A few years ago, if you’d written that your name was “John Doe (he/him)”, people would look at you like you were crazy. A few years ago, if you’d asked what someone’s preferred pronouns were, he or she (because we were taught to write “he or she”, not “they”) would look at you like you’d checked out early from the asylum. But we live in a quickly-changing world – and, fortunately, the obscurity of the question “What are your pronouns?” is one of the things that’s quickly changing.
It’s changing to the point where – these days – many people display their pronouns publically (in their email footer, for example). Furthermore, this isn’t just members of the trans* community. These days, countless cisgender people include their pronouns as part of their digital signature.
So what’s a “digital signature”? It’s a short piece of text that identifies you, usually your full name (including any titles, like “M.D.”) and sometimes your contact info, or other info about you. And they’ve become ubiquitous! Here’s my theory about it: no one much used them until companies started to take advantage of that space, defaulting to their trademarks unless you changed it. Then, I think, people changed it. And rather than delete the trademarks and leave nothing there, they created a digital signature!
Nowadays, everyone has a signature. Even in the names by which we call ourselves in chat rooms, the addition of extra information is common. (Take a university message board, where you might name yourself “Charlie Smith ’22” to display your class year.) In short, digital signatures (and our names on Skype or Zoom calls) are the name-tags of the modern world.
It comes down to this: if you’re the sort of person who’d write extra stuff on your name-tag to broadcast inclusivity (and I hope that you are!) then you should be doing the same with your digital signature and Zoom names.
I only became aware of this recently. A few months ago, I started using an email signature with my own pronouns (she/her). Not because I’m non-binary, but it’s making a point– to remind people that you don’t know anyone’s pronouns until you ask!
Furthermore – good news – I’ve seen this really start to crop up all over lately. Even outside of spaces like LGBTQ+ groups, where they’ve been from the noughts. My alma mater holds several online events for alums, where almost every one includes their pronouns. I’ve seen it from various people in all sorts of various virtual settings.
But just the other day, at a celebration for MLK day, I came across something that I’d never seen before:
You’ll notice that the person at the top left includes his pronouns with his name. (I can say “his”, because he tells me to!) But there’s more. He’s likely Hispanic or Latino (his last name is Guerrera), but regardless, he offers a third pronoun besides the usual two: el. (“Él” is Spanish for “he”.) This person isn’t only embracing gender inclusivity. He’s embracing multiculturalism too!
There are, of course, a few other notable things right here:
- Most of the panelists do not include their pronouns. It’s only the one guy. (I can say “guy” because – unusually – I actually know he’s a “he”!)
- He’s by far the youngest on the panel.
What does this mean? It means that today’s youth, at least, are taking advantage of spaces (such as those on social media or their Zoom name-tags) to promote inclusivity. I’d never seen this use of a name-tag before, and I wouldn’t have thought of it – but I think it’s fantastic. I’m going to do it myself – change my signature (which is already trying to promote gender inclusivity) to promote linguistic diversity too!
(That’s Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, the only
other languages at which I have a chance!)
But what if you’re cis, gender-binary, and not a pluriglot? Even if you’re cisgender, and gender-binary, include your pronouns wherever you can – remembering that not everyone is as fortunate as you. And even if you only speak English, recognize that – in this modern world – it helps to speak many languages. And start studying another! (There are great, free online resources these days, like Duolingo, to learn them. And, even if you’re Caucasian, what’s your ancestry? If you’re Irish or Welsh, maybe learn Irish or Welsh!)
In short, there’s a lot you can do, that doesn’t even actually do all that much! Just displaying your pronouns recognises that that’s information that people will need to refer to you. And if you have more than one language listed, you’re broadcasting extra inclusivity. There’s really no downside!
So go out, when you finish reading this article, and update your digital signatures. It’s what I’m going to do right after I finish writing it!