A question came up in a recent meeting involving UUCC members.
Several attendees included their pronouns as they introduced themselves. Others were curious. Why announce one’s pronouns? Especially when it’s obvious by looking that those announcing their pronouns as “she/her” were clearly women. I’m hoping this explanation helps.
Nearly everyone is assigned a gender at birth. Whoever delivers us declares us to be a boy baby or girl baby based on the shape of our body. For most people that’s the end of the story. They understand themselves to be the gender matching what their body appeared to be during the first moments of their life.
For some, though, it’s not that simple. At some point in their life they begin to understand that their gender may be different from what was assigned at birth. Such people are called transgender (or trans). Other people may have anatomical, hormonal, or chromosomal characteristics of both sexes. Such people are called intersex.
For transgender and intersex people, letting people know their gender can be challenging. They may understand themselves to be a gender that is different from what people might guess by looking at them. Someone with male physical characteristics may understand themselves to be female. Someone with female physical characteristics may understand themselves to be male. Others understand themselves to be non-binary, meaning neither completely male nor completely female. It can be frustrating for such people to be gendered correctly by those around them. Because their gender is not immediately obvious by looking, people jump to conclusions and get their pronouns wrong. It can be very upsetting to be called a pronoun for a gender that feels wrong to them. How can we make it easier to get people’s pronouns correct?
It has become widespread practice to announce one’s pronouns when introducing oneself in areas and institutions seeking to be sensitive to people of transgender or intersex experience. A key suggestion for congregations hoping to be welcoming to transgender and non-binary members is to incorporate pronouns into their traditions. For example:
- When staff members or officials within the congregation introduce themselves, routinely include their pronouns.
- When leaders of meetings go around the room requesting attendees to give their names, also invite people to give their pronouns.
- Routinely include pronouns when the congregation issues nametags.
Congregations benefit in a number of ways from including pronouns as part of their culture. Those whose looks don’t tell the story of their gender will certainly have it easier. But benefits go well beyond that. A space where giving of pronouns is ubiquitous sends a powerful message to those of diverse gender experience that they are welcome in that space. Inversely, any space where giving of pronouns is rare, announces that its leadership has not put forth the effort to educate themselves and membership about the importance of pronouns. In such a space, people of diverse gender experiences will question whether their presence is valued.
Finally, giving pronouns reminds everyone of the existence of diverse gender experiences. Those whose body sex matches their gender assigned at birth have certain privilege. Some of that privilege involves never having to think about issues faced by those who don’t share their privilege. Giving of pronouns raises awareness of the social justice struggles of the transgender and intersex communities. Awareness and education around social justice struggles is major goal of UU faith communities.
Thank you Suzi for your post. One question–is it considered acceptable as a shorthand to say “male pronouns” or “female pronouns” instead of “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers” when accurate?
It would be fine with me. I can’t speak for anyone else.
Well thought out, well-written, Suzi. Glad I asked.
Have an interesting, for me, at least, thought. In addition, to trying to remember to say, he/him/his (alas, memory wanes at times), psychologically I very much feel that I am a dynamic mix of male and female. For many years at times a confusing mix. And one that led to frequent criticism in my family and beyond. I wasn’t following the traditional make role path, pursuing a financially rewarding career, not being married, doing social work, erc. though identifying as Male and heterosexual. I now proudly perceive my self as psychologically/creatively andogynous.
I better understand you wanting to create a culture where the biological spectrum of sex/gender is overtly recognized. I wonder if this has implications for the psychological/emotional gender spectrum?