Just the other day, I attended my first-ever alumni event from my university. (Via Zoom, of course!) And it was pretty amazing to meet other alumni, and feel – briefly – like I was an undergrad again, in a campus club, never mind that we’d graduated!
But something that I noticed – pretty quickly – was that everyone else (and this must have been in the instructions that I never read) had written, next to their name, their preferred pronouns.
This is something that never used to happen. The only time I’d encountered it before, in that university, was during my Freshman year, when I joined the LGBT club. In that club, we were told to introduce ourselves by our name and pronouns. I’d never wanted the pronouns that people used for me (I was trapped in an identity that I call “Hell Guy”, referred to by “he” and “him”). But I didn’t know the first thing about it, and – while I’d obviously never ask for “he” pronouns – I’d simply said, “I don’t care what pronouns you use.”
And that was that. Fast forward ten years of hellish living, several suicide attempts, and a world slowly learning. And here were pronouns again at this university, in this Zoom meeting. Everyone had them. In fact, I was sorted into two breakout rooms, and I was the only person – in both groups – who didn’t have this information. Everyone in the meeting had displayed their pronouns – except me!
My second time in the breakout rooms, I asked the group how to change my name, and they told me. So I became “Jane Struthers, she/her”. But, really, how embarrassing that I – a columnist on gender – had been the only one in the group to neglect this!
And the strangest thing? Almost everyone in the meeting had a name like “Harry he/him” or “Sally she/her”. In other words, they were almost all cisgender. But still displaying their pronouns.
What does this mean? It means that our world is growing up. It means that cis and binary people – at least in the sub-community of alums from my university – are recognising that this is important to mention. They’re realising that you don’t just know someone’s gender by asking their name, or by looking at them. They’re realising that pronouns are a part of people’s identity. These are strides forward.
It made me think back to my own time at that university. In my senior year, I submitted a story in a creative writing class where the characters lived in a fictional tribe that made no distinction of gender I used the pronoun “they” to refer to each character, because it was that or “ze”. But I’d never heard of anyone actually using “they” pronouns. And my advisor quickly shot back: “This is way too confusing. Who are they? I couldn’t follow it.” And so I rewrote it – meticulously re-crafting every sentence to avoid using any pronouns, binary or otherwise. Our world wasn’t ready to even think of these things.
But we’ve come a long way since then!