Picture this: It’s halfway through the semester and you are sitting in your PJs while attending one of many Zoom classes. You’re halfway asleep (it’s an 8 a.m. class, after all) but suddenly something catches your attention: a peer misgenders a fellow student. Or at least, you think.
“I could’ve sworn this person uses she/her pronouns,” you think. “Nobody else said anything, so maybe I’m wrong?”
These moments are far too common, even in 2021. Luckily, there’s a way to help prevent them: normalizing asking for each person’s pronouns. When we say “each person,” we mean “each person” — the person in your class who refuses to wear anything but a dress or skirt, the professors you’re having for the first time and those you’ve had for multiple classes and those you haven’t seen in awhile.
Asking for pronouns should not just be reserved for those we know or suspect may be trans or those who challenge the binary in their appearance. It should be normalized — and taken note of — for everybody.
Normalizing openly discussing pronouns of those with all identities, not just those who fall outside the binary, makes sure we are not just putting the spotlight on those who use pronouns other than the “she/her” or “he/him” prescribed by the gender binary. This helps to destigmatize identities that are not cisgender, therefore promoting acceptance, as the University of North Carolina Wilmington points out on their website. The site also asserts this shows that we understand one’s appearance does not dictate their identity.
Asking people’s preferred name and pronouns should be part of the run-of-the-mill icebreakers on the first day of each class. When one first gets a new job and is introduced to their coworkers, everybody should state their name and pronouns. Remember, pronouns may change, so don’t be afraid to check in. We train our staff to ask for preferred names and pronouns at the start of each interview, and we are often thanked for asking, no matter the sources’ gender identity. For those who are not used to asking others’ pronouns, it can seem intimidating. However, our experiences show it is appreciated.
Beyond verbal communication, there are many other ways we can normalize making a point to refer to everybody by their correct pronouns. Put your pronouns in your email signature, Zoom name or social media bio — if you are comfortable disclosing such information.
Making pronouns a normal topic of conversation benefits everybody. It’s a basic matter of respect, and when one feels respected, interactions automatically start off on a better foot than when one feels their identity is being thrown by the wayside. It also takes out guesswork … there is literally no risk of misgendering somebody if their pronouns are clearly stated. Yes, this may involve asking, but as we work to normalize pronouns as a topic of conversation, asking for one’s pronouns will be as routine as saying “thank you” when somebody holds the door for you.
For more information on the importance of correct pronoun usage, visit lgbtlifecenter.org. Metro Trans Umbrella Group’s website provides a list of local support groups, each serving specific identities. Flower Boi Support is a peer-led support group for masculine people of color.