I think if you aren’t already on-board with it, the whole pronouns thing can seem weird. I remember when people started to adding pronouns to their Twitter profiles and started asking everyone to do the same, and I just didn’t get it. Never in the history of ever has anyone confused me for a woman. I am 6’2″, broad-shouldered, and have an over-abundance of facial hair. It made no sense to me why I should add my pronouns to my Twitter Bio and then later on, my PowerPoint slides. There simply wasn’t a need.
And then, a couple of years later, I found out the person I was married to was a transgender man. We both did really. And suddenly, a subject that I would rather have just muted on Twitter and ignored was now a quintessential part of my life. My hope with the rest of the blog post is that I can explain why I appreciate when folks share their pronouns, and potentially encourage you to do the same.
Small courtesies are how we show people they are important
In my early twenties, I used to be very bad at people skills. I was oblivious, didn’t like small talk, and didn’t understand a lot of social norms. One of the books that really helped me is called “How to have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People” by Les Giblin. It’s a weird title that sounds like a 1950s sales pitch, but so much of the book is about being considerate to other people. One part that sticks with me today is about the importance of small courtesies.
In the book, Les says, “All of us not only need to feel important — We need to feel that other people recognize and acknowledge our importance.” The way that we do this is through small courtesies, small acts of extra effort. When we show up 5 minutes early to a meeting, we show people they are of value. When we make the effort to use someone’s preferred name, we show that they are important. In my mind, if you share your pronouns and don’t need to, that is a small courtesy, and I appreciate it.
Why is it a courtesy?
I remember a friend of mine asking “Why would I add my pronouns to my presentations? That’s a personal part of my identity.” And that’s true, it felt weird for me the first time I did it, and I still feel awkward when I say it out loud. As I said, no one has ever mistaken me for a woman, it’s never been in question. So why do it?
Well, in some ways that’s the point. It is a shared discomfort, it is a shared vulnerability. There is always a risk that by sharing that information you open yourself to mockery or cruelness. I regularly see in Twitter people suggesting that pronouns in your bio means you are partisan and unreasonable. I certainly hope that doesn’t describe me!
For some people, like my husband, sharing his pronouns isn’t as optional as it is for me. For him, to be referred to as “she” or by his old name, it’s a source of unease or discomfort. Just like how if your name is Matthew, you might not like it if people call you Matt. But it becomes a no-win situation for people like my husband. Does he ignore it and suffer recurring discomfort or does he share his information and risk verbal abuse or worse?
I worry about his safety regularly. I still quietly flinch when I tell people strangers that I have a husband. Thankfully no one has ever been a jerk to either one of us about it, but I still worry. Just like in my blog post about Codes of Conduct, when I see that people have worked to make our situation feel normal, I feel safer and more at ease.
It allows me to show you a small courtesy
Whenever I put together my newsletter, I will copy someone’s name directly from LinkedIn or Twitter. It’s very important to me that I get people name right. I feel the same way about people’s pronouns. I try not to just assume any more, given the situation in my own marriage. And I absolutely hate guessing, if I can easily avoid it.
I understand that there are situations where it doesn’t make sense for folks, such as cultures where pronouns are non-gendered or folks that don’t feel safe being out as trans. But when it does make sense, please help me demonstrate you are important and worthy of value, by getting your details correct.