What do United States Senator Elizabeth Warren, The Mandalorian actor Pedro Pascal, and Apple CEO Tim Cook have in common? They’re all cisgender, which means their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. They’ve also decided to include their pronouns in their Twitter profiles, making it one of the first things you’ll notice if you click on their usernames.
These three public figures are only some of the millions of people all over the globe who have started to clarify their personal pronouns on social media. It is definitely not uncommon, especially if you’re an avid social media user, to bump into profiles that read “she/her,” “he/him,” “they/them,” other combinations of the ones mentioned or simply different, less-common but still valid pronouns. But where did this tradition originate, why should you do this if you believe everyone will know which pronouns you prefer, and how does this help anyone at all?
The reality is that, for most of us cisgender people, pronouns have never been a problem; we were assigned a set of them the day we were born, and we have always felt comfortable both using them and having people use them when referring to us. But that’s not everyone’s reality. Most people out there who have struggled with their gender identity at any given point of their lives have had to face the burden of being called “he” or a “she” and not feeling entirely comfortable with their respective term — and we don’t have to go too far to grasp this. Even if you’re a cisgender individual, you would most likely correct people if they use the incorrect pronoun when talking to or about you. For lots of our trans and non-binary folks — that means, people whose gender identify does not fall under the binary conception of men and women — this can be an everyday struggle they would rather avoid, as it can feel invalidating to their whole identity.
Human connection and communication have been profoundly affected by social media — with its upsides and its downsides. When having a conversation in real life, it is common for people to refer to a stranger with pronouns assumed by their appearance or any particular physical characteristics. And while this practice is deeply engrained in our brains, it’s unquestionable that this tradition based on assumption may derive in misgendering whoever we’re speaking to or about. It is impossible for us to be completely certain of somebody’s gender identity or personal pronouns unless they explicitly mention it to us — and this is when social media comes in handy and can make this situation easier on everybody.
In most— if not all— of our social media platforms, we have the chance to write a small text about who we are, what we enjoy doing, or any other words that explain what identifies us in what is commonly called our profile, description or “bio.” Some use it to write down their age, their astrological sign, the institution they’re attending or even musical lyrics that they feel a connection to. For others, though, this is a chance to clarify to anyone who’s planning on connecting with them or simply checking their profile to know what their personal pronouns are — this way, the “what are your pronouns?” question that might be required in an in-person conversation can be avoided, along with a potential misgendering if the other person decides to skip the question and assume based on appearance.
This is where you might think: “but I’ve never had this problem and it’s highly unlikely for someone to use the incorrect pronouns on me, so why should I even bother?” For starters, the practice of writing down pronouns on one’s profile has been highly linked to trans and non-binary folks for the previously explained reasons — and while it may initially sound like this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, this supposition doesn’t take into account two facts: one, not everybody that doesn’t identify as cisgender is openly doing so, but they still deserve to have their personal pronouns respected — and two, with the rampant discrimination, violence and hate that’s still present in our society, the practice of writing down pronouns in a profile can be used to identify and therefore target and attack trans and non-binary folks specifically.
Writing down your personal pronouns in your social media profile not only takes a few seconds and very little space, but also helps normalize the fact that we cannot and should not be assuming anybody’s personal pronouns or gender identity. It’s an undeniable reality that understanding this and putting it into practice is not an easy or quick process, but writing these few words down on our descriptions is a very useful, initial step in being more accepting of the diversity in gender identity that surrounds us every day — and that is growing bigger along with our acceptance and understanding of the subject.
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon