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Celebrating Transgender Week Awareness: Some Thoughts

14 November 2021

What’s in a pronoun: a collection of personal perspectives 

For this Transgender Week of Awareness, a few of us reflected on why we use our pronouns how we do. 

Christy Barlow (she/her)  

I was taught from a very young age that you always address someone as the gender they are presenting as, for example is someone is wearing a dress you would address them as ‘she’ whether or not that lined up with your perceived gender stereotypes. As time has gone on and the language and discussion around gender has developed I feel lucky that I was raised in an environment where language around gender was discussed and trans people were part of my life as family friends and neighbours.  

As a cis person, my gender is not usually questioned (the occasional confusion about having a traditionally male name aside), however this is why I share my pronouns regularly, on social media, in my email signature and face to face. The more we discuss gender and pronoun use the more normal it will become, I try to make this a regular part of everyday life in the hope that this will make a tiny contribution to making the environment around me more comfortable for everyone.  

This is not to say that I don’t make mistakes, discussions around gender are daunting when you first start learning, as discovering that something that many people take for granted is layered and complicated is intimidating. I am always learning more about gender identity and whilst I am always conscious of ‘doing the right thing’ I have regularly had to pause, step back and listen to people around me and learn from their experience. Something I have learnt is that showing the world who you really are is a very brave and scary thing, so I want to be as helpful as I can to everyone taking steps to do that.  

Josie Henley (they/them) 

I first started trying out they/them pronouns around six years ago. As with a lot of things, there are ways of experimenting without having a sudden switchover. Getting to the point of putting the statement “My pronouns are they/them | Fy rhagenwau ydyn nhw / nhw” in my Cardiff University email signature went through a number of steps. I first told my partner, then kids, then a facebook announcement. Then I left it for a while to see how it felt. I added it to twitter a few years ago, and about a year ago it went onto my Cardiff University profile page. Then I started to notice people putting their pronouns at the bottom of their email signatures and I thought, ok, this looks like it’s normalised now so let’s go for it. 

As someone who does feel the need to tell people, rather than expect they rely on their spidey senses to guess my gender, it can get a bit wearing. Reactions might be confused or even hostile, which makes it scary to do it and sometimes it’s just not worth it. Having a norm that everyone, cis or trans, announces their gender/pronouns either at the beginning of a meeting or at the end of their email signature, makes it a lot less awkward and finger-pointy. 

Not everyone reads through an email signature, of course, and not everyone remembers to use my pronouns. It’s up to you what you do with the information. But I feel that it is a step forward that it has become normal for everyone, not just trans people, to note their pronouns rather than assuming that other people will be able to figure it out. 

Prof Kerry Hood (she/her) 

One of the things I have realised as I have got older is how the scale of the impact of our actions on others is not always obvious to us.  I have learnt (sometimes the hard way) that off the cuff remarks can be very hurtful and that small kindnesses can make a huge positive difference. As a result of this I have tried to become more mindful and reflective of the impact that my behavioural choices have on others. Two particular small changes that I have made over the last few years have been in relation to how gendered my use of language is and both have been informed by discussion in real life and on social media and trying to see other perspectives. 

The first of these is that I used to commonly in speech and in emails use the phrase ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term as in ‘Hey guys how are we going to do this’. I noticed a thread on social media from a large group of women talking about how they felt this was the same as calling everyone men and particularly in the workplace, normalised that the default gender was male. When I started to talk to people around me about it they were all very kind, but I was a bit shocked by how small it made some of them feel and out of place in their hurt given that as a senior woman I was using that language.  Since then, I have tried very hard to stop using the term guys, having replaced it with everyone or people or team. 

The second area I have changed is that on my email signature and social media profile I now have my pronouns (she/her).  This again came about as I was talking to various people and watching discussions on social media and was really quite moved by the sense that for people who had to tell people their pronouns (such as those who are transitioning), the fact that they stood out as unusual was really difficult for them.  If I could do something so simple and small (taking all of 30 seconds to add to my email signature) that could make a difference to other people, then what reason could I have for not doing so?  Since having added it I have found myself reflecting on all the times when we had email, but less internet (‘the good old days’) when I was mistaken for being a man because my title was Dr and the way in which people treated me differently under that assumption. Put alongside this the current tendency to give Dr and Prof titles to men but not to women and I think it is even more important to say that I am Prof Kerry Hood (she/her) and wear it with pride, for myself as well as others.