In any space where we gather it is important to welcome people with the fullness of who they are. This includes ensuring that there is space and safety for people to name themselves and their gender using the language that best reflects them. At King’s this is an important part of classroom, residence, and collegial life but it is equally important in any setting you find yourself in. As the world turns to a moment in time when many of our gatherings are online, it is especially important to learn, validate, and celebrate the identities of our friends, family, co-workers, and others. As we rely more on voices, appearances on screen, digital sign-ups (often requiring “legal” names), and other remote interactions there is more space to make assumptions based on what society teaches about gender. Some two-spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people are isolating and distancing in homes where they cannot be “out,” or have their names and genders respected. This makes work and school environments even more important as spaces of understanding, support, and validation.
When we think of explicitly stating names and pronouns there is an assumption that this is only for two-spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. But the reality is that in order to create the safe, welcoming, and celebratory spaces we envision, it’s everyone’s responsibility to name who they are. By announcing their own names and pronouns in group settings, cis-gender people can use their privilege to normalize this practice, and in this way they can help open space for everyone to feel safe to name themselves and their pronouns.
When a cis-woman says that she uses “she” and “her” pronouns, or a cis-man says that he uses “he” and “his” pronouns, there is no reaction from others because euro-centric society teaches us that these alignments, binaries and assumptions about gender are “natural” and “correct.” Opening our view of gender from a binary model to one of spectrums and galaxies, and understanding that no single person can know the expanse of another’s experience of gender are both crucial. Just as a land acknowledgement requires tangible action against colonialism to have meaning, regularly leading pronoun “go-arounds” requires unlearning gendered assumptions and binaries, and addressing cisgender privilege and transphobia in our spaces and institutions.
Requiring legal names may be an important function for registration, payments, legalities, and other practical reasons. If your gathering requires people to identify themselves with a legal name, make sure that there are ways for everyone to add another name if they need to. A legal or birth name that someone no longer uses is called a “deadname” and should never be used to name someone if they have moved on from it. Deadnaming someone is disrespectful, could out them, and can cause safety concerns. This should not be referred to as a “preferred name,” and pronouns should not be referred to as “preferred” either. The names and pronouns that people use are not preferences… they just are.
As we look at the importance of welcoming people with the fullness of their name, we must remember that this includes people whose names may not be familiar to us due to differences in language or culture. If a name is new to you, do the work of learning how to pronounce it correctly, and avoid nicknaming people without their lead on using a shortened or alternate form.
An easy template for introducing yourself can be “My name is Jordan Roberts and I use ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns.” Adding something along the lines of “please let me know what your pronouns and name are,” will open the door for others to share as they see fit. Places where this can be done include on the nameplate/sign on your office door, on business cards, in your email signatures, during around-the-table introductions at the beginning of a meeting or class (also referred to as a “pronoun go-around”), and generally at any other time when you are introducing yourself. Having pronouns on pins or as part of name tags is also a way to help people identify themselves and refer to each other.
Check back on November 9 for Part 2 of this blog, where we’ll explain why the respectful handling of names and pronouns is a safety concern. We’ll also discuss ways to handle the situation if you make a mistake.