by Juztin Bello, Copy Editor
For people who have never had to worry about having their correct pronouns not being used, sharing gender pronouns might not seem that important. Because they’re used to being properly identified without questioning or misgendering, cisgender people (meaning people whose gender identity correlates to their sex assigned at birth) may be confused when prompted to specify how they would like to be addressed. The same reassurance cannot be guaranteed, however, for those who do not identify within binary perceptions of gender, which sees males and females (who go by he/him/his and she/her/hers, respectively) as the assumed norm. Sharing one’s pronouns, and politely asking for someone else’s pronouns, is an exceptionally easy way for those not in communities that do not conform to the gender binary to enact better allyship.
Before I go on I want to make one thing clear: this piece and the notion of normalizing pronoun sharing is not for me. Though I am part of the LGBTQ2+ community, I am still a cisgender gay man who uses he/him/his pronouns — I’m privileged in that my correct pronouns are typically assumed and used by strangers with very little need for clarity.
But the same cannot be said for those who perhaps identify with they/them pronouns such as those who are trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming, who face misgendering and discrimination for their pronouns and identities. So while I am writing this to bring attention to why normalizing pronoun usage is significant, I stress that I am writing this as a privileged member of the LGBTQ2+ community who merely wants to shed light on the significance of normalizing pronoun establishment.
To begin, the most obvious reason why we should be normalizing sharing pronouns is simply because it’s respectful. Cisgender people should begin sharing their pronouns as it helps trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming individuals to not feel isolated when they share theirs. By sharing their pronouns, cisgender people can establish sharing pronouns as not simply done in LGBTQ2+ settings, but in all settings. In certain environments like workplaces or classes, taking the initiative to share pronouns helps to create a safe space for people of these communities, which can be incredibly comforting in helping them feel welcomed and accepted.
Moreover, cisgender people sharing their pronouns deconstructs the idea that everyone’s gender can be assumed, something that often results in misgendering. The idea that pronouns can be assumed by one’s outward appearance conforms to a gender binary and, ultimately, the stereotyping of gender expression. Through demonstrating that gender identity is not something that can/should be assumed, this alleviates pressure for those whose identity is more fluid and normalizes the idea that identity is not simply one (male) or the other (female).
With this in mind, there are numerous instances where someone could include their pronouns to better normalize pronoun sharing. For instance, I have my pronouns on my social media accounts (in my Instagram bio, for example) and also in my email signatures. Screen names in Zoom calls is another helpful place to put your pronouns — this could be especially helpful for lectures. The benefit of including your pronouns in these places is that it helps people who may not know you personally see which pronouns you prefer to use to avoid misgendering. This is especially significant in professional settings, where establishing pronoun sharing can create a comforting work environment/relationship amongst staff, and can let people who may not know you well address you correctly.
Additionally, including your pronouns when introducing yourself is another place where you can make your pronouns known; whether it’s to an individual or within a group context, sharing your pronouns can help encourage others to share their pronouns, which can be especially supportive in helping someone feel comfortable enough to share theirs. Something as simple as saying, “Hello I’m Juztin, I use he/him/his pronouns” takes very little effort to share as someone cisgendered.
Beyond simply normalizing sharing correct pronouns, other steps to becoming a better ally include challenging your own use of gender-specific language and respectfully asking for someone’s pronouns. The gender binary ignores the fluidity that is involved in identity, and it is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we often fail to question it. Language especially is something we often gender unintentionally, and making little adjustments such as saying “their” when referring to a person instead of “his/hers,” or using “parent,” “sibling,” or “partner” so as to not assume gender can help to make language more inclusive.
If you accidentally misgender someone, be sure to apologize, correct yourself, listen, and do better — of course your intent is not malicious, so the best way to atone is just to hold yourself accountable and work towards using the correct pronouns to help that person be comfortable.
What’s important to remember is that the purpose of allyship is not what you can do for you, but what you can do in support of someone else. While no one is going to be perfect in how they enact allyship, efforts towards questioning our own biases, normalizing behaviours that are more inclusive, and simply being patient and open enough to listening can help to ease the anxiety that centres around gender identity.