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Pro-noun equals pro-identity


Not only can it spare people needless pain, using preferred pronouns and gender identities is a justice issue

November 8, 2021

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard is Associate for Gender & Racial Justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries.

Not one day goes by that I am not misgendered in some way.

Sometimes it is intentional. Most often it is just a mistake. Either way, it is a micro-aggression that I have learned will probably be a part of my journey for the rest of my life.

I am all too familiar with that look of slightly hidden confusion and discomfort that most people have on their faces when they encounter me for the first time. It is that look of “who” or “what” is this person and how do I engage them properly?

To be misgendered means that someone has taken the liberty to assign a gender label to me that I have neither asserted nor consented to. Over time I have come to a point to not allow this to bother me as much as it has in the past, namely because I realize that most intentions are good and that, in some way, each situation gives me another opportunity to either educate a novice or expose a bigot. Whichever outcome is a daily tossup, and I am OK with that. That is why I have learned to initiate introductions using my pronouns proactively.

There is something very empowering that comes from the freedom of defining for oneself your own truth despite the often-rigorous confines of societal norms. It was me being my full self at a deeper level than ever before.

The good thing is I am not alone in my journey toward self-actualization. There has been a growing conversation for many years about the use of pronouns in connection to identity. It has become more common for people to share their pronouns in professional settings such as email signatures and meeting introductions as well as informal, familial situations.

The realization that gender is a vast continuum has allowed for the idea that one’s pronouns are not confined to the binary either. The use of pronouns has traditionally helped to signal one’s gender identity and generally continue to do so. Being considerate of a person’s chosen use of pronouns shows that you respect the dignity and humanity of that person. It also signifies that you honor how they show up individually in this world devoid of your own assumptions or misnomers around clothing, name, voice inflection or a variety of other markers that folks often use.

To assume someone’s pronouns without their consent is the equivalent to the usage of the wrong proper name for an individual without them agreeing to this odd travesty. In a world where so often discrimination is prevalent, the effort to respect someone’s gender personhood is a small step towards the equality of all people.

By contrast, some may decide that pronouns such as they/them, she/her, ze/hir, or he/him are not markers they wish to utilize. The reasons for this may be as vast as the people who make this choice. Remember the use of a pronoun is merely a substitutional marker for a proper name. It is not a requirement in conversation, correspondence or in reference to another. The use of one’s name is actually considered a more polite way of referral and can be used when there is an absence of a preferred pronoun in place. In doing this, you are reinforcing the narrative that identity is a self-guided activity, and no one has the right to label or categorize anyone else without consent.

Furthermore, the Bible has several references of God in both male and female language as both mother and father to us all. Please see the upcoming release of the Third Edition of Well Chosen Words, the PC(USA)’s guide to understanding and using inclusive language, for more information on this subject.

Thus like many other aspects of life, the notion to use preferred pronouns takes effort and practice to shift a binary way of understanding into a more expansive way of being. It is not a new concept. It is a framework that cannot be further ignored.

Finally let me state clearly that the respect and use of an individual’s preferred pronouns is a justice issue. To not do so is a form of discrimination based in sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, Associate, Gender & Racial Justice, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency, pronouns they, them and theirs

Today’s Focus: Using preferred pronouns

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Lee Catoe, Managing Editor, Unbound & Associate for Young Adult Social Witness, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Devan Caton, Operations Business Analyst, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Dear Lord, make us faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel. Enable us to be supportive communities that raise up the prophetic voices of those who speak forthrightly about just practice and compassionate action. Amen.

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