I’ve just learned of a new idea to create respectful awareness for trans lives. It’s simple, relatively low cost, and has the potential for normalizing the existence of trans lives It’s an easy way for allies to support trans people in every day life.
Simply add your pronouns to your introductions and email signatures, even if you believe they should be obvious. Especially if you believe they should be obvious. That would be the point.
Why Add Pronouns to Introductions and Signatures?
If you are a cisgendered person, you may have some questions about this.
Isn’t my gender obvious? This isn’t something I’ve ever had to explain my gender before. Why are you asking me to do it now?
If you are trans, the above questions have very different answers. Not all trans people fit into the neat, clear categories that most people don’t even have to think about. People who who are not as fully assimilated into their gender of heart. People who are neither gender, or both, such as intersex humans, and gender queer/gender fluid people, and non-binary people. People who have not yet begun to transition, or people who are just beginning. Navigating a world where pronouns are taken for granted is just one more layer of personal hell for those whose pronouns are not visibly apparent.
Announcing our pronouns, even when we feel they should be obvious recognizes and respects the fact that for some, pronouns aren’t necessarily obvious. It’s using the privilege of expecting to be correctly identified and gendered to raise awareness that not everyone has that privilege. It’s helping normalize the concept that we shouldn’t necessarily assume someone’s pronoun. We make assumptions based upon a cursory analysis of what we see, filtered through cultural conditioning, with no thought whatsoever about the internal orientation of the person with whom we are interacting.
If you are cis – your gender identity is just what the doctor announced when you were born – who has had little or no interaction with people they knew to be trans, these assumptions have worked perfectly well for you, and it is unlikely that you have ever had reason to question them. Trans folk walk in a very different world.
Even if we are well assimilated, we often have to fight for our pronouns. If we aren’t assimilated, or don’t want to assimilate, it’s a fight that is so unbalanced outside queer spaces, that some don’t even bother trying. Many of us are so beleaguered by trying to defend our own identities that it becomes challenging to function normally.
I admit, I balked the first time I was presented with pronoun introductions. As a fully transitioned, post-op transwoman, I had worked hard and faced innumerable fears and frustrations to become who I was. I was proud of my presentation. I worked hard to ‘pass’ (assimilate fully into my correct gender). Now, suddenly, I was being asked to give all that up? I felt like the gender identity I had fought so hard for was being taken away from me. In a queer space! Dammit, would it never end?
Ultimately, however, it wasn’t about me (gasp!). It’s about using privilege to strengthen those who have less. I have the privilege of walking in the same world cis women do, when I choose. I am well assimilated into my new gender. I haven’t always been, however. Not everyone can be. Not everyone wants to be. Everyone, however, should have the right to self-identify. The right to speak and live the truths in their hearts.
Whether a trans person ever sees your pronoun signature or hears your pronoun introduction, using pronouns in this way (“Hi, I’m CAM, she/her!”) keeps the world at large aware of our existence in a respectful way. It is a simple recognition that not everyone’s pronouns match their presentation. That some people inhabit a middle ground. It’s a reminder, for ourselves and others, that not everyone has the privilege of assumed, obvious pronouns.
And it just may spur a conversation about gender and pronouns.
How Does One Add Pronouns to Introductions or Signatures?
One advantage of pronoun-adding as public awareness is how simple it is.
It can be as simple as amending your e-mail sign-off settings (personal and professional, if you can) to include your pronouns:
Another way I have seen is to add a full statement about pronouns:
“While pronouns may be obvious for some people, this is not so for everyone. Mine are she/her. What are yours?”
Lately, I have been trying to add my pronouns when introducing myself anywhere, be it to a group at a speaking arrangement, or one-to-one. “Pleased to meet you, I’m CAM, she/her.” I do this even when no-one else in the room is doing it. Honestly, as an assimilated trans woman (people do not generally tag me as trans when I do not disclose), this makes me a little uncomfortable from time to time. I like to own when to out myself (or whether), and this skates a little closer to losing control of this than I prefer. Most times, no one responds, but I am always prepared with my “elevator speech” if someone does. It’s a chance for quick advocacy and awareness. It’s a chance to make being trans less a one-way ticket to being othered, and more simply another kind of normal.
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