Now that a progressive thinking is returning to the USA’s highest ranks, let’s not waste time and get a few things straight. As a self-identified gay cis-man, I will use Kamala Harris‘ victory amidst a raging global pandemic to ask you for two things: Wear a face mask – and state your pronouns! Because both things are related!
First of all, we all wear face masks in public spaces because we want to protect the people around us. A face mask helps contain the spread of your germs and prevents to infect others. We do it, because we care for one another. A face mask allows us to create a close radius around us, so we can interact with people, without having to fear too much the spread of the virus.
Apply the same thinking to stating your pronouns. Do it, because you care about the people around you. Even more so, by stating your own pronouns, you give your interlocutors the space to identify themselves for you. This is an act of containing violence: You will not run the risk of misgendering the person you talk to.
Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President-Elect of the United States, her mother Indian, her father Jamaican, states her pronouns in her Twitter bio. Why? Because she knows that in order for her person opposite be given the space they deserve to identify themselves, she needs to create that space for them so they feel safe about who they are. Human rights activist Audre Lorde once said:
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”Audre Lorde
After four years of ignorance and a number of global right-wing backlashes, this little gesture does a whole lot to those who are effected. And it makes Kamala even more awesome.
Think about this: What would you have thought if President Trump had stated his pronouns in his Twitter bio? – It would most likely would have meant that he afforded his interlocutors the space to stand in for their own desires and convictions. He did not do this, because he told you who you are in his eyes. This is all that counted – to him, and thus, to the world. It created new realities, ranging from a changed Paris agreement to CIVID fatalities. The world around him was overtly simple, in his terms. He did not care for the complexities of human social spaces. Luckily, we now have the chance to start over and adopt these little gestured around the globe, in our respective languages. In the office, in rehearsal rooms, in client meetings, in cafés with friends (once the lockdowns are dropped).
What can you do, besides of stating your pronouns on Twitter? Add them to your email’s signatures, private and work emails. Make a case with your boss to push this. State them on LinkedIn, on Xing, everywhere. Begin your sentence with „I self-identify as …“, „As a self-identified XYZ, I …”. Show the world who you are and where you are coming from so they can understand how you construct your reality. This way of communicating opens a new horizon, because it offers perspectives that would otherwise have been marginalised or even completely silenced. It adds multiplicity. Diversity.
Take these steps, when you feel you are of a dominant, privileged group. Even if the person you interact with do not want to disclose their pronouns to you – that is completely fine. They will know why they are not doing it. They might themselves still be on a journey of self-discovery. But it shows that you care.
If you think that the face mask tasks away a layer of communication, add the pronouns to your daily conversation habits to start learning more about the persons you interact with. Both measures start out by affording the people we share a room with the space they need to feel safe.
One last remark: Do not worry about using the wrong pronoun for yourself. You will know which pronoun you will have to use for yourself. It’s not that hard. And don’t worry about all the different pronouns there are. They are not choices for you. You do not chose your pronoun, because there is a “choice”. Pronouns are a way to express in language and grammar a relation between lived realities and forms of communicating about these realities. It’s complex. Instead, cherish the moments you meet people who offer you a glimpse into a reality you did not yet know.
Ze might smile back at you and thank you for this little gesture you afforded hir.