Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Legs bounce as students anticipate their turns to introduce themselves, weighing the pros and cons of the traditional “Hi!” or the nonchalant “Hey!” that preface the infamous “My name is ________.” Thoughts race as they reflect on 3 “fun facts”—with the paradoxical criteria of unique, but not bizarre, and laugh-inducing, but not trouble-making—that will supposedly define the entireties of their school years. Hesitant conversation fills the classroom, details of summer vacations exchanged between two strangers. Cheeks remain flushed and heart rates remain high until the roar of the school bell frees the sufferers. That is, until the next class begins and the cycle repeats itself.
The first days of school are awkward and anxiety-inducing for all students. However, for non-cisgender people—including but not limited to those who identify as agender, gender fluid, multi-gendered, non-binary, and transgender—this discomfort is especially heightened. For many, being misgendered is a daily occurrence, a cycle of invalidation that they cannot escape. Furthermore, correcting others exacerbates these negative feelings, as having to explain and defend your gender identity is exhausting and demoralizing.
Most cisgender people have the security of knowing that they will not be misgendered, and with this privilege, they must cultivate an environment in which transgender, nonbinary, and people of all gender identities do not feel alienated for simply expressing themselves freely. Our society needs to move away from cisnormative mindsets that contribute to anti-trans and -nonbinary rhetoric and move towards more acceptant states with gender-inclusive language. Such societal progression should include the destigmatization and normalization of sharing one’s pronouns. Openly sharing one’s pronouns, as a cisgender or transgender person, dismantles the stereotype that someone’s gender identity can be assumed from their hair, clothes, name, behavior, and more. Moreover, using one’s pronouns is a sign of respect, as reverent as using their correct name or honorific.
As schools return to in-person classes and students stray from silent breakout rooms, teachers will indulge in icebreaker activities and get-to-know-you games. When introducing yourself to your counselor, teachers, or fellow classmates, it is important to state your pronouns. Normalizing this in classroom environments can instill in children practices of acceptance and respect.
Sometimes, people are hesitant to ask for another person’s pronouns. The easiest, and perhaps most natural way to do so, is to introduce yourself first. For example, when meeting someone new, I would introduce myself as such: “Hi! My name is Hannah, and I use she/they pronouns.” This is often enough to encourage the other person to share their own name and pronouns. If not, a simple question—“May I ask what pronouns you use?” or “Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns?”—would suffice. Avoid phrases like “preferred pronouns,” as such rhetoric suggests an element of flexibility and is therefore invalidating. Moreover, it is important to note that people use certain pronouns in specific contexts due to changing levels of comfort and concerns of safety. It is one’s personal choice in how and when they choose to share aspects of their identity with others.
Furthermore, the sharing of pronouns should transcend the occasional introduction in class. It is important to spotlight them in each aspect of everyday life. This includes adding your pronouns next to your Zoom names during meetings, on name tags, in email signatures, and in social media profiles. In fact, Instagram recently launched a new feature that allows users to add their pronouns to their bios.
Everyone has implicit biases and stereotypes ingrained in their minds, especially in regards to gendered appearances, mannerisms, and other facets of life—i.e. Girls have long hair and wear dresses. Boys have short hair and wear pants. Imposing a pronoun onto another person because of how they look, speak, or act exposes such implicit biases. These unconscious prejudices can be combatted through self-reflection, listening to the perspectives of others, proactive behavior—self-driven research such as reading books and watching movies on the subject—, and thinking before you speak. Ultimately, if you do not know which pronouns someone uses, implement gender neutral rhetoric. For instance, in group settings, exchange the popular “ladies and gentlemen” with “friends.” Use “Hi everyone!” instead of “Hi guys!”
However, if you do misgender someone, there are certain actions you can take to reconcile the mistake. For instance, immediately apologize and correct yourself. Try not to draw attention to the error, as the other person will likely feel a range of emotions, including embarrassment. Spotlighting it would only exacerbate their emotions and perhaps spoil your time together. Additionally, if you accidentally misgender someone and are corrected, express gratitude to the person that identified your mistake. Life is a constant learning process, and growing from your mistakes takes precedence over complacency.
So, my name is Hannah. Ask me about my pronouns.