You may have noticed that some people list their pronouns in their email signatures, in their Zoom box and on their name tags. You might be curious why. If you ask you will likely get a lot of different answers. People share their pronouns for a wide variety of reasons.

To try and break it down simply, sharing preferred pronouns highlights that gender is a spectrum, not a binary, to make space for people who do not fit within the gender binary of she/her or he/him.

People are not all either female or male. Society has just told us those are the only two options in terms of gender since the day we were born.

Some people feel both female and male and use plural pronouns (they/them); some people don’t feel either female or male and might also use plural pronouns. Some people feel different from the gender they were assigned at birth and might also use plural pronouns, or they might transition in a variety of ways, use both singular (she/he) and plural pronouns (they/them), shift from having used female pronouns (she/her) to use male pronouns (he/him), or vice versa.

There is nothing wrong about any of this. And no one should ever feel obligated or forced to disclose their pronouns if she, he or they are not in a safe place to do so. Grammatically, we have records of writers using plural pronouns to refer to individuals in Shakespeare and other writers in the 1500s and 1600s, and probably further back still.

Recently a friend of ours equated someone starting to use different pronouns to when another friend changed their name. People change their names all the time, most often in our culture when women marry men and take their last names. People also choose to go by different names for a host of reasons, including when the name someone has had since birth does not felt like it really fits. This is the same for pronouns. Individuals who broaden the gender spectrum by asking people to use pronouns they are not used to in ways they are not accustomed to using them are trying to embrace their most authentic selves. Why would anyone deny another person this opportunity?

A documentary available on Netflix called “Changing the Game” follows three transgender athletes in high school and shows how similar these young people are to their peers. Their parents and guardians, people who espouse devotion across the political spectrum, point out that they support their children transitioning and using the pronouns of their choice because they know these are things that will keep them alive. It is that simple. Something that seems small, like a pronoun, can mean the difference between these young people living joyful, fully realized lives or dying young.

You may not have experience with different pronouns yet, but you likely will. We’re here to ask you to be open and to consider the strength it takes an individual to ask people to use different pronouns when no one else is. It’s not a big ask or that complicated, and it matters. It’s simple to refer to someone as “they.” We do it all the time when addressing groups of people, places, and things. Broaden your language and help people be seen. Find more resources about gender neutral language at JHDEI.com/resources.

The JH DEI Collective is a group of local leaders working to make our community more inclusive. Members include Adrian Croke, Seadar Davis, Heather DeVine, Jody Donovan, Meena Fernald, Megan Kohli, Greg Ley, Wendy Martinez, Colleen McHugh, Joe Petrick, Shelby Read, Jr Rodriguez, Susan Scarlata and Leah Shlachter. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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(1) comment

Judd Grossman

This is all ridiculous. People are entitled to present whatever sexual persona they wish, but the people they interact with are free to perceive them in whatever way makes sense to them, and no one can be compelled to use any pronouns or any other terms in referring to anyone. That is how "live and let live" works in a free country.

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