Clueless yet well-intentioned: Tips on changing pronouns at your office

vulvalove asked:

“hello! i currently work as a low-level staffmember (& only employee doing LGBT work) on a progressive college campus with a bunch of moderately conservative administrators. many are very well-intentioned, & all lack education about trans* communities & gender. students get it, but staff/faculty/admin are clueless. i’ve begun to shift my pronouns in my personal life & want to use “they” at work. how would you recommend i “rebrand” myself where i work with hundreds of clueless people? TYSM! :)”

Hi vulvalove!

I really appreciate this question, particularly because I too work on college campuses. I don’t think that many people who are fairly conservative about gender would describe themselves that way, particularly because ‘gender’ is something so ordinary and ingrained that most don’t even think they have views or feelings on it at all! Good intentions are nice, of course, but they really have no effect on what comes out of one’s mouth.

First, I’d suggest taking an audit of your supports and options, if you haven’t already done so. Is there a diversity officer on campus? Is there a ‘safe space’ etc. organization on campus (e.g., McGill Safe Space) that could come in and do (some of) the heavy-lifting for you in the form of a workshop for your co-workers? (Um or given what you said about your job, is this you?) Do you have the support and understanding of a supervisor? Would that supervisor be open to learning about gender diversity and inclusion issues as a springboard to making change more broadly? Would your organization like to contract me to come in and give a workshop on shifting pronouns (joke)?

Second, I’d consider how overt you want this ‘re-branding’ (love it) to be. My suggestions above are all about education, and that can be helpful. However, you want people to use your pronouns and not just expand their minds – the first is a practical goal and the second is a nice incidental benefit of working with you (yes, they are fortunate). On the practical goal front, I’d suggest putting it on the table at a staff meeting and telling people what it means (with the support of your administrator, if possible, who stresses it as an equity issue). You can give them options like just using your name, and guidelines like (if appropriate) ‘don’t include me in events, photos, messages, etc. that are just for women / just for men’ and ‘don’t refer to me as a woman, man, etc.’ depending on your needs. I believe that being as practical as possible with otherwise non-knowledgeable people is key. At the meeting, you can have some resources ready (like this blog) to hand out, too.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, the options are limitless in terms of other more direct action point-of-service things: make a sign for your desk, wear a button, give out candy for a correct gendering (I’m an extrovert so I might try this one as people usually enjoy a bit of camp). Of course, these suggestions all depend on what kind of environment you work in, how safe you feel there and how many strangers you see on a daily basis. Are pronouns your first/worst problem or is it the ‘hello young lady / hello young man’ variety of comments that also trouble you? The first is probably a co-worker issue, and the second probably more of a public issue.

Please keep asking questions or Tweet me or whatever you like. TIMP and I are here for you.

Hope this helps,


Mr. or Ms. or Mx? Formal titles for gender-neutral pronoun users

Anonymous asked:

“I hear tons of talk about pronoun sensitivity, but what about a gender neutral word Mr. or Ms.? I work in a very formal environment, and so titles are a big thing.”

Thank you for asking, Anonymous!

I think that formal work environments are a major ‘frontier’ for gender-based language changes, particularly because formal authority structures are so wrapped up in the correct use of language and related protocols e.g., you can’t just revert to using someone’s first name when you don’t know their gender preference regarding formal titles (or honorifics, as they are sometimes called).

Many people have started to request Mx. to be used when they don’t feel like identifying either way in a titular sense, but I also am unaware of whether this is a verbal or just a written form of address. The UK city of Brighton has this year announced its intention to add Mx. as an option for those accessing city council benefits and services. Wikipedia tells me that Mx. is pronounced ‘mux’ or ‘mixter’ (??) but it’s clear we are a long way off from having something widespread and workable.

If this is a situation that affected you directly, i.e., you would prefer to be called something more they-ish than Ms. or Mr., I wish you the best of luck and can only say that your personal level of comfort at work (professionally and personally) will have to be weighed with your need for gender recognition. I am currently applying for tenure-track jobs, and I have been split down the middle on whether to ask my referees to write letters with ‘they’. Some have done wonderful backflips with language and written letters without any pronouns at all, even after I told them that I’m tending toward using a gendered pronoun and beginning the work when I get there in terms of educating my (fingers crossed) future colleagues. But this is entirely up to one’s field and one’s own preferences.

Thank you for your question, and please ask another anytime!


Resource: “Trans Talk: How to use pronouns” (video by Buzz Slutzky)

A helpful, quirky and honest introduction to pronouns, how to know what pronouns to use and when, and how to be nice to people regardless of their pronoun. From Buzz’s Vimeo page:

“I made this video for my colleagues, in order to encourage them to learn more about trans identity and pronouns so that our department grows increasingly supportive of trans students and faculty.”

When to use single or plural verb forms with singular they

Anonymous asked:

“When one is using “they” as a singular pronoun, is it better to use singular or plural verb forms? I ask because while I usually hear it with plural verb forms in casual speech, I’m writing a story in which a character prefers “they,” and it has led to things like “Smith SAYS, ‘It’s all lies,’ as they TAKE the book from the shelf,” with a number switch between the two verbs. Is the plural verb form still correct when “they” is not used as an indefinite pronoun but for a specific person? Thanks!”

An excellent question! I’m sort of a writer too (academic) and I empathize.

Writing with plural they is hard and about more than grammar; in my experience sentence construction has to shift around in order to make things as smooth as they would be with a binary gender pronoun in use. This might also mean using more instances of the person’s name, or avoiding (in places) some more familiar forms of attribution (like the one in your example) until your reader can acclimatize (i.e., not on the first page, perhaps).

Grammatically, yes, your example is incorrect. However, I firmly believe that language is not only a set of written rules but a living, breathing organ that shifts with us. Chances are by this point in your story your readers will have had to do the work of acclimatizing to pronoun use and can handle it. And I’m afraid that, at this point in the ‘movement’, the fact that you use a gender-neutral pronoun will be a standout feature of your piece (I say ‘I’m afraid that’ because you might feel it distracting if that’s not the point).

In my own life, there are moments of glitch where I notice a grammatical error brought on in someone’s speech because they are referring to me and we have to make do. I find this to be funny, but I also think about humour as a teaching tool ( I’m in an educational field). In some ways, then, gender-neutral pronouns throw everything into relief, including how rule-bound we are without thinking (even they-people like me). I think that is nice.

I would love to read your story! 🙂 (no presh, however, and good luck)