A pronoun is used to refer to people when not using their names (i.e. she is coming to rehearsal; he is performing next week.)
Commonly, the binaries of she/her/hers or he/him/his have been used, and have been seen as the only two options. However, there are various different gender pronouns that can be used, and one should not assume what people’s pronouns are based on a) the way they present themselves or b) the way that you perceive them.
The nonbinary gender pronouns they/them/theirs are now recognized as singular pronouns by many publications, including the Chicago Manual of Style, Washington Post, Merriam-Webster, and the Associated Press. (An example of how these would be used: They are coming to rehearsal; they are performing next week.)
Pronouns are personal––individuals determine their pronouns, not others. Pronouns are not “preferred”, as preferred implies that using correct pronouns is optional.
Someone’s gender identity should not be assumed based on their outward appearance or their assigned sex at birth. Using people’s correct pronouns is a simple way to create an inclusive and welcoming environment, and also a way to make sure you do not disrespect or invalidate someone’s identity. It is now common practice across a plethora of industries to have basic knowledge of and best practices around pronoun use.
The easiest way to find out is: to ask! Simply posing the question “What are your pronouns?” is an easy and acceptable way to check in on how someone identifies. You can also create an invitation by starting with your own pronouns: “Hi, nice to meet you! My name is Sarah, and I use she/her pronouns.” Another important factor can be normalizing pronoun use in the spaces you inhabit. Some ways to do this: add pronouns to your name on your email signature or in correspondence, have students share their pronouns when introducing themselves at the beginning of class, or make a habit of using they/them/theirs pronouns as a default when you have not been explicitly told what someone’s pronouns are.
This happens, and is understandable! (This is known as misgendering someone.) The best protocol is to apologize briefly and continue the conversation with the correct pronouns. For example: “Does she want to use this practice room? Oh, sorry, I mean he––does he want to use this practice room?”