Pronoun use is at the heart of the conversation about trans rights. How you refer to a person can make the difference between validating and rejecting their identity. But sometimes, especially in new settings, it can be intimidating for trans people to talk about how they’d like to be addressed. This might stem from fear of rejection or prejudice, or – especially for people who have recently come out – it might just feel embarrassing to talk about.
That’s why proper pronoun use isn’t just something trans people do, or something cis people do to or for trans people. It’s something we can all do to promote a trans-positive culture, especially in workplaces, schools, and similar spaces. If cis people include their pronouns in formal introductions, it demonstrates that the space is trans-inclusive and encourages trans people to share their own pronouns. In turn this can prevent accidental misgendering further down the line. It also defuses some of the awkwardness around this kind of conversation.
You can see this in action in this story from one of our cis team members at GenderGP:
I share an office with another company. This week they had a new starter, who I hadn’t met yet. Coffee break came around and it seemed an ideal opportunity to introduce myself.
I didn’t catch the name. Nightmare. We continued chatting, exchanged job descriptions, small talk – the usual – before I finally said
When I sat back down at my desk I suddenly thought: ‘Did I do this right? Have I upset them?’ Then they came up to me, smiling.
The conversation moved on, but I was glad that I could help someone feel at ease. It’s such a simple thing, but understanding the situation – in part through my work at GenderGP – I had been able to make a difference. And it brought a smile to my face for the rest of the day: win win.
It’s so easy to make people (regardless of gender!) feel comfortable around us. Of course, you shouldn’t push for someone’s pronouns if they don’t want to give them (this can risk outing people!), but it never hurts to show that it’s a safe space to share them. Who knows? If you’re the first person to make a small change in your workplace – or your school, your university, or wherever – it might be the tipping point for a much larger positive effect. You could really make someone’s day.