Sometimes it takes a small act to let other people feel seen, supported, and safe.
We live in a world where we can no longer assume gender and it’s extremely important to realize that. Gender pronouns are what we use to refer to someone, and ourselves, in conversations and speech. The most important thing to remember, is that they’re chosen by each individual person, which is why we can’t assume. (Especially now, when we’ve had to transition to an online platform for our education and work).
As a cisgender individual, it’s been hard to make the adjustment. Looking at someone and referring to them as someone’s sister or brother instead of sibling has become subconsciously the first thing to say. We’ve been so accustomed to assuming gender which is why it’s a struggle and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is not trying to correct yourself and learn. When we assume gender, we take away people’s identity. If people identify with they/them and we incorrectly use the wrong pronoun because we assume, we don’t acknowledge them. And that will never be right. Whether someone is trans, cis, or nonbinary, it’s up to all of us to make sure we create a safe space where they can identify unapologetically.
The days of looking at someone’s picture and concluding whether they’re male or female are over.
Since most of our classes and even work events are all online, we all have had to use zoom or microsoft teams. The names associated with video chats are now even more crucial than before. That is how we can show others how we identify.
To educate myself, I’ve been talking to a few people who are nonbinary to gain more insight. I asked them a couple of questions regarding pronouns and the digital era.
Here are their responses:
Why is it important to add pronouns (in zoom)?
Adding pronouns in Zoom is important because it automatically lets others know how to refer to you. For *trans and gender non-conforming folks, it is so common to be misgendered (accidentally or on purpose) and putting pronouns in their bio lets others know that these are the pronouns they are to use when referring to them, without verbalizing it. It is equally as important for cisgender people to put their pronouns next to their Zoom name because it shows a level of respect for *trans and gender non-conforming people, and it suggests that this is a safe space for all identities to be honored. It is also important because we simply can’t assume pronouns based on appearance, and our binary ideas of what a “man” and “woman” are.
I think it makes it known in a very easy way. It is as identifiable as a name. It is subtle and doesn’t involve an awkward introduction or an explicit conversation. It is also always there. If someone misgenders you over zoom, you know it is that they either don’t understand what “they/them” means, or more likely, they're actively choosing to misgender you. In situations where cis people put their pronouns on zoom, I find it to be comforting. It normalizes the idea that pronouns shouldn’t really be assumed.
What does it mean to you?
As a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns, putting them next to my name in Zoom is vital. This is because it allows me to advocate for myself without having to constantly address individuals every time they misgender me or start off every introduction with my pronouns. I can be a fairly shy person, so making myself the center of attention in work meetings or classes is not exactly ideal. Putting them next to my name allows others to know exactly what I want to be called. Especially during an age where we are not meeting face to face.
At the end of the day, pronouns are just symbols for your identity. I don’t get so hung up on the pronoun if i know the person genuinely sees me as non-binary. I had a friend say “I don’t know if this is overstepping, but i’ve always seen you as a non-binary person.” To me that was super validating. And with that, I don’t really care if she says “she” because her understanding of me goes past the limitations of the language. Gendered language is so complicated. I can’t stand when people refer to a group I’m in as “girls” or “ladies.” It's frustrating because this means I am perceived as a woman. But when my partner refers to me as their “girlfriend” it doesn’t bother me because i know they see me as nonbinary.
Do you get offended when someone refers to you with the wrong pronouns? And why?
This is a tricky one because I am someone who is all about intention. I understand that for many people using they/them pronouns is a completely new concept, and takes a lot of unlearning of binary sex and gender constructions. I do not get offended if people have good intentions and are learning, or simply do not know me and make an assumption. HOWEVER, I do get offended when people in my daily life refuse to learn my pronouns. This is because it is an act of an erasure of my identity, especially if it is someone I know and interact with on a daily basis. Just because it is not their experience, or they don’t understand what being trans/non-binary feels like, does not give people a pass to not respect pronouns. Especially if the person makes these pronouns known.
I don’t get offended because I don’t tell the majority of people my pronouns. I let them assume my gender and just go with it. It is much easier to not have to constantly correct people. If I do tell someone and they continue to use the wrong pronouns it is disappointing more than anything. I’m disappointed that the person can’t put in the extra effort to correct themselves. A lot of the times people use the wrong pronouns out of habit. It takes a little bit to unlearn the pronouns you’ve been calling someone and then refer to them with their new, appropriate pronouns. I get that. I refer to myself as the wrong pronouns sometimes. It’s the moment when people don’t make that correction after they say the wrong one out of habit, that is just so disheartening.
As a teacher do you tell your pronouns to your students, why or why not?
I work as a Teaching Assistant in a therapeutic school for kids with mental health disorders. We have a lot of queer identified students, so I do tell them my pronouns if they ask me. They are much more receptive and understanding than my coworkers, and it does not take them long to learn pronouns at all. I am open with my students about my identity because I feel that it is so important that they see queer adults who are living completely normal lives. If I had a teacher or staff member at my High School who openly claimed any LGBTQIA+ identity, it would have made all the difference for me. I felt so alone and so scared as a teenager, that having someone proud of who they are would have saved me a lot of time scrutinizing myself.
Do you make your pronouns known whenever you speak to someone? Why?
I do not make my pronouns known everytime I speak to someone for many reasons. The main is safety. If I am talking to a stranger, I don’t know how they will react and how they treat *transgender people. I already exist as a visibly queer person, and this alone has put me in some interesting situations. I cannot trust that everyone would treat me with respect in all situations. I do put my pronouns in my work email, and when I log into Zoom for class but even then, people don’t try that hard to learn my pronouns.
I don’t. I’ve seen people I love and interact with misgender my partner, even after I go through the whole spiel of “my partner is non-binary. This means they use ‘they/them’ pronouns.” Oftentimes I go through an interaction where I refer to my partner as they and whoever I am talking to says “who’s they? Are you talking about multiple people? I thought you were just talking about your partner.” It is honestly really exhausting going through this in a second hand sort of way. I see how people don’t get it, and actively choose to not even try. I don’t tell people I’m non-binary for this reason. I am also a femme. A non-binary femme seems to just be a hard concept for a lot of people. I rather not tell people and see them not try. I think that would honestly just hurt. But when the occasional person does ask me my pronouns, I say “they/them.” That simple question is already a signal that they get it. And it is incredibly validating hearing them refer to me as a “them.”
What is the importance of adding your pronouns to your bio on social media?
Social Media is a platform that you can curate to your own interest. Because I follow many other queer individulas, it makes it easier to feel comfortable enough to put my pronouns in my Instagram bio. It also makes me feel connected to a community I don’t always get to interact with in person. I also like using social media as an easy way to come out. I didn't have to call all my friends and family, I could simply put my pronouns in my bio which really did the coming out for me.
I think it’s the same thing as in zoom. Just usually in a persona that is personal. Zoom is oftentimes a professional persona. I think it’s a way to explicitly assert your gender identity in a subtle way. And, again, like in zoom, it is always there. It is hard to overlook. I’m very new to validating my gender identity for myself. It took me a long time to accept that nonbinary is valid for a femme. As I mentioned before, I don’t tell most people. But I think my social media bio is the first place I will start. It is a virtual space for me to be myself. It is the easiest place for me to assert my identity, irrespective of gender. So, it is the easiest place to assert my identity including my gender.
For those of us who are cis, you might want to argue against this, thinking that you don’t need to put your pronouns out there. But you’re doing this for others and creating a safe environment for people to express themselves. We all live in this world. We should start acting like it. So, start putting your pronouns out there and let’s build a world where we can all self-identify unapologetically.