This is my email signature.
I am a cisgender woman. Meaning, my gender identity matches the sex I was assigned at birth. The doctor looked at newborn me and announced I was female, and I identify as female. So why should I include my pronouns in my email signature? I mean, it should go without saying. There is little to no chance that anyone would I assume I was anything other than female, right?
Well, therein lies the problem, and one of the main the reasons I include them. Assumptions. One of the first things we assume when we meet someone is their gender. We even do this when we see a name, without meeting the person at all. Sarah? Female. Ethan? Male. We are thrown when we can't assume gender by a name. Riley? Most people would immediately be curious - male or female? As a former choir teacher, I know the feeling of calling out names from a roster on the first day of school and getting to a Riley or a Quinn and not wanting to look up, for fear that I will look at someone of the wrong gender and embarrass them. Best not to look up at all until someone calls out, "Here!" (You teachers know what I'm talking about!)
Not only do we assume gender, but we assume the gender binary. I have heard countless clients complain that they overhear people comment about them, "Is that a boy or a girl?" Rarely do people allow for the possibility that the person may be neither. They may be non-binary, agender, genderfluid or any of a number of other identities that don't fit in the categories of male or female. The message in that question, even if unintentional, is, "Your identity is not valid."
As our understanding of gender evolves, so must we.
We come by these assumptions honestly. From the day we are born, we receive messages about gender, and at least for the adult generations, these messages have consistently been limited to male and female. However, as our understanding of gender evolves, so must we. We have a responsibility to be responsive to new information about the existence of transgender and non-binary identities.
So how can we do this? Well, there are many ways. But this blog focuses on one simple and impactful thing you can do immediately that will demonstrate your understanding and acceptance of all identities: Add your pronouns to your email signature - especially if you are cisgender.
Many transgender and non-binary people face a world where they are constantly misgendered. It is exhausting, frustrating and often embarrassing to have to correct people over and over again. There is often a fear of being misunderstood, disrespected, or even unsafe when they do disclose their pronouns. Imagine having to navigate that day in and day out. And then imagine the relief and validation offered when they encounter someone who not only respects, but asks for, their pronouns.
Take for instance a student at my daughter's high school who identifies as non-binary. The start of a new school year is stressful enough for most kids, without having to wonder whether your peers will accept and respect your identity, and how or when to work that into a conversation. My daughter, whom I will call Robin for the purposes of this blog, noticed the student whom she hadn't met before, and introduced herself. Adults, take note on how she did this - it's not rocket science, and imagine the impact:
"Hi, I'm Robin."
"Hi, I'm Taylor."
"What are your pronouns? I use she/her."
"Cool. I use they/them."
Simple as that. And I would guess that Taylor (whose name I also changed) was pleasantly surprised, and likely relieved, that Robin opened the door for them to share their pronouns. (By the way, they have since become friends.) Now, this was a conversation, but using pronouns in our email signatures has the same type of impact.
Add your pronouns to your email signature - especially if you are cisgender.
There are other benefits of using pronouns in your email signature.
The more this is done, the less people will be surprised when someone does. This sets the precedent to help those who use they/them or other non-binary pronouns to do the same without it seeming like a "big deal."
Adding your pronouns to your email signature may be a catalyst for people to ask why. This is an opportunity to educate others, and also begins to normalize the conversation around pronouns.
Once you add your pronouns, it is likely others will notice and follow suit. Your simple action will have a ripple effect, and who knows where it might lead?
Changing your pronouns in your email signature is very simple to do. It only takes a minute, but it has a lasting impact: Every time you send an email you are also sending a message that you are accepting and affirming of others regardless of gender or gender identity. Who wouldn't want to do that?
Do you want some extra credit? For those who don't want to stop at email signatures, here are some other ways you can normalize the use of pronouns in everyday life:
As my daughter did, include your pronouns when introducing yourself to someone new
Include pronouns during introductions in meetings (and ask others to do so)
Add your pronouns after your name in Zoom or other video chat platforms
The next time you use a name tag, add your pronouns after your name
I believe that asking each other's pronouns will eventually become commonplace. Many businesses and schools are already doing it. At some point, it will be second nature to us. The question is, do you want to be one of the ones moving us in that direction, for the benefit of everyone? My daughter does. I know I do. So if you have a couple of minutes right now, head on over to your email preferences and add your pronouns. You'll be making a difference, and I guarantee you will impact others in a positive way because of it. So what are you waiting for? Get going!
Rebecca Degnan, She/Her/Hers
Rebecca Degnan, LPC (She/Her/Hers), is the founder and owner of Prism Counseling and Support LLC in CT, supporting the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones through individual, family and group counseling and professional development workshops for schools and businesses. More information at prismcounselingct.com.
The Trans Lifeline connects trans people to the community support and resources they need to survive and thrive. 877-565-8860