Giving our name, major, and most recently, pronouns, has become part of the routine in the virtual introduction process. With the implementation of pronouns, students are expected to feel more comfortable with their own identities as professors indicate respect through these accommodations. However, it is important to consider the repercussions of asking people for their pronouns, and how it could actually be upsetting for the very community we are trying to show solidarity towards.
[bf_image id="q55hak-a7ln9k-36n2jk"] At heart, the movement towards normalizing the use of pronouns is a step in the right direction for inclusivity. It prevents misgendering, which can be especially damaging to non-binary and trans people. However, asking everyone to go around and share their preferred pronouns doesn’t seem to solve the matter of misgendering, because it’s more nuanced than we thought.
The main issue that comes with preferred gender pronouns, or “PGPs,” is the sense of vulnerability, or outness, that the individual must unwillingly partake in. To be out means that people know about a person's gender identity or history, sexual orientation, or both. When students must answer with their PGPs, this can force them to either out themselves when they’re not even ready or lie about their identity. Yes, misgendering can become a problem, but the feelings of unease that come with outing oneself or withholding the truth is just as bad, if not worse. It is unfair to put this pressure on trans and non-binary folks for the sake of helping them, when in reality we could be harming them.
Circumstance also matters, because transgender people may be out to some people and not to others based on their preference or out of necessity. With close friends, these individuals may feel comfortable disclosing their gender, but may not share that same level of comfort in a large classroom of strangers, and rightfully so. For many people, their pronouns are situational, but to ask in the presence of many outsiders puts increased stress that can cultivate an internal conflict regarding one’s identity.
PGPs are also problematic for gender-questioning folks, who are in a process of discovery and exploration about their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or an amalgamation of all of the above. The seemingly harmless question is actually a very intimate and private deliberation they are not ready to answer. For those still exploring their identity, it seems that “I’m not sure right now” would be the most reasonable response, but they may not want everyone to know that in fear of it not being perceived well, or because it does not provide a clear answer for the people who will be referring to them in the third person.
Although there is no concrete solution, we can first start by leaving that option up to the person. Instead of asking everyone to share their PGPs, they can share only if they feel certain and secure with their current environment. Although pronouns are convenient, perhaps professors, colleagues, and peers can refer to the person by their name, or collaborate with the individual to try and figure out the best possible way to address them. It is vital we show our allyship in a supportive manner and channel our advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community constructively.