationship stress was coming from. Unsurprisingly, money came out on top. But in an interesting twist, the research found that young Americans were twice as likely as older Americans to say that money was the biggest cause of stress. While 44 percent of the younger adult group pointed to money, only 23 percent of the older adults said the same. With housing prices skyrocketing in recent decades and a pool of student loan debt you could drown in, Millennials are feeling the financial strain far more than Baby Boomers.

The most difficult part? Well, as we know, money doesn’t grow on trees. If you’re already stretched to your limit and an unexpected bill lands on your door, there’s no magic fix. But there are things you can do to help keep money stress from wrecking your relationship. Here’s what you need to know:


Educate Yourself

Many of us are not financially savvy — because we simply didn’t receive the education. For some reason, we spent way more time on the Pythagorean theorem than learning about how to save money or file our taxes (and it’s pretty obvious which one we actually need as adults). If you haven’t already learned how to do these things, then you need to educate yourself. And, if your partner’s spending is stressing you out, remember that they probably need some help, too. “Most of the time, bad money habits come from either a lack of education because this stuff isn’t taught in school — which isn’t your fault of your partner’s,” Priya Malani, co-founder of Stash Wealth, a wealth management company, told Brides. “Seek out education and advice so you can see the financial impact of current behavior on your future self.” This might mean seeing a financial advisor, if you’re in a position to do so. If money’s too tight for that, start by checking out some money-saving websites and basic financial advice. There’s so much available online, so use it!


Talk About Money — Think “Little And Often”

Talking about money can take on a larger-than-life quality in some relationships. Maybe you never talk about it and you don’t know where to start — or maybe money is so stressful that every time it comes up it sends you both towards a meltdown. Either way, it’s time to normalize talking money. Start discussing it as early as you can in a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be in these huge, awkward conversations. “Little and often” is how you should talk about money, with small comments that bring it up on a regular basis. Whether it’s, “I’m really tight this month, do you mind if we don’t go out for dinner?” to “I really want to sort out my 401k and I don’t know where to start” or even, “I don’t think we can afford as big of a trip this year, should we sit down and crunch the numbers?” These little moments will normalize how you talk about money, so you’ll be in a better position for the big conversations.


Look At Your Shared Expenses 

If you and your partner are serious, it may be time to have a look at your shared expenses. Maybe you each pay for a couple of the bills, maybe you transfer money into a joint account every month. Either way, going through the numbers together and looking for ways to save money — like changing to a new gas or electric company or cancelling that cable subscription you don’t use — can be a good way to open up the conversation about money and make sure you’re on the same page.


Start Saving

The best thing you can do to relieve your money stress it to start saving — yes, right now. It may not be a lot, it may seem totally insignificant, but it can be something. Even just twenty dollars a month adds up to $240 over the course of the year — which is a nice little cushion to have. If you have the means, putting a little away for retirement and a little away for money for something fun — a trip, a new purchase, or a house deposit — will help incentivize you to save.


Focus On An Emergency Fund First

Although day-to-day money stress can be excruciating, a lot of the panic and frustration comes in when you get an unexpected expense. The car breaks down, your child needs a filling, or you need a plumber to come and fix that hole that’s gotten way too big — whatever it is, it can be incredibly stressful and throw your entire equilibrium out of whack. If you can get together an emergency fund of even a few hundred dollars (more if you can afford it), you’ll be covered when an unexpected bill hits. Just make sure you replenish your emergency fund as quickly as you can.

If money is tight for you and your partner, it’s totally normal for that to be a source of stress — but it doesn’t have to ruin your relationship. Educate yourself about managing your finances and get comfortable talking about money — because that’s half the battle.



Written by Bliss therapist Kelly McDonnell-Arnold.

We know that talking to your partner about money can be uncomfortable, and having a third party to help navigate these difficult conversations can be extremely helpful! Our Bliss therapists are happy to help! Book an appointment here.

Others Will Treat You The Way You Let Them —3 Keys To Boundary-Setting

You know those people, the ones that when you’re having a conversation with them, you find yourself taking a few steps back because they’re all up in your face? That’s a physical boundary that they just crossed.

Boundaries are physical and emotional. Think of emotional boundaries like your invisible bubble of how close (or far) you prefer people to hang out in. Our boundaries help define who we are, determine what we’ll put up with, and keep us safe from undesirable behaviour from others. Your job is to communicate your boundaries with others clearly. Your boundaries will vary from relationship to relationship, while you can’t change people, you can encourage them to change how they behave around and interact with you.

Halting undesirable behaviour

As an example, let’s say your new love interest has been late for your past three dates. You can’t control if they’re late for all their appointments, but you can make it clear that dates with you need to begin on time. The unwanted behaviour is about what’s not cool with you — “It’s not okay for me when people aren’t on time.”

Often, people react with their emotions first and respond with complaining, anger, or nagging. They’re often responding in one of three ways; passive, aggressive, or everyone’s favourite—passive-aggressive.

A passive response would be to let the unwanted behaviour continue, staying hush on the outside while a storm is raging inside of you. The boundary-breaker is none the wiser and you feel bent out of shape on the inside.

If you were responding with aggression, you might counter with blame, or attack them. Imagine lecturing your date with a tirade while you stomp your feet. You look like a fool and they might be completely bewildered.

In a passive-aggressive response, you’d be responding with aggression, but your body language would appear non-threatening. Think sarcasm, guilt-trips, and half-smiles. People often engage in passive-aggressive behaviour so that they can be subtle in their attack. It communicates their unhappiness but doesn’t share what they want and need.


Instead of reacting, choose to respond with confidence with kindness.

You still have emotions around the event and might be angry, and this is entirely okay. It’s your response that you can control, and when you communicate your boundaries effectively and kindly, others will be more likely to hear and respect them.

Your intention here is to build or grow a relationship in a way that avoids shaming or blaming your partner(s). It’s not about being right. It’s about the other person changing their actions around you.

The next time someone crosses your boundaries, here are some positive and constructive ways to respond:

  1. Make others aware of their actions.
    The offender may not even realize that they’ve offended you, so responding in this way helps make them aware. You could say with your late date, “When you’re late for our dinner dates, I feel slighted.”
  2. Ask for what you want.
    It’s all too easy to think people can read our minds (wouldn’t that be so much easier?) You can ask for what you want calmly and specifically. As an example, you could state, “I’d really love it if you’d arrive for dinner on time, or let me know in advance if you are running late.”
  3. Head for the door.
    If the other person is too emotional to handle a calm and adult conversation, your best bet may be to remove yourself from the situation. If you’ve stated your displeasure and asked for what you want and the response makes you uncomfortable, you have permission to leave.


Others treat you the way you let them.

This is fantastic news, because you have the power to ask for what you want. Showing others how to treat you and what behaviour you accept is essential to set up healthy boundaries. Don’t be alarmed if some people feel offended. Continue to hold your ground politely. The more you make boundary-setting a habit, the easier and more natural it will feel to you.


Written by Bliss therapist, Kelly McDonnell-Arnold. Learn more about Kelly and get her secret “Tips From the Couch” here.

If you enjoyed this article you might like these too:


Do you have any questions for us, or need some help setting up healthy boundaries? Maybe there is someone in your life who makes boundary-setting a challenge? We’re happy to help! Get in touch with us here.

If you’re interested in booking your first appointment with Bliss, you can do that here



Sexy Friday: Toddlers & Sex Positivity, Attachment and Dialogue


Thank God It’s Sexy Friday!!

This week, indulge in another episode of “Sex Talk with Kelly” to learn more about raising children in a sex positive environment, and the importance of healthy sex dialogue to help re-spark that romantic attraction! In this episode, Jo Flannery (clinical sexologist) will join Kelly once again, along with a new guest, Anna Gold (relationship therapist).

In order to encourage sex positivity among toddlers, Jo Flannery suggests ‘no judgment zones’ and emphasizes the importance of using the correct terminology when speaking to our toddlers.

Anna Gold addresses issues with the Hollywood idea of a romantic sex life, and emphasizes the importance of real love, and how this can help re-spark a romantic attraction with your partner. She also reinforces the importance of maintaining healthy sexual dialogue with your partner, how to have ‘the talk’, and the importance of creating safe spaces to engage in these discussions.

Interested in learning more about what these specialists have to say? Check out the full episode HERE!


Are you a new Sexy Friday reader? We don’t want you to miss anything! Check out our previous Sexy Friday blog posts:

Sexy Friday: Sex After Kids, Low Desire & Anal Play for Beginners

Sexy Friday: The (Not so) Subtle Art of Seduction

Sexy Friday: Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy, Intimacy and Desire


Guest Information:

Jo Flannery

Twitter: @SEXOLOGYMag

Instagram: @sexologyint

Anna Gold

Twitter: @SOCounselling

Instagram: @socc_imago


Communicating with Your Partner

It’s likely a familiar situation for most of us – we stand there, looking at our partner, anger and frustration building, and we think, what I need from you right now is obvious, so why aren’t you getting it?  Falling into this logical trap happens to the best of us; we assume that because we have made certain judgments or connections in our own heads, the same must have happened for our partners.  After all, they are supposed to know us best, right?

Assuming that your partner should just know what you are thinking is dangerous and unhelpful. Not only will it cause unnecessary fights, but it will not get you any closer to receiving whatever it is that you need from them, be it support, encouragement, or an important conversation.  The only way to ensure that either of you have your needs met in a healthy and productive way is to learn how to effectively communicate with one another.


Tips for effective communication:

  1. Clarify expectations by being clear on the topic of conversation and what the intent or goal of the conversation is.
  2. Remember to listen non-judgmentally, if possible, and without interjecting your point of view.
  3. Be willing to be wrong and remember to discuss and agree upon next steps.


Why make your partner guess?

Try letting your partner know which goal you are pursuing in a conversation. This will help your partner understand what you are looking to achieve when you engage them in conversation, and what kinds of responses might be helpful. Such goals might be:

  1. Create intimacy.
  2. Request feedback, support or comfort.
  3. Tell a story, share an experience.
  4. Solve a problem.
  5. Make a decision.


If you notice that you still have trouble communicating at times, try asking yourself: For each goal, what specific behaviors or statements do I want to receive from my partner? What will help me know that my communication is being received? Share with your partner how you would like them to respond to you for each of the above goals.

And remember, effective communication takes patience, practice, and dedication.  Allow yourselves the space and time to learn these new strategies and incorporate them into your relationship, along with any strategies of your own that you have found effective in the past.


Kelly McDonnell-Arnold MA MBA RSW

This material is adapted from Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch.

Three Processes for Effective Communication

Communication is an art form. The act of bridging the gap between two beings with different experiences, thoughts, and beliefs in order to express an idea or convey an emotion, to share an experience, or to solve a common problem requires a significant amount of effort and skill. And like most art forms, while some seem to have a natural ability, the truth is that everyone can learn the skills necessary to the task. If communication does not come naturally to you, we have compiled a few processes that you can implement into your personal relationships in order to make yourself a more successful communicator.

The three effective processes that support communication between people are: mirroring, validation, and empathy.

Mirroring is the process of accurately reflecting back the content of a message from one party to the other. The most common form of mirroring is paraphrasing. A paraphrase is a statement in your own words of what the message the speaker sent means to you.

Mirroring indicates to the speaker that you are willing to set aside your own thoughts and feelings for the moment in an attempt to understand them from their point of view. Any response made prior to mirroring is merely an interpretation of what has been said, and often contains a misunderstanding.

The intention in mirroring is to allow each person an opportunity to send his or her message and for it to be paraphrased until it is clear that the message has been understood and received accurately.

Validation is a communication to the speaker that the information being received and mirrored makes sense. It indicates that you can see the information from their point of view and can accept that it has validity—it is true for the speaker. Validation is a temporary suspension of your own point of view, which allows another’s experience to have its own reality.

To validate someone else’s message does not mean that you necessarily agree with his/her point of view or that it reflects your subjective experience. It merely recognizes the fact that in every situation, no objective view is truly possible. In any communication between two people there are always at least two points of view, and every report of an experience is an interpretation that serves as “truth” for each person.

The process of mirroring combined with validation increases trust and closeness in personal relationships.

Empathy is the process by which the listener reflects or imagines the feelings the speaker is experiencing regarding the situation being discussed. In this deep level of communication, you attempt to recognize, explore, and on some level experience the emotions the speaker is sending. Empathy allows both people to transcend, perhaps for a moment, their separateness and to experience a genuine “meeting.” Such an experience has potential for tremendous healing.

An example of using the 3 processes in effective dialogue might go something like this:

“So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that if I don’t look at you when you are talking to me, you think that I am disinterested in what you are saying. I can understand that, it makes sense to me. I can imagine that you would feel rejected and angry. That must be a terrible feeling.”

This material is adapted from Imago Therapy techniques developed by Harville Hendricks, available in his books Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find.

By Kelly McDonnell-Arnold


Kelly McDonnell-Arnold, MA, MBA, RSW

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