Call me by my preferred pronouns

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In social media profiles these days, it is not out of the ordinary to find a gender pronoun enclosed in parentheses as part of somebody’s bio section. The more common ones include: she/her, he/him, and they/them. It would be straightforward to assume that whichever is presented there is that person’s preferred gender pronoun, thus their forms is what we use to appropriately refer to them.

Despite this guide, there is still an air of hesitancy surrounding the way we are to address one another—sometimes even an outright rejection of the suggested practice. It is valid that most of us are unsure about other people’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC), especially since meeting in real life doesn’t come with a bio. However, it does not mean we can go on with being oblivious to the importance of having regard for preferred pronouns. Perhaps it is about time we orient ourselves.

Extending a warm welcome

The gender pronouns that we are accustomed to are the feminine pronouns “she/her” and the masculine pronouns “he/him.” Elementary English has taught us that when we refer to individuals in the third person, we choose the pronoun according to their gender. 

With the changing times and the shift from the traditional view of gender being binary, the then-exclusively third person plural “they/them” is being utilized nowadays as a singular pronoun to accommodate genders of persons who do not ascribe to either “she/her” or “he/him,” as well as to remove assumptions on the gender of an unidentified person.

A number of people find this use complicated and sometimes refuse to accept it. XU English Professor and XU Press Manager Arlene J. Yandug PhD notes that “it has to do with the current understanding of “they” as plural.” Although well-meaning, the singular “they” if used carelessly, might be interpreted as verbal laziness and couldcause confusion. But she adds, “Language…is dynamic; it changes constantly, just as peoplechange through time.”

Despite this use having yet to be adopted in formal discourse such as paper writing or business and legal transactions, publishers and citation styles The Chicago Manual of Styles (17th ed), Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), and Associated Press (AP) have acknowledged the singular “they” to be inclusive of all people. With the slow adoption of recognizing preferred pronouns in social media, Yandug ponders on the possibility that people may warm up to this use in a few years’ time. “The English language—or any language for that matter—essentially reflects society, its culture, and changing consciousness and values.”

Other than the mentioned pronouns, Mindanao Pride Founder Hamilcar ChanjuecoJr. shares that within the community, “ze/zir” pronouns are also used. Furthermore, “Mx” has been recognized as an alternative salutation to “Mr” and “Ms.” 

Cultivating a safe space

A good first step for the lot of us who don’t yet know how to navigate through the idea of preferred pronouns, according to Chanjueco, is in “delving deeper in the concept of respect.” He adds, “Respect for individuals is the foundational value on which the concept of preferred pronouns is built on.” If we are unsure of someone’s SOGIESC, Chanjueco recommends we ask the question, “How would you want me to address you?” This is so we are able to avoid misgendering Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, or Queer (LGBTIQ+) individuals, particularly transgender persons who are likely to be referred to incorrectly. At the same time, we may consider letting go of our own prejudice. Chanjueco touches on a personal experience of others assuming that being called “Ma’am” is alright with him as a cisgender gay individual with feminine expressions.

It is also important to note that preferring “they/them” pronouns does not automatically mean a person is nonbinary. Pronouns describe one’s identity, but do not define it. Chanjueco comments, “Preferred pronouns are just one part of one’s identity thus it only describes it and doesn’t encapsulate one’s gender experience. However, it also doesn’t mean that it should not be respected.” 

The recognition of preferred pronouns will enable an environment that is grounded on inclusivity. What this does is highlight the value of respect and acknowledgement we have for one another, with the gender we identify with and who we are as a person. At the same time, this intent for recognition is political. Chanjueco emphasizes, “It also embodies the aspirations of the LGBTIQ+ movement, to be respected regardless of who you are and whom you love.”

An accommodating gesture

With the significant shift from classroom learning to online learning, XU History Assistant Instructor Ena Rollan Jarales utilized an online platform other than eLearn, the virtual classroom the University endorsed. She had invited her students into a classroom server she made on Discord, initially a platform that catered to the gaming community but has now started to accommodate other communities that would like to come together. With her goal “to simulate a school environment where students could be around one another” in mind, she decided to touch up on the usual set of GTKY questions. Apart from asking them their nicknames, she made sure to point out that if anyone had preferred pronouns, they were free to indicate them after their names.

The platform’s feature that enables its members to pick out roles made Jarales use the opportunity for her students to put their preferred pronouns. Apart from “she/her,” and “he/him,” she also included “they/them.” She shares, “Self-assigning pronouns is completely optional, but an option still for whatever it is worth. If any number of them identify as “they/them,” they are well within their rights to do so.” When asked about this practice’s application in the school setting, Jarales does not advocate that it be implemented rigidly on an institutional scale. She shares its possible downsides: create overwhelming pressure for young people to be sure of who they are by a specific age, or if fitting, force them to expose their gender identities when they aren’t ready to. “At the end of the day, classrooms should be spaces for our students to grow in all aspects of their identity, spaces where they feel safe enough to grow, even if the said classrooms are online.”

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Although the use of preferred pronouns has been given a considerable push in social media, it is still a practice that requires further promotion to be widely acknowledged. Respect, as highlighted in this article, plays a vital role in the success of this objective. What does it say about us, then, if we view this matter passively? Chanjueco reiterates, “If society is unaccepting of the concept then that’s an indicator that we are still far from achieving a just and equal society.”

All things considered, may there come a time when calling me by my preferred pronouns is not something too much to ask for.C

Nia Enrille Rabanes

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