Ask Allie: Using Pronouns is a Personal Choice

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by Sarah Rutledge Fischer (she/they)

Dear Allie,

I have a pronoun issue, and since I work for an LGBTQ organization, it’s kind of a problem. My boss had me ask all employees to include pronouns in their company bios. I did, but I felt really uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t want to include mine.

I’m a cis-gender straight woman and have always comfortably conformed to female gender norms. But throughout my life, I’ve been misgendered. When I was young, it was very upsetting to wonder why people thought I was a boy even though I felt and dressed like a girl. I finally decided that all that mattered was what I thought of myself. But with the pronoun issue here, I’m feeling off kilter again.

The thing is, I don’t really care. As long as you are respectful, you can call me whatever. I mean, I will honor your pronouns and fight anyone who dares to disrespect them, but I just don’t feel like explaining myself any more than I’ve already had to. So, I don’t want to use them.

Is this just my privilege showing? How do I navigate this? Help!

Tired of Insisting of She/Her

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear T.I.S.H.,

I am a big fan of people including pronouns when introducing themselves. At a cultural level, including pronouns in an introduction normalizes the idea that a person’s gender may not be readily apparent based on their external conformity to cultural gender norms. For some people, including pronouns is a way of communicating to others that they are an ally of the transgender community. Plus, including pronouns can create a space in which others can feel comfortable sharing their own pronouns. And of course, for many people including pronouns is a necessary part of expressing their gender identity and insisting that it deserves to be recognized.

But while I am a fan of people including pronouns, I would never recommend anyone requiring other people to do so. Requiring pronouns in introductions, while certainly well intended, can be very distressing for people who are in the closet, people who are in the process of questioning or exploring gender identity, and people who have suffered traumas around gender identity.

Now, I’m fairly comfortable assuming that your boss never intended to cause anyone suffering with his request. In fact, he would probably be shocked at the emotional weight his request has carried for you and maybe others. But one of the burdens of being in a position of authority is the necessity of remaining aware of the power imbalance created by that position—even in the friendliest of environments. So, for bosses, managers, professors, organizers, and anyone else in the business of managing people, it is best, when possible, to create an opportunity for people to share their pronouns while also making it clear that no one is expected or required to do so.

Now that we’ve covered your boss’s words, I want to talk about yours. You assert that you don’t care how you are gendered, but it seems very clear to me that you do. Just because you are cis-gendered doesn’t mean that the cruelties of cis-normative society haven’t caused you pain and trauma. I applaud your decision that the only opinion that matters on your gender is your own. But I also encourage you to turn inward and do what you can to heal the hurt and confusion suffered by the young girl you once were and, to some degree, still are.

As a cis-hetero woman, you have the ability to understand privilege from both sides. You know what it is to see men benefit from privilege you will never have. And you benefit from straight/cis privileges you may never notice or understand. If you find a way to truly heal the traumas you’ve suffered around gender, then with or without pronouns, you will have even more power to open doors of acceptance and visibility for the trans and nonbinary people in your world.

In the meantime, try sending this column to your boss. Maybe you and he can work together to create a better company policy around pronouns. That should get you started.

Your friend,
Allie

To submit your own question, email Allie at Allie@focusmidsouth.com. Focus Mid-South reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.