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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Normalize asking instead of assuming others’ pronouns

By using gender neutral language until learning someone’s pronouns, we can create a more inclusive environment for queer, gender non-conforming, nonbinary and transgender people

Transgender and nonbinary individuals face frightening, unjust violence, inequality and nonacceptance — oftentimes just because of their identity. Respecting and using people’s correct pronouns is one simple way to foster a safer, more inclusive world for all. In light of LGBTQ+ History Month, the Editorial Board encourages our community to evaluate how often they ask others’ pronouns — or whether it’s a part of their daily practices at all. Regardless of what month it is, we encourage the normalization of conversing about pronouns, since it’s never appropriate to assume someone’s gender or pronouns. 

 A first step in normalizing these conversations is including pronouns in your social media bio, or introducing yourself in class with your pronouns. When introducing yourself to others, offering your own pronouns first creates an inclusive environment for others to share theirs as well. If you’re comfortable, you can start the conversation by offering your own pronouns as a way to show you do not want to assume genders or pronouns. 

Instead of assuming someone’s pronouns (and possibly messing up), it is recommended to use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them, or just ask what the person uses before referring to them at all. Providing the opportunity for people to share how they identify themselves should never be frowned upon, and if someone makes negative comments about the question, then they’re fostering an unsafe environment. That being said, it’s important to respect when people feel uncomfortable sharing their pronouns.

Since pronouns can be an important part of someone’s identity, misgendering can cause discomfort, stress or anxiety, especially for queer, gender non-conforming, nonbinary and transgender people. For transgender youth, using correct pronouns and names reduces depression and suicide risks, according to a 2018 study. Mistakes with pronouns happen and can be unharmful, so long as it wasn’t intentional and an active effort is made to use correct pronouns in the future. While people’s preferences will vary, LBGT Life Center recommends to “apologize, do better, and move on quickly.”  If you witness others misgendering someone, don’t be afraid to correct them. 

Younger adults in the U.S. are substantially more comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns than older adults, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. And in Davis, the Editorial Board has seen this be the case. We’ve witnessed many instances of pronoun-friendly language and conversations among our peers, such as at freshmen orientation, when leaders ask new students to introduce themselves with their pronouns if comfortable or at ASUCD senate events, during which senators also share their pronouns.

The UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center provides resources and an inclusive space for LBGTQ+ students. It’s also an option to update your preferred name in university information systems. Wherever possible, the preferred name will be used, such as in the UC Davis Online Directory and most instances of university communications and reporting.

But, like the rest of the world, our university has much room to grow. The UC Davis directory allows students, faculty and staff to add pronouns to their profile — yet many are currently blank. Additionally, while there is a system for changing gender from male to female or female to male on individual UC Davis records, a nonbinary option is currently unavailable. The LGBTQIA Resource Center and other other campus organizations are working to include nonbinary options.

Also within classrooms, we must be conscious of how we refer to each other. We’ve noticed that instructors don’t always introduce themselves with pronouns. Zoom made it easy to broadcast one’s pronouns, as students and instructors could include them in their display names. But now that we are back on campus, we’ve noticed some professors call on students and assume their pronouns and gender. Professors and faculty should use gender neutral pronouns and language when they don’t know how a student identifies and opt for terms like “student” rather than “young lady” and “young man.”  

We must encourage and further normalize conversations about pronouns within the Davis community and beyond. These problems are not central to this campus or city — they are omnipresent throughout the world. We need to do better to make transgender, nonbinary and other people in the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and heard. 

At The California Aggie, we strive to create an accepting and welcoming environment for all people. We emphasize the importance of not assuming pronouns by training our writers to ask sources their pronouns at the beginning of interviews and by introducing ourselves with pronouns at events and in hiring interviews. While we acknowledge that we have room to grow, we believe these actions are steps in the right direction to establish ourselves as a safe workplace and inclusive publication, and we encourage other campus organizations to do the same. 

To make the Davis campus a safe and inclusive space, we welcome members of the LBGTQ+ community to share their stories with us at The Aggie. Because in the end, we’re all people who are deserving of love, respect and inclusion. Asking — and not assuming — others’ pronouns is just the first step.

For anyone looking for resources regarding pronouns, gender, sexuality and more, visit the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center website

Written by: The Editorial Board

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