Stop Asking for My Pronouns

The online world we have found ourselves living in today is filled with numerous challenges. This new learning environment has forced students to overcome and adapt to many different challenges. But probably the thing that has affected me most of all in my transition to online learning has been reevaluating the emphasis put on one’s pronouns in an academic setting. In recent years, there have been attempts to make higher education more accepting and affirming for trans students. Still, many of these attempts often result in singling out students or forcing them to out themselves to a peer group that may not be open or affirming. Being trans in any environment is hard, let alone in an online one. 

    Nonbinary is defined as ‘denoting or relating to gender or sexual identity that is not defined in terms of traditional binary oppositions such as male and female or homosexual and heterosexual.’ in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. I am me; I’m not a girl or a boy. I’m just me. I exist in the gray muddy portion of gender, not sticking to one side or the other. It is the revolutionary stance against a society that categorizes and determines value by gender and gender expression. I am comfortable with the label of non-binary. There are no expectations as to what a non-binary person looks like. I came out as non-binary at the end of 8th grade and started using singular they pronouns in 9th grade.

By the time I came to Pepperdine, I was secure in who I am and what I want to be. I felt safe on campus; the only people who asked me about my pronouns or gender asked because I had brought it up. Crossroads also helped a lot; I felt validated and supported by people who had gone through similar experiences. I felt seen for the first time in my life. College felt safe because of the community I created. Being sent home crushed me because it meant losing my pocket of security I made at Pepperdine.

    On the first day of my sophomore year in my Religion 201 class, our teacher asked us to tell the class our names, majors, where we were from, and our pronouns. The first person to speak in my class went, not mentioning his pronouns, then another classmate did not say their pronouns then another. I thought to myself: Am I singling myself out by stating my pronouns? Will people make fun of me for my pronouns? Will people respect them?

    Finally, my turn to speak came: I turned on my mic and said my name, major, where I was from, and that I used they/them pronouns. I saw looks of annoyance on the faces of my peers, some confusion and ambivalence. People in the class treated me differently, my professor, who was trying to create a safe space, ended up creating an environment where I was singled out as the only student in the class who used different pronouns than what was expected. By asking people to list their pronouns in a public setting, students who are trans are forced to paint themselves a target.

Next time, instead of making everyone declare their pronouns consider this: are you doing more harm than good? Are you forcing someone to out themselves in a setting they do not wish to come out in?