Today is International Pronouns Day which seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. International Pronouns Day began in 2018 and takes place on the 3rd Wednesday of October each year.
Before I go into why pronouns matter, I want to include some definitions to set the stage:
- Sex – refers to the biological, genetic, or physical characteristics that define males and females. Nearly everyone is assigned a sex at birth typically by one of the health professionals in the delivery room and it most commonly one of the two options primarily determined by the presence of the sex chromosomes in the genetic code: male (XY) or female (XX ). There are other chromosomal configurations like Klinefelter syndrome and other factors that can determine sex, but I will leave it at that for now (happy to write a future blog post on this).
- Gender – refers to a set of social, psychological, and emotional traits which are often influenced by societal expectations.
- Gender Identity – term used to describe a person’s deeply held personal, internal sense of self. Three common gender identities are are cisgender, transgender and genderqueer.
As pronouns add gender, this means that pronouns can also add implicit assumptions and associations we have about different genders. When you use pronouns, you can’t assume a person’s gender or pronouns from that person’s name or appearance as those assumptions aren’t always correct.
A great way to avoid assumptions is to share your own pronouns and then invite others to do so as well. As a cisgender person (my gender identity is in alignment with the sex I was assigned at birth) I have never questioned the pronouns that people use for me. Which is exactly why by sharing my pronouns, I communicate that a person’s identity is very important, while also making this practice a social norm. While some may not understand why I do this, this small action is one way to be an ally to support people with gender expansive identities.
To add further context to the importance, until June 15th of this year, there was no federal law in United States that provided workplace protection for people who are LGBTQ+. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, of the 21,715 trans and gender nonconforming people surveyed, 30 percent of respondents who had a job in the past year reported mistreatment (being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment related to their gender identity or expression). In this same survey, nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents limited the amount that they ate and drank to avoid using a public restroom in the past year.
Although this information about gender identity is U.S.-centric, there are many cultures around the world that have understood and accepted the concept of a third gender, including Māhū in Hawaii and Tahiti as well as Fa’afafine in Samoa. As the civil engineering profession is a profession about people, sharing my pronouns is one way that I help to support a safer environment for the people I interact with daily, especially in the workplace.
We all have the power to create and advocate for change. In terms of pronouns, here are some general best practices that I have incorporated:
- Introduce yourself as “Hi, my name is XX and my pronouns are XX. What pronouns would you like me to use for you?” This introduction may not be natural to you at first but, similar to public speaking, the more you do it, the more natural and easier it becomes.
- If you do misgender someone, just a brief “sorry” to acknowledge the mistake and correct the pronoun use is sufficient.
- When you do not know what pronouns that person goes by, it is common to use the person’s name until you are able to ask.
- Be mindful of word choices. For example, when addressing a group of people, use gender neutral language such as “everyone,” “folks,” or “y’all” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys.”
- Consider using expansive honorifics – using “Mx.” Instead of Mr./Ms./Mrs. or leaving it out altogether if possible.
- Add your pronouns to your digital profiles (and perhaps your email signature). This is another way to inform people of your pronouns while also contributing to an inclusive environment. (P.S.: When editing your LinkedIn profile on your computer, you cannot use the character “/”. However, you can use “/” when editing your last name on the LinkedIn app on your phone.)
This is not an exhaustive list, so please continue to stay open to hearing from your friends and colleagues about gender and their experiences. If anyone reading this has any follow up questions about this post, don’t hesitate to reach out to me as I welcome the discussion.
We are all people, let us do our individual part so that together, we can transform society to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities!
Great additional resources on the topic:
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – 10th Edition – https://www.glaad.org/reference
- International Day of Pronouns Day Website – https://pronounsday.org/
- LGBTQ+ Advocacy in STEM and free Safe Zone Workshops – https://lgbtq.asee.org/
- Pronouns App (so that you can practice pronoun use) – https://pronouns.minus18.org.au/
- NPR Episode “The Biology of Sex” – https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/852195850/the-biology-of-sex