“Hi! My name is Megan Ziemann, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.”
If you’ve met me in person or through work, you probably heard me say that exact sentence. When I meet someone for the first time, I let them know two things: my name and my pronouns.
If you’ve taken an English class or lived in an English-speaking country, chances are you know what a pronoun is. They are words we use to refer to ourselves and other people instead of using our names that identify our gender.
The most well-known are he/him/his, she/her/hers and they/them/theirs, but according to mypronouns.org, the online resource for personal pronouns, there are many more. Some people may go by zie/zim/zirs or just their name — no pronouns at all.
To most cisgender people, pronouns seem arbitrary. They’re just little words after all. Why should we care so much about them?
Being apathetic toward correct pronoun usage is a sign of the privilege cisgender people are born with. I’m a great example. When I was born, doctors called me a girl, my parents and family called me a girl and when I got older, my friends called me a girl.
Which was fine, because I am a girl. My gender identity matches what was assigned to me at birth.
Transgender and nonbinary individuals do not get that experience. Many trans and nonbinary people are told they’re a certain gender growing up and forced to express that gender outwardly. When how you look doesn’t match who you are, you can experience gender dysphoria, an often-debilitating condition that can lead to other mental health issues.
One way to fight gender dysphoria is for trans and nonbinary people to take back their gender, bit by bit. Pronouns are often the first step in the transition or "coming out" process.
Choosing to publicly change pronouns can feel like a huge step, and for many trans and nonbinary people, it comes with hate.
That’s why it’s so important that cisgender people help normalize the use of pronouns in everyday language.
It isn’t just gender studies students and your average liberal professor who are thinking this way. This movement is taking over the business world. Jamie Wareham, queer activist, consultant and digital content producer wrote a piece for business giant Forbes in 2019. Wareham argues pronouns belong in email signatures. Not only does it normalize pronoun use, but it makes communicating with the Jordans and Taylors of the office a lot easier.
Pronouns are also a great first step toward a more inclusive workspace, Wareham said. Simply including pronouns in everyday conversation can create a huge culture shift, making employees of all genders feel comfortable.
And when we feel good in the workplace, we get more work done.
We can do our part as college students as well. I include my pronouns in every email signature, on my resume and on my social media. I want to make sure trans and nonbinary people feel comfortable in every aspect of my life: school, work and play.
The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago created a guide about pronouns anyone can use to make sure they’re being as inclusive as possible. Most of the information is common sense: don’t assume someone is a certain gender because of how they look and apologize when you’ve made a mistake. But it’s a great reference for people just learning about pronouns for the first time.
Another great way for first timers to get more involved with the normalization of pronouns is to celebrate International Pronouns Day, which this year takes place Oct. 21. Participating firms and organizations host informational and social events about transness and pronoun use. The day is meant to be a celebration of intersecting identities, and all of us can be part of the discussion.
However you choose to show your gender, consider adding your personal pronouns to your email signature, your social media or even your resume. An action that seems simple to a lot of cisgender people can mean a lot to trans and nonbinary people.
Maybe the next time we talk, you’ll have a new greeting to share with me.