“I’m moving into a career in academia, and I’ve noticed that I really don’t like when people refer to my work with gendered pronouns. I don’t have discomfort being called daughter or hearing myself referred to as she/her/hers in regular conversation. On one level I feel guilty claiming they/them pronouns in professional settings, almost like I am performing being gender queer. On the other hand controlling the narrative of people reading my work as non-gendered makes me feel empowered. Thoughts?”
Hi louziphir! Thank you so much for your question, and I’m excited to be in academia with you!
First of all, being nonbinary or genderqueer or somewhere on the non-cisgender side of things that isn’t M or F can be a tough slog precisely because we are inundated with messages about how we aren’t real. Well guess what. Hello! Kidding aside though, the gap between feeling like “I am gender queer (etc.)” and “I feel like I am gender queer” is hard to cover over in a world that is still figuring out how to welcome and support nonbinary-spectrum people. So, don’t be so hard on yourself. Rather, the sense of discomfort that you articulate is how many of us start to figure out that our pronouns might have to change to match us correctly.
That all said, I think that what you are saying is that you are only noticing this discomfort in academic/work settings. It is true that most people who have they/them or other gender-neutral pronouns generally like to have them used in all the contexts of our lives (if safety etc. were a non-issue). However, the way that she/her and other F-gendered language play out in your workplace might be perhaps loaded more or differently than they are in the other contexts of your life, making their attribution at work more grating than in your regular life. What I’d encourage you to do is think about pronouns as part of a larger process of sorting people into gender categories, and reflect on how that sorting might be something that works for you in one context but not others. After all, we know that gender works differently across different times and places, sometimes including the different spaces where one person spends parts of their day. How does gender work for you more generally in your workplace? Are you uncomfortable beyond pronouns? What do you notice about how others work with or do gender where you are? Are there other things you are okay with at home, but not at work? I don’t believe that just because someone, for example, is a woman (cisgender or transgender), she has to do all of the things in every woman box. Woman boxes are shaped differently, and not all fit every woman. And of course, sexism and misogyny are alive and well, including in academia, sometimes making it very clear that F-gendered language is used in ways that are devaluing.
The last thing I’ll say is that I have known dozens of people who are in a reverse situation from yours: they do not come out with ‘they/them’ pronouns at work (in academia). Often this is because they aren’t sure of the reception they’ll get, or don’t have the energy to do what this can often require (I get that). At bottom, though, this is about people working with different thresholds and different needs in different parts of their lives. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to do or need or desire the same thing regardless of where I am, as that sounds a bit too demanding. Perfection is not the goal.
These are my thoughts for now. I hope they are helpful!
Thanks for writing, and take care,