As we head deeper into the school year, students and teachers alike are all too familiar with the standard introductory questions we face in a new group setting. “Everyone unmute,” our teachers say, “and share your name and something you did over the summer.” It’s standard to ask a stranger’s name so you know how to address them in conversation — so why does it seem so taboo to share your pronouns?
More than once, I’ve had peers and teachers ask me, “Why do you care?” or “What’s the point in stating your pronouns?” In response, I say: “why wouldn’t you?”
Gender pronouns are the pronouns you use to identify yourself in writing or conversations with others. The most commonly used pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs, although there are many other gender pronouns that nonbinary and nonconforming individuals use.
The case for sharing your pronouns is simple and straightforward: they are a basic piece of information about yourself on par with your name, age, or grade level. Sharing your pronouns normalizes not assuming an individual’s pronouns or gender based on their appearance or name alone. Like your name, pronouns are personal and unique identities you shouldn’t assume about someone else. An article by the University of California-Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center summarizes that assuming pronouns “implicitly [reinforces] harmful stereotypes about gender expression.” Although an individual may be masculine-presenting, they do not necessarily use he/him/his pronouns traditionally associated with the male gender. If you don’t already know someone’s pronouns, ask them. Doing so isn’t awkward — on the contrary, not doing so and choosing to assume someone’s pronouns can lead to their discomfort.
The UC Davis article outlines easy ways to ask about someone’s pronouns with phrases as simple as “What pronouns do you use?” and “When I refer to you, what pronouns should I use?” It’s also important to understand that some may be uncomfortable sharing their pronouns for safety concerns, like if they are not yet out to certain people or if they use different pronouns in different contexts. Asking questions like “Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns?” and “May I ask what pronouns you use?” allows the other person to make the decision themselves, and shows that you care about their identity and safety. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for someone’s pronouns, however, use they/them/theirs — although “they” can be plural in the English language, the singular “they” is indeed both grammatically correct and respectful.
However, if you do happen to use the incorrect pronouns when referring to someone, understand that realizing your mistake is a learning experience for everyone involved. In these cases, apologize, fix your mistake by using the correct pronouns, and move on without making the incident a big deal. Dwelling on your mistake heightens an already awkward situation for the person whom you misgendered.
What makes matters easier is that sharing your pronouns is quick, easy, and reaps greater benefits than not doing so. Consider putting your pronouns in social media bios to let friends and family know how to refer to you, or adding your pronouns to your email signature or anywhere else you’d share your name and contact info with strangers. Canvas recently rolled out a feature that allows users to identify their pronouns in Settings, putting your pronouns after your name whenever you’re listed. Zoom’s renaming feature is another easy way to share your pronouns openly in new group settings. When introducing yourself in new discussions, club meetings, or introductions, tack on your pronouns to the end of your other identities – it takes less than a second and lets others know you care about correctly identifying them.
(Sources: University of California-Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center)