The topic of gender is one that can spark a lot of controversy, both socially and politically. In modern society, we as humans are used to the notion that there are two genders: male and female. Over the past few decades, however, people have begun to introduce themselves. This is causing a lot of confusion and challenging people to think outside of what they’ve always known, or thought they knew.
The reality is that gender is not binary. We are not just male or female. Our gender identities exist on a broad spectrum. While it’s getting more attention in today’s world, the reality is that it’s always been a spectrum. Human beings from around the globe have been moving through that spectrum for as long as we have existed.
Check out more about this from Bill Nye the Science Guy!
The problem has long been that people haven’t felt safe to share their gender identity because they didn’t feel safe stepping outside of their assigned role of “male” or “female”. Society had dictated very clear roles and expectations for men and women, and those who didn’t conform faced persecution. Isolation, ridicule, and all too often, violence awaited those who asserted their true gender. (Tragically, this remains the reality in far too many parts of our world, as evinced by the self-harm statistics of trans and non-binary youth.)
To challenge a societal construct that’s existed for thousands of years certainly takes some strength and fortitude! Today people are finding that strength. The transgender and non-binary communities are coming out more and more every day. They are sharing their journey with the world. They are letting us know who they are and that they are here. They’ve always been here. We just didn’t see them before.
(And when I say “we” I’m referring even to the broader LGBTQ+ community, of which I’m a part. The sad but honest truth is that this group has historically been marginalized even within our already marginalized group.)
One way our transgender and non-binary friends are educating us and raising our awareness is by sharing their pronouns. They are letting people in their lives and around them know what gender or non-gender specific pronouns that should be used to address or describe them.
This is really important for everyone to recognize. We ALL have to do our part now. We have to build an inclusive space so that everyone can be their full and true selves while at work. We must be allies to this community. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.
There isn’t a single person reading this post who has ever enjoyed hiding a part of themselves. So why would we do that to someone else?
One of the first things we can do as allies are to understand what it means to be transgender and/or non-binary.
Note: This is a very simple introduction to gender identification, and not intended to capture the experiences of every person at every point along the gender identity spectrum.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, most people – including most transgender people – are either male or female. But some people don’t neatly fit into the categories of “man” or “woman,” or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don’t identify with any gender. Some people’s gender changes over time.
People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female.
Here are some pronoun examples are (but not limited to) that different folks may use:
- Male gender: he, him, his
- Female gender: she, her, hers
- Gender-neutral: they, them, their or ze, zim, zir
Pronouns vary from person to person.
For those of us that identify as cisgender (our gender matches our biological sex), one way we can help create a safe space is by sharing our own pronouns when we introduce ourselves.
As someone who identifies as cisgender, and spends a lot of time in front groups (training, Jump Start etc), I have started doing this.
It usually goes this like:
“Hello! My name is Valdet Selimaj and I am a Senior Training Consultant on the Talent Development team. My pronouns are “he, him, and his…”
I also write them on the wall and have them listed in my work online directory profile, Sift.
When a cisgender person shares their pronouns, it does a couple of things:
- It lets everyone know that it’s a safe place to share pronouns.
- It can create a conversation around why we are sharing our pronouns.
I have noticed that when I share my pronouns, some people have surprised reactions to it. This is where we lean into the conversation about being allies and supporting people in the workplace by creating a space where everyone can share their pronouns.
Another way we can help is to just understand, respect and value the genders of the people around us. You don’t have to worry about remembering the different gender pronouns. If you get to know people for who they are and create a brave place where folks can tell you their pronouns, then you’re good! If you make a mistake and accidentally misgender someone (refer to them as a gender they don’t identify as), make the proper correction and let them know that you got it. Check out this article for more tips and best practices.
Your experience of gender might be different from the person next to you and both experiences have shaped how you navigate this world. That is something that connects us all.
The world is hard enough as it is. Let’s make this world safe and affirming as we can.
Here are some resources to learn more!