(This is a picture of my conference badge from the Qualitative conference in the summer. I wrote my pronouns on my ID badge, and so should you! And if you see someone’s pronouns on their name tag or ID badge, ensure you use those pronouns!)
“Hi, I’m Shannon, and my pronouns are they, them, and theirs.”
Whenever I am asked to introduce myself to a new group of people, or whenever I stand up to give a presentation, I introduce myself and identify which pronouns people should use when talking about me. This may be confusing if you’ve never had someone introduce themselves with pronouns before, but we do it for a very good reason!
Sometimes, people’s pronouns don’t automatically match-up with how they look, how they dress or the name they use. Instead of leaving people to guess at which pronouns to use, folks supply those pronouns so that no guessing is necessary. When someone tells you their pronouns, ensure to use them! This might be no big deal when your male professor, Dr. John Smith, introduces himself as: “Hi, I’m Professor John Smith, and my pronouns are he and him.” Because Dr. Smith looks like a man, dresses like a man, and identifies as a man you would automatically use “he, him, and his” to refer to Dr. Smith. Those are his pronouns, and you use them – huzzah!
This might be a little less familiar and comfortable when you encounter someone who uses non-binary pronouns. Non-binary (or gender neutral) pronouns are pronouns that are not “she/her/hers” or “he/him/his”. Non-binary pronouns are not attached to gender and so are often used by people whose gender doesn’t fit into either “woman” or “man”. The most popular non-binary pronouns are “they/them/theirs”. So when someone, such as myself, introduces themselves with non-binary pronouns, do your best to use them even though it may seem strange at first. Just like with learning new academic jargon or new slang, it will take you time to get used to non-binary pronouns. If you’ve never used gender neutral pronouns before, allow me to provide some examples of how you might use them:
Gendered: I saw Dr. Smith on campus – he looked like he was in a rush!
Non-binary: I saw Shannon on campus – they looked like they were in a rush!
Gendered: Dr. Smith left his phone behind when he left class, uh oh!
Non-binary: Shannon left their phone behind when they left class, uh oh!
Pretty easy, right? Now, you may be wondering why would Dr. Smith introduce himself with his pronouns when he’s clearly a man and would obviously use he/him pronouns? Excellent question! Some people who look like they are obviously a man or woman may not use the pronouns you think they would – you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t guess someone’s pronouns by the way they look.
Second, Dr. Smith is being a great trans ally by introducing himself with his pronouns, even though he is not trans. By introducing himself with his pronouns, Dr. Smith is showing his class that 1) everyone should introduce themselves with their pronouns, 2) he is accepting of non-traditional pronouns and will use your pronouns, 3) his classroom is a safe place for trans folks to use their chosen names and their proper pronouns, 4) he cares about his students as individuals and will support them. People can definitely care about their students even if they don’t introduce themselves with pronouns, but introducing yourself with your pronouns shows all LGBTQ2S students (and people) that you care about them and are a safe person to interact with. It takes five seconds to add your pronouns to your introduction, so give it a try!
Now, we’ve talked about introducing yourself with pronouns in person, but what about when people add their pronouns to their email signature? Sometimes, you will see email signature like this:
Dr. John Smith, MD, PhD
Shannon Pearson (they/them)
These are just two examples of how people might put their pronouns in an email signature, and examples of how you might add your pronouns to your own signature! We are often emailing with people we’ve never met face-to-face or know almost nothing about. It’s polite to provide some information about yourself in your email, and also a relief to gain more information about the unknown person behind the signature. If you have a gender-neutral name (ex. Jordan, Alex, Mackenzie, Shannon, Chris) then people will not know which pronouns you use over email – anyone with any of those names could potentially be a man, woman, or another gender. Putting pronouns in email signatures helps to clarify how people wish to be referred to, and it can help to keep people from making embarrassing mistakes (like addressing your male professor as “Ms.” or “she” in an email or with other faculty).
And again, writing your pronouns in your signature is an indicator to LGBTQ2S students and folks that you are an ally and a safe person to express your gender/pronouns to. Vice versa, if you see that someone else has written their pronouns in their email signature, you know that that person is also an ally and a safe person to interact with – huzzah! Adding pronouns to an email signature is such a quick and easy way to show that you are inclusive and supportive of people no matter their gender or pronouns.
Introducing yourself with your pronouns and including your pronouns in your email signature are two of the easiest and most common ways to be an ally in academia. Those two simple actions make our university a more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming place! Everyone who attends university wants to feel included and like they belong, including you and I.
For folks who are looking to be stronger trans allies on campus, here are some other ways you can do that:
- Always use the pronouns someone has introduced themselves with.
- If someone tells you their pronouns, but doesn’t use those pronouns publicaly (ex. Maybe they are out to their friends about using they/them pronouns, but aren’t out to the whole university yet), then use the proper pronouns in private and ask your friend which pronouns to use in public. Maybe they will want you to use different pronouns in public versus private, or maybe they won’t care. Everyone has different preferences for where and when they are comfortable with certain pronouns.
- If someone asks you not to use certain pronouns in public, respect that! It could be dangerous to use the wrong pronouns for someone in public because it could out them as being transgender in an unsafe space. Trans folks suffer a lot of discrimination and violence simply for being trans and wanting to live their authentic life. Always consult with your trans friends first so ensure their safety.
- If you hear someone using the wrong pronouns for someone (ex. If someone was referring to Dr. Smith as “she/her” when you know his pronouns are “he/him”), politely correct that person. Correcting someone’s incorrect use of pronouns isn’t meant to be malicious – you correct someone because you care about them and the person whose pronouns are being used. Remember this if someone else ever corrects you on pronoun use: you are being corrected because that person wants you to learn and wants to be able to feel comfortable around you. If someone doesn’t care, then they won’t bother spending the energy to correct your use of pronouns. So if they do, don’t take it as an insult but instead take it as an opportunity to learn and do better next time.
- Correct strangers when they use the wrong pronouns for someone who is out about using certain pronouns. For example, I would want my friends to correct strangers when they used the wrong pronouns for me because I openly use they/them pronouns in all areas of my life. For others, this is not the case – so always check!
- If you are uncertain of someone’s pronouns, ask them their pronouns in private! A quick message or a quick conversation in private is all you need: “hey, can I double-check what your pronouns are?” Why in private? This prevents someone from accidentally being outed as trans in an unsafe space, and it takes the social pressure off of answering a potentially awkward question (ex. Maybe that person doesn’t know what pronouns are and will need an explanation of why you asked that question, and that could be embarrassing to admit when in front of a group of people).
- Explain the importance of using people’s proper pronouns when you’re asked by people who don’t know. It can be exhausting as a trans person, and someone who uses non-binary pronouns, to continually re-explain my pronouns and why people should use them. Strong allies to trans people will take on some of that work by educating others around them about pronoun use. Also, sometimes it’s easier for a non-trans person to ask seemingly-silly questions to other non-trans people because they don’t want to offend a trans person or become embarrassed for not knowing.
- Write your pronouns on your name tag when you’re at an event, even if you’re not trans! This helps to normalize writing pronouns on name tags and will help trans folks feel more comfortable writing down their pronouns too. Again, this small action helps to make the space you’re in much more comfortable for LGBTQ2S folks.
- Add your pronouns to the introductory slide of any presentation or slideshow you make.
- When facilitating a group where people introduce themselves (ex. If you are leading a seminar class of 15 people), ask people to say their pronouns when introducing themselves to the group. Always introduce yourself with your pronouns first as an example!
- Confront people when they make trans-phobic statements or jokes.
- Confront people when they make fun of someone for introducing themselves with their pronouns.
There are many other ways to make the university a more inclusive setting, but these are some simple ways to improve your ally-ship and to help out trans folks. If you have any further questions or are looking for more information on the LGBTQ2S community or resources, seek out MUN SAGA on campus (6th floor of the University Center), or feel free to shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m more than happy to answer people’s questions (no matter how silly your question may feel), but I will not suffer trans-phobia or hate.
Best of luck on the term and I hope you go into this year of school with a new commitment to use people’s pronouns and to introduce yourself with your pronouns. Cheers,
(Dr. John Smith is a name I totally made up to use as an example for this blog post. As far as I know, there aren’t any Dr. John Smiths at Memorial University right now – but if there are, thank you for letting me use your name as an example!)