Promoting Broad Disclosure of Pronouns
Your gender identity is your business, but pronouns are not identity.
Lately, I’ve seen more and more people adding their pronouns to their email signatures. Speaking as a non-binary trans person, disclosing pronouns upfront is a trend I want to encourage for everyone, not just in email but in all online and in-person communication. When everyone — cisgender, transgender, and non-binary — gets into the habit of listing their pronouns along with their name, the awkwardness of this practice will decrease while awareness of gender diversity increases.
Most cisgender people — people whose gender identities match the sex they were assigned at birth — aren’t used to being asked their pronouns. They take it for granted that whether to call them “she” or “he” is obvious based on their name or appearance — and that these are the only two choices. This results in only people who do not appear to be cisgender being asked which pronouns they use, which is othering and can be particularly distressing to binary trans people who are stealth (not open about being transgender).
Name tags with pronouns should not only be seen at queer- and trans-centered events; they should be normalized. I particularly like the name tags from Non-Newtonian Gender Fluid, as the wording on them — “Hello | Address me as [Name]” and “Please Use: [Pronouns]” — subtly acknowledges that a person’s name and pronouns are not necessarily fixed.
It’s important to understand that disclosing your pronouns does not disclose your gender identity; it merely tells people how you wish to be addressed. While most women go by “she/her/hers” pronouns, for example, whether a woman is cis, trans, or non-binary is no one’s business but her own, unless she chooses to disclose that information. And while many non-binary people go by “they/them/theirs”, many also accept binary pronouns, sometimes depending on the situation. You should not assume anyone’s gender identity or transgender status from their preferred pronouns alone.
In some spaces, it is useful for cis people to acknowledge their privilege by stating that they are cisgender. But in my opinion, it is not necessary or helpful to list this information by default. However well-intentioned, asking or expecting people to list their cisgender status can put pressure on stealth trans people to lie about their identities. For the general public, it is better to simply state your pronouns.
While addressing people with the correct pronouns is only a small step toward achieving justice and equity for all genders, it is an important and necessary step. Normalizing disclosure of pronouns for everyone will help us move toward a world that embraces gender diversity.