Frequently Asked Questions: What's in a Pronoun?

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A name tag. It says: Hello, my name is Anna. My pronouns are she/her/hers

The ACLU of Northern California has made a small, but significant shift in our day-to-day practices. We are now including pronouns in our meeting introductions and have designed a new nametag for use at all of our events. Why is this nametag special? It includes a space specifically for people to write-in their pronouns. While this may appear to be a trivial change, the impact can be substantial. The pronoun line on the nametag helps create a more inclusive space that will facilitate people being referred to respectfully and gives us the opportunity to talk to people about pronouns and the importance of not making assumptions about people’s identities.

At the ACLU-NC we do a lot of work advocating for transgender rights and equality. Part of that advocacy requires shifting the norms and culture that we create. It is essential that we, as an organization, continue to push ourselves to grow and live out the values that we advocate for externally. By adding pronouns to our nametags, we are taking a small step forward.

This may be a new practice for many people so to help with this shift we have included a few frequently asked questions about why we are adding a pronoun section into our nametags:

Why is including pronouns in our nametags important?  

The practice of asking individuals what pronouns they use for themselves allows us to: ensure that we have the language we need to be affirming of everyone present, not make assumptions about a person’s gender identity, respect the diversity of gender identities, and promote awareness of transgender and gender nonconforming communities.

But aren’t people’s pronouns obvious?

No. We do not know a person’s gender identity or the pronouns they use based on their physical body, the sound of their voice, or their mannerisms or behaviors. People may also change their pronouns, so it is important to continue to create spaces and opportunities for people to state their pronouns regardless of whether you have done so previously.

What if I do not care about my pronouns?

It is important to remember that everyone is impacted by gender and everyone has a desire to be referred to respectfully. That might mean different things for different people. Regardless of how you feel about your pronouns, it is important to use the pronouns someone uses for themselves.

What if I am having trouble remember someone’s pronoun or if I use the wrong pronoun?

There are several ways you can practice someone’s pronouns, including spending time practicing the person’s correct pronoun alone by either writing out a story or brief description of that person or printing out a picture of the person and repeating their pronouns. The important thing to remember is that you should practice proactively and on your own time.

Your response to an individual if you use the wrong pronoun for them will depend on the situation and the individual person since everyone is different, but here are some resources to help make that decision.

How is this related to present and past LGBTQ and women’s rights movements?

The ACLU has long advocated for the rights of both transgender and gender nonconforming people to be who they are and to have an equal opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of our society. Because this work is largely focused on eliminating gender stereotypes, it is also deeply connected to our work advocating for women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Language has always been a part of both the LGBTQ and women’s rights movements. Some examples of the significance of language within these movements, include: the fight to use Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss and the challenge to change the default use of the pronoun “he” to “she.” Language plays a central role in social movements and can track cultural shifts. The ongoing fight to use pronouns that correspond to a person’s gender identity and the inclusion of gender-neutral pronouns is a continuation of these struggles and builds on their legacies.

Will I be required to write down my pronouns?

No. We are asking everyone to include their names and pronouns to ensure that people know how to address one another respectfully and to acknowledge the fact that everyone has a preferred way of being addressed, but it will not be required. Some people do not have pronouns that they wish to use and simply want to use their names instead, while others feel strongly connected to their pronouns. With pronouns, it is important to be proactive about asking because people will default to whatever pronouns they assume a person uses. Unlike sexuality, which may or may not come up in a conversation, names and pronouns come up in almost every interaction. It is also important to recognize that pronouns and gender identity are not the same thing. They can relate to one another, but they are not one and the same. A person’s pronouns do not necessarily tell you anything about a person’s gender identity.

What are “gender-neutral” pronouns?

There are many different gender-neutral pronouns, but the most common one is “they, them, theirs.” Although the use of “they, them, theirs” to describe a singular person may be uncomfortable for some people, the wonderful thing about language is that it changes and evolves. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary is proposing a new gender-neutral title of Mx. for people who do not feel like Mr. or Ms./Mrs. fits with their gender identity.

Why is the ACLU of Northern California doing this?

The ACLU of Northern California wants to be an example of what it means to respect and celebrate gender diversity. By listing our pronouns, we are continuing to strive to create an environment where we can all be our full selves.

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