Can introductions create safer spaces? Let us reflect on F's story.

F listened in to everyone introduce themselves, quietly nodding and acknowledging the wonderful team he was going to work with. It was F's turn to speak.

"Hey everyone! I am F, my pronouns are he/him. I’ve majored in ___ at ___. I’m really excited about the journey ahead! Can’t wait to learn from everyone."

F smiled, as his introduction ended. F noticed how the introductions that followed were different. His team began introducing themselves with pronouns, too. Zoom handles now, included pronouns.

F felt safe. He knew that there were others who did too.

If F looks like a male, dresses like a man, and identifies as a man, we would automatically use "he/him/his". Why would F introduce himself with pronouns when he would clearly use he/him pronouns? F attempts to create a safe space for individuals to identify with their pronouns, accepting of all identities.

Sometimes, our pronouns may be different from how we choose to dress, or our appearance, or our names. Popular non-binary (or gender-neutral) pronouns could be "they/them/theirs".

How can we be better allies?

  1. Use pronouns if someone has introduced themselves with it.
  2. Some of us may prefer different pronouns dependent on the social setting. Ask someone if when and where they are comfortable identifying with their pronouns. Use their pronouns in private and ask what pronouns they would like to be identified with, in public.

"Hi R! I wanted to check in with you, would you be comfortable with my using the pronouns they/them when we are at _____ place?"

3.  Politely correct someone if you hear them using the wrong pronouns for an acquaintance. When we are corrected, it could be because the person wants to be able to feel safe around you and hopes for you to learn.

"Dr. H is an incredible teacher! I just wanted to add that they identify with the pronouns they/them. It'd be great if we could use their pronouns going forward."

4.   If you are uncertain of the pronouns to use, ask them in private.

"Hey! Can I check with you to know what pronouns you are comfortable with?"

5. Explain why you choose to use pronouns. You could take on the work of creating safe spaces by advocating for the usage of pronouns. You are allowed to ask, all of us continue to learn.

"I'm not sure I understand why you use your pronouns. Could you please explain?"

Janet Mock, writer, TV host, and transgender activist, writes:

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”