By: Torri Jordan
Merriam Webster defines a pronoun as “any a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases whose referents are named or understood in the context” Simpler, you could define a pronoun as a small set of words that replace a noun. Even simpler, they are words used to replace a name.
There’s an inherent amount of respect in a name, being that it is the thing by which we are referred to, part of our identity, and that we use to define ourselves differently from the people around us. (At least, when we are talking about identity on such a small level as a name.) A name can define a brand, a clan, a monarchy. We watch television shows all the time that have central themes focused around tarnishing the family name, living up to the family name, or being stripped of a name in disgrace. There is power in a name.
So, why is it that we do not give the same amount of respect to one’s pronouns, if they are being used to replace something as important as a name?
In our language classes (my education being based in English) we are taught a set of words that we can used when referring to other people: he, she, it, they, you, me, I, we, us. The third person set of pronouns are the ones where gender becomes important, and where many people fall short, in regards to properly referring to other people: he, she, they, it. We do not use ‘it’ as a pronoun to define other human beings, which leaves three classical pronouns: he, she, they.
When we meet new people, one of the first things we ask is their name. We want to be able to correctly identify them. It makes sense that we should also be asking the pronoun that person uses as well. If a name is important, so should be the words that we use to replace their name. Especially since those third person pronouns have an inherent gender behind them. We don’t make an assumption on what someone’s name is, so we should also not be making assumptions on what someone’s pronoun is. It’s a matter respecting the identity and autonomy of an individual.
Pronouns are the minimum amount you can do to be more inclusive in your everyday life.
Because referring to someone by their name is the lowest bar of respectful social interaction.
In the work I have done as an LGBTQ educator I have been met with slurs, yelling, and dehumanizing remarks when I bring up the concept of gender neutral pronouns and asking to take more care when addressing those we interact with. I have been told that how I want to be addressed is not worth their time, that to them, respecting my identity and autonomy is asking too much. Which in turn, diminishes the worth and validation that I hold of the identity that I use. There is a reason that blatant refusal to use someone’s correct pronouns is considered harassment.
So, how do we start making an impact on normalizing pronoun use among the general population? Well, it starts with simply asking. Ask everyone that you meet what their pronouns are, and make sure you use them in your every day. Don’t make assumptions on what pronouns someone might use, and don’t question someone’s decision to use the pronouns that they do. When you introduce yourself, make sure to identify your own pronouns. Make it more normal to ask and tell other about your pronouns.
There is tons more that you can do everyday to make your life more inclusive and work toward better advocacy in marginalized groups. Pronouns are the minimum. If you already pay attention to pronouns, that’s wonderful. If you don’t, it’s time to take the first step into living an inclusive life. We have a long way to go, but in order to go anywhere we must do the minimum.
TL Jordan is a second year immunology graduate student working in the Ramirez-Alvarado lab. Their pronouns are they/them. They passionate about science communication, science advocacy, and LGBTQ equality. In addition to their graduate studies they are the Social Media representative of the Graduate Student Association, the Chair of the LGBTI MERG Student Group, and the assistant goalkeeper coach at RCTC. They believe firmly that science should be accessible to everyone.