Gender pronouns require context


Photo by Kendall McGowan. The bulletin board outside of room 309 advertising the GTSA. Over the summer, the GTSA sent an email to faculty urging them to have students state their preferred pronouns when introducing themselves to the class at the beginning of the school year. Very few teachers followed through with this request.

The use of correct gender pronouns isn’t something that comes easily to us. It’s impossible to tell someone’s gender from merely seeing them, just as it’s impossible to know who they are as a person solely from their appearance.

Yet, this is not something the vast majority of people in our society understand. We are used to seeing a person in a body of the female sex and assuming that they are in fact a girl, as the cisgender normative society we live in leads us to believe. Most of the time we are correct and the person does in fact identify as a girl.

The problem is that this is not always the case. Your gender and your sex are two very different things: your gender is what you feel inside while your sex is whatever reproductive organs you may have been born with. Gender is something extremely hard to define as it means something different to every person, and this is okay. However you  define gender for yourself is correct as it relates to you. Just as you need to have your personal definition of gender respected and for your gender identity to be acknowledged, you also need to respect and acknowledge the identities of others.

I identify as gender neutral, which means I am neither a girl nor a boy. I am something ambiguous and abstract that falls somewhere in the grey area on the gender spectrum. Despite the fact that there is no part of me that is a girl, I am addressed daily with the pronouns “she, her, hers” and I would have no problem with correcting people if I thought they’d know what I was talking about.

At the beginning of the year, the Gay Trans* Straight Alliance (GTSA) sent an email to all the teachers at the high school asking them to include students’ gender pronouns along with name introductions on the first day of school. Only one of my classes actually did this, where it was asked on a piece of paper that we turned into the teacher. There was a lot of confusion surrounding that particular question and after the teacher answered some basic questions about what pronouns were, it died down and that was the end of the discussion.

While I really appreciate pronoun introductions, I think that they’re sort of pointless if people don’t understand what pronouns are, why they don’t simply go along with whatever your sex is and why they’re important to get correct.

Our school is a great place for people who are queer because the overwhelming majority of students accept one another for who they are. However, we are not very good at talking about what gender and sexuality are. People are not going to remember to use the right pronouns if they don’t understand what they mean.

Something that the email from the GTSA really emphasized was the importance of pronoun introductions in order to make everyone in the class feel comfortable.

“Just as those whose gender happens to align with their biological sex view being referred to in that gender as basic respect, so do those whose gender does not align with their biological sex being referred to with pronouns corresponding to their gender,” it read. “It’s important to recognize this so that you can help all members of your classroom to feel more accepted.”

Considering all of this I find it extremely surprising how few teachers actually followed through and had pronoun introductions. It is so important to feel safe and comfortable at school. When you are in an environment in which people use correct pronouns and know what they mean, it actually does make a huge difference. It’s basic respect.

I don’t think that the reason teachers didn’t include pronoun introductions is because they didn’t care about the comfort level of students. I think it was most likely because pronoun introductions are something fairly new that many people don’t understand and so feel uncomfortable with using. The world is never going to change if you don’t make people uncomfortable, but the response to this is not to push it out of your mind, but to face it and accept it. I am really surprised that despite the very heartfelt email sent by the GTSA, I didn’t notice any difference in the atmosphere in my classes. I want to see the gender and sexuality spectrum become something better understood at the high school.

School is what prepares us for real life, and in order to change the world we live in, we need to be educated about the things that need to change. The world is going to keep evolving and growing and ideas are going to keep being discovered and expanded upon. Part of being a teacher is preparing students for the real world, and this is what it’s becoming.

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