Thoughts on “I use ____/____ pronouns” in the classroom

Alexis Dinno on 2020-09-22

I want to share some perspective as a transgender person. I am noticing a growing use of the introductory practice “I use [nominative pronoun]/[accusative pronoun] (and optionally) [possessive pronoun] pronouns”.

That is legitimately cool and all (in fact, I have that right in my email sig). However, I strongly encourage those of you working that way in the classroom (and other collective settings) to gently invite but not request (or worse demand) that your students and colleagues do likewise.

A Hot Tip You Can Use For Gender Inclusivity To me, in the context of starting a course (or meeting):

“Please share your names and pronouns” seems a little unkind, even if well intentioned.

“Please introduce yourselves, share pronouns if you’d like to, and feel welcome to share anything important for us to know about working together with you in the classroom” seems a kinder approach to inclusion (and about more than gender… e.g., hard-of hearing is included in that invitation).

The Longer Take As To Why

For years there have been gender minority students in the graduate degree programs and courses where I teach who fly way below the radar at our school, and that ‘below the radar’ is intentional.

While it can be affirming to see recognition and invitation of gender variation and its representation within the power dynamics of the classroom, some folks really do not want to be put on the spot to perform gender. For example, some folks are asking themselves questions about their own gender and are in a place of inquiry, uncertainty and vulnerability. Some folks just do not play the gender game. And gender minority or not, not everyone is comfortable performatively transacting in pronouns.

If you can understand the inappropriateness of requesting (or, yikes, demanding) students to identify, for example, their arrest or carceral history, their status as an atheist, or their personal experience with mental illness publicly in an academic or professional context, this should make sense.

While the experience of explicitly identifying one’s social identity or social position (connotating of power and privilege in a social hierarchy) among diverse participants can be an edifying experience — particularly for those occupying positions of hegemonic privilege — this reward should not come at the cost of policing participation by those occupying the most vulnerable categories.

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