“Hi. My name is Amber. I use they/them pronouns.” This is how I introduce myself in most if not all situations when I’m around people who I haven’t met before. I add my pronouns to hand-written name tags. I wear a pin stating my pronouns. I have added my pronouns to my email signature. I make it very clear how I want to be addressed. And because I want to be sure to address you properly I will ask you what pronouns you use. It’s time for you to start including your pronouns with your name. I am asking you to tell me how you would like to be addressed before I need to ask.
I can hear many of you saying, “But WHY?!” And if not that, I imagine you could be saying one of these other statements I have also heard:
“Why should I have to tell you my pronouns? Everyone can see I am a woman.”
“Why is this being forced on me?”
“If a person’s pronouns are different than what I assume them to be, it is that person’s job to be clear. How am I supposed to know?!”
“How do I do this without it feeling weird?”
“What if I mess up?”
“Ugh. This is too much. Why do I have to be so PC all the time?”
The simplest answer to your questions is respect. One of the most respectful things you can do is get someone’s pronouns correct, especially if that person is gender nonconforming, transgender, or nonbinary (which is also a transgender person, but whose gender is not specifically male or female). In order to do this, the first thing you need to do is stop using gendered language in your everyday speech. Stop saying “Hello, ladies and gentlemen” or “Sorry, Sir” or “How can I help you, Ma’am?” And stop applying these words to people who you think are male or female. You are making people cringe, making them feel less than, and excluding them from the conversation. In other words, using gendered language and assuming someone’s pronouns makes you look really ignorant and like an ass.
Because of the heteronormative bias that assumes all people are straight, cisgender, and binary people who follow stereotypical gender roles and appearances, most people make assumptions about someone’s gender based on cues they have learned from the movies, books, and television. When people see long hair, breasts, or hips, their brains label the person with these traits as female. And often people see height, hard edges, and short hair as masculine traits. While it’s true that most men have short hair and most women have breasts, these are not statements that can be applied to all men and all women. Nor can gender be assumed to be one or the other.
People don’t realize the privilege of being gendered and having that gender match their identity and expression they present to the world. So while you may think it’s obvious that you are a man or a woman, there are many people who do not—nor should we be expected to—meet your ideal standards of gender. Instead of being annoyed that you have to state what seems to you to be apparent, consider what it would be like to have to constantly explain yourself, to be judged, harassed, attacked for not looking the way you “should.” Consider what it would feel like despite being a woman, even presenting as one, to have someone constantly call you a man. Consider how it would feel if people disregarded all of the information you present so they can feel more comfortable with what they think you should call yourself.
My gender identity is nonbinary. I am both male and female. Usually I just feel like me, but I am always a mix of both genders, and my gender expression is masculine. People often misgender me. It is a pretty even mix of being called either male or female. Because I have a feminine name, when I am on the phone with people, I get called ma’am. When I walk into new spaces, I am often called sir or referred to as he, then people quickly switch to ma’am or she when someone takes a closer look and sees that I have breasts—which causes me tremendous dysphoria. I tell people my pronouns because I don’t want to be frustrated and further hurt by what people think they know about me based on my name or physical self.
I also state my pronouns so others feel safe in my presence. I know what it feels like to be left out of conversations, so when I talk to people, I am sure to use non-gendered and inclusive language. There is so much value in adding inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ folks in all places, specifically in work and learning places. When acceptance and respect rise so do confidence, self-worth, and productivity.
And no one is forcing anything on you. Stating your pronouns or asking someone theirs is in line with the same common courtesy as saying please and thank you. You may make a few mistakes; keep trying but without putting too much emotional labor on the person you misgendered. Also, you will make fewer mistakes by creating space for people to feel comfortable telling you how they identify. When I see someone’s pronouns on their name tag or hear them announce it, it tells me they are willing to learn about mine. It gives me and others “permission” to fall outside of the norm. It allows us to breathe a little easier and know you are an ally or ready to be one.
An important thing to remember is to make this practice a universal one. Don’t single out trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks. At the start of every meeting have everyone state their name and pronouns. And if you ask someone to clarify theirs, then be sure you are asking everyone in the room. Also, listen and correct. If you hear someone say the pronouns they want people to use, use them. And if you overhear someone misgender another coworker, friend, or student, gently remind them of the person’s proper pronouns.
With a willingness to learn and practice you can create LGBTQIA+ safe and affirming spaces. Your discomfort with something new will make someone else feel more comfortable with something they struggle with all of the time.
Including your pronouns isn’t about political correctness; it’s about kindness and respect.
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