I want you to close your eyes and picture a stranger that you saw today. Maybe it’s someone you saw on the commute to work. Or someone you saw walking outside. Or maybe even it’s someone you saw as you dropped your student off at Shipley. Try and get a super clear image of that person in your mind.
Now, grab a piece of paper (or maybe open up Notes in your phone) and write down a few sentences that describe the person. You can talk about physical characteristics, clothing, etc.
Take a second to read over your description. Did you use personal pronouns to describe that person? Did you assign “he” or “she” to the stranger based on what they looked like or how they acted?
The truth is, we make assumptions about what pronouns people use all the time. A lot of these assumptions are based on physical characteristics as well as peoples’ names. However, it’s so important to know that we cannot know what someone’s pronouns are unless they tell us. Asking for and giving pronouns is still something that is new to many people. It can feel clunky, or even unusual, because we’re so used to making those assumptions. We know that assumptions can be wrong, so it’s important to make the conversation around pronouns more common.
Today is International Pronouns Day, and the purpose of the day is to “make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace” (PronounsDay.org).
It honestly all boils down to respecting people. As someone who gets misgendered often, either accidentally or on purpose, it means the world when people use my pronouns correctly and make an effort to correct others who might get it wrong.
The conversation about pronouns is not just for those who are transgender, non-binary, or gender nonconforming. It’s incredibly helpful when cisgender people (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) introduce themselves with their pronouns. It decreases the emotional burden on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people to constantly educate or share about pronouns, and it makes the process more normalized.
Giving and asking for pronouns does not just benefit gender diverse students and adults. It benefits those who are cisgender as well, because they learn the importance of a) not making assumptions about people based on their name or appearance, and b) normalizing the practice of asking for pronouns. You can absolutely have conversations about not making assumptions with people of all ages and teach about personal pronouns.
Here are a few sentence stems that you can use:
- My name is _____ and my pronouns are _____
- My name is _____ and I use _______ pronouns
- It’s nice to meet you! What pronouns do you use?
I’d like to leave you with this statement from International Pronouns Day website because it really encompasses why respecting pronouns is so important:
Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people’s multiple, intersecting identities.
Please check out International Pronouns Day’s website to learn more about today and to find resources and videos to help facilitate conversations about pronouns at home. You can also check out MyPronouns.Org for even more information about pronouns.