Disclosing Pronouns

Abigail Fang and Claire Chien

As schools transition to online-centered education programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IUSD has recently enabled a feature on Canvas that allows students to disclose their personal pronouns in their profile. The increasing prominence of online tools and technology in distance learning means that there is no better time than now to normalize disclosing pronouns whenever possible, considering how easy it is for someone to add pronouns to their school and social media accounts. 

Disclosing pronouns, and actively doing so when referencing others, is a sign of basic respect. It’s a way to ask those around you how they want to be addressed, and it’s the simplest strategy to prevent misgendering, whether it happens on accident or intentionally. It also provides the perfect opportunity for those who are gender non-conforming or non-binary to speak up and inform others on the appropriate way to address them. 

Furthermore, disclosing pronouns prevents a culture of discrimination. Previously, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 53% of participants had to hide their gender identity at work, and 47% “did not ask their employer to refer to them with correct pronouns out of fear of discrimination.” The immediate disclosure of pronouns facilitated by the workplace would have prevented a majority of these cases, as it establishes the acceptance of all identities and creates a safer space for many.  

But why should everyone do it, regardless of whether or not they are cisgender? 

The value of disclosing pronouns as a community practice cannot be overstated. In a world without the complete disclosure of pronouns, it becomes easy to justify relying on gender stereotypes to assume how someone identifies. More often than not, this also comes packaged with the assumption that everyone lives within the gender binary, when in reality, gender is a spectrum and fluid, not fixed. 

Although it may stem out of ignorance, the impact of misgendering an individual is far more detrimental to their identity and mental health than many may expect. Some describe it as a “shock of painful tension,” while others reveal that it has contributed to their dysphoria. 

However, the full and public disclosure of pronouns raises the question of whether some are comfortable with others knowing their pronouns, especially for individuals who are still questioning their gender identity. For educators or other adults who might hold people accountable for the disclosure of their pronouns, it can be a fine line to walk when cultivating a safe environment. 

Disclosing pronouns is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Those who do not disclose their pronouns because they believe it is irrelevant to them should reconsider, but those who are afraid to disclose their pronouns should be given the option not to. 

Thankfully, you can easily disclose your pronouns with one sentence or a few taps of a button. Public platforms, such as your social media accounts, learning accounts and more can all be modified to include pronouns right beside your name. When introducing yourself in a classroom or to someone new, you can briefly mention which pronouns you go by after saying your name. The more this practice becomes a norm, the more comfortable and natural it will be to hear and say pronouns in everyday interactions.

When you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns, ask. When you misgender someone, correct yourself. It’s a matter of basic human decency, and it’s up to you to take responsibility for making a conscious effort to respect others. Northwood prides itself on mutual respect, compassion and integrity. It’s time for students to start embracing this motto in everyday life.