I want to preface this by saying that not everyone is comfortable asserting their pronouns, especially if they are still coming to terms with their gender identity or if they fear it will put them in danger. That is completely valid! The intention of this article is to bring attention to the reasons why and ways folks who are comfortable with their pronouns can state them more openly with the goal of being better allies.
Recently, the dialogue around gender identity and pronouns has become more common in social, professional, and academic spaces. You may have noticed friends and colleagues include gender pronouns in their social media bios or email signatures. Or maybe you have been asked to state your pronouns in conferences or classes. This is all part of an effort to normalize communicating our pronouns when getting to know someone, regardless of whether we are cisgender, transgender, or gender non-binary. Here, I will offer some of the reasons behind stating our correct pronouns and offer methods on how you can start normalizing the practice in your day-to-day life.
Transgender and non-binary allyship
Despite some progress, transphobia is still rampant in the United States. This is especially apparent in digital spaces. Trolls often single out trans people on social media by looking for various indicators that they might be trans. One of these indicators is having pronouns present in social media bios. The assumption is that if one needs to state their pronouns, they’re probably trans.
Of course, this has terrible consequences on the trans community. Besides the consequences of online bullying, there is a terrifying link between online harassment and in-person violence. There is an alarmingly disproportionate rate of attacks and murders towards trans folks, especially BIPOC trans women. One of the ways we can help prevent the targeting of trans and non-binary people is by putting our pronouns in our own social media, even if we’re cis, so it is no longer only associated with being trans. If everyone has pronouns written, it is harder for transphobes to find someone to harass.
It is apparent that someone’s gender identity is not always clear by looking at them. Our ideas of feminine, masculine, and identification are changing. There are androgynous cis people, non-binary people who express in different ways, trans people who present more masculine or feminine, etc. Because of this, it is important that we actively make efforts to not misgender people, especially those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Before messaging someone on social media, maybe check their bio to see if they have their pronouns listed. If you are teaching a class or leading a meeting, try having folks introduce their names and pronouns. If someone in your life is grappling with their gender identity, help them if they ask you to try out different pronouns. And if you’re really not sure, it does not hurt to politely ask them what pronouns they need you to use to refer to them. These are all ways we can create spaces where everyone feels included regardless of gender identity and expression.
When we put in the work to normalize practices like these, we work towards a society where gender diversity does not seem unusual. Now more than ever, allyship and empathy towards marginalized communities are what creates lasting change. And that starts with individuals challenging our assumptions and making changes to our day to day habits. Even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Of course, the issues that the trans community faces are deeply systemic. Some of us having pronouns in our Instagram bios or ZOOM names aren’t going to fix them. But before we can fix the system, we can fix ourselves and the institutions through which we work, learn and connect.
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