Opinion

Personal Gender Pronouns are a necessity, not a formality

Option A: “Let’s go around and say your name, your year, your major and where you’re from.”

Option B: “Let’s go around and say your name, your pronouns, your year, your major and where you’re from.”

These are the two options a leader has when directing a group introduction. What’s the difference? Option B is inclusive to students of all genders, discourages assumption-making, makes sure there’s no uncomfortable misgendering later, and shows that pronoun choice is just as deliberate for a cisgender female using she/her/hers as for a trans person using ze/zir/zirs.

Option A leaves students whose pronouns can’t be correctly assumed with two (often uncomfortable) options:

Option A1: Say their pronouns after their name, singling them out as The One With Different Pronouns.

Option A2: Say only their name like everyone else and have to correct someone later after being all-but-inevitably misgendered.

No matter where I go, the protest I always hear in objection to doing pronouns is “it’s too big of a question to ask during a quick go-around.”

No. It’s not. The only people who think it’s a big deal to share pronouns are the people who “don’t need to do it.”

Think of it this way: We all have names we go by. Sometimes they’re what’s on our passport, sometimes they’re a variation, sometimes they’re a different name altogether. You might be the seventh Devaughn in your family, you might be named Sumathy after a beloved great-aunt, you might go by a your middle name, Katalyna, to avoid confusion because you share a first name with your mother. But when you introduce yourself, everyone just needs to know your name—what to call you. Pronouns are the same way. While pronouns can carry connotations or stories with them, they’re really just, at the end of the day, what a person wants to be called.

Likewise, here’s a conversation you would never have with a stranger.

Person 1: “Hey Sam!”
Person 2: “Uh, my name’s not Sam—it’s Cedric.”
Person 1: “Yeah, but you look like a Sam, so I’m just gonna call you Sam.”

We don’t assume names by looking at people, so why should we assume pronouns?

The other protest I’ve heard, especially in my work with kids, is “it’s too complex of a topic.” Again, it’s not. The past two summers, I’ve taught at a program with 13- and 14-year olds, one-third of whom were not from the United States; and, for about as many students, English was not their first language. The first day of class, I asked the students to share their name, pronouns, and other information relevant to the activity we were doing. “Tell us what you want to be called: your name, and what pronouns you want us to use for you, because just like we don’t assume names, we don’t assume pronouns. So for me, I’m Max, and I use ze/zir/zirs or they/them/theirs, and I’m your instructor.”

The only issue I ever had were some kids who didn’t know what a pronoun actually was. Ten seconds later—”Oh! I am Jianquan and he, his…him, right?”

And then we moved on. And even though none of them introduced themselves with pronouns that couldn’t have been assumed, it did no harm whatsoever. And the next morning Jianquan’s RA told me he asked his hall to share their pronouns that evening. And one kid said “they/them/theirs.”

Until that point, everyone had been using the wrong pronouns for them.

Remember, these kids were 13.

My point: there is absolutely no reason not to make pronouns a part of any introductions at Mac, whether in class, at an org meeting, or in any other “go around and say your name”-type setting. It takes two extra seconds and can only do good things.

September 12, 2014

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