6 min read

I'm not the only person in the room with pronouns

"I'm Quinn, my pronouns are he/him." I practice until it's second nature, until I can say it as though the idea that my transness might make people uncomfortable, angry, or even violent has never occurred to me.
A white pin badge reading 'Please use he/him pronouns'. In the background there are bright red flowers and green leaves.

[CW: suicide, self-harm, transphobia, misgendering]

Last week I was on a Zoom call where everyone on the call was introducing themselves. I was the only one who introduced myself with my pronouns.

I do my best to share my pronouns whenever I introduce myself, regardless of whether anyone else is. If I don't, I know people will assume I'm a cis woman and I hate the idea that people will be misgendering me in their heads. It makes me feel physically sick that there are people who think about me as a woman. It makes me want to peel off my skin, because there's no other way to shake off how wrong it feels in my body.

That doesn't make introducing myself with my pronouns easy - which, let's face it, makes sense: every time I introduce myself with my pronouns I'm outing myself. Sharing that I use he/him pronouns corrects the assumption most people make that I'm a woman, and thus that I must be trans.

Living in a society that seems to be getting more hostile to trans people every day, it's hardly surprising that I get nervous when I out myself. It feels vulnerable. I know in most circumstances there's very little risk to my physical safety, but there's still a moment of fear. There's still a tiny voice reminding me that it's not always safe to be publicly trans. There are still times when I can't bring myself to be the only person in the room sharing my pronouns.

But despite the shame and fear and vulnerability I feel in the moment, I want to share my pronouns. I've struggled in the past when people suggest I just don't share my pronouns, and let people assume that I am cis. If people are going to discriminate against me because I'm trans, let them. I have less time for the idea that I should hide any part of myself out of fear.

So I practice in my head. I practice in front of the mirror. "Hi, I'm Quinn, my pronouns are he/him." I say it until it's second nature, until I can say it as though the idea that my transness might make people uncomfortable, angry, or even violent has never occurred to me.

You know what would make sharing my pronouns easier? If cis people did it too.

Sharing your pronouns is one of the easiest things for you to do if you want to be a better ally to trans people. Add them to your email signature and your social media bio. Introduce yourself with them if you're going around and sharing your names at a meeting or workshop, or if you're speaking in front of a group.

Introducing yourself with your pronouns reassures me that you understand that trans people exist. It lets me know that you're aware that we shouldn't assume people's pronouns. It makes me feel safe to introduce myself with mine.

"I don't use pronouns" has become transphobic dog whistle. I'm not sure if matters whether or not the people saying it understand that 'I' is a pronoun, because what they mean is clear. They don't want trans people to exist. They want to deny us the dignity of having our gender acknowledged.

I don't think that sharing pronouns should be mandatory. A situation where everyone is required to give their pronouns will put trans people who aren't ready to be out or are still stepping into their gender in a position where they have to choose between outing or misgendering themselves. I am not directing this request for cis people to introduce themselves with their pronouns at trans or non-binary people who aren't out. I'm not talking about people who are exploring their gender and don't know what pronouns feel right yet.

I'm talking to cis people, who risk much, much less than trans people by sharing their pronouns. Who can help normalise that you cannot know what someone's pronouns are unless they tell you.

And using someone's pronouns is literally suicide prevention. The Trevor Project's 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health discovered that transgender and non-binary youth who reported having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those whose pronouns were disregarded.

A few years ago, someone I knew explained to me why they didn't need to put their pronouns in their Twitter bio or on their name badge at a conference. They said that it was obvious to anyone who looked at them what pronouns they used. At the time, I didn't have the strength, the spoons, or the security in my own gender to push back, but this is what I'd have said to them at the time: that's bullshit.

You cannot tell someone's pronouns from looking at them. Trans people deserve to have their pronouns respected whether or not they're performing their gender to cis people's standards. I'm just as male on the days I'm not binding and am wearing gold nail varnish as the days when I'm packing and wearing a crop top with 'he/him/hole' on it.

I'm so tired of being made to feel like I’m too sensitive when I want cis people to remember that you cannot tell from looking at someone what their gender is or what pronouns they use. Even in a week where a bill has been proposed in North Dakota that would fine state employees $1,500 for respecting trans Peoples’ pronouns* I'm allowed to be frustrated at all the little microaggressions I encounter every single day. It's not unreasonable to want cis people to do more to acknowledge that trans people exist.

It's exhausting to be the only person in the room sharing my pronouns. It's isolating. It's scary. And you know what? I'm done downplaying that.

*The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-0 to give this bill a “do not pass” recommendation for the larger Senate, but the fact that people in positions of power are proposing such bigoted legislation is still terrifying.

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🏳️‍⚧️ Further reading and resources

Here are some additional articles and resources if you want to learn more about pronouns. Shout out to my friend Grayson for his suggestions for this section!

  • If you want to put your pronouns in your email signature - and I encourage you to! - it's becoming common for folks to use a signature block that looks like the one below. The advantage of this is that if someone is unfamiliar with the pronouns you use, they can click through to a resource that explains more.
Quinn Rhodes
Pronouns: he/him/his - what's this?
  • This article on the etiquette of sharing pronouns at the start of a meeting or event explores some of the issues to be aware of when you're trying to make spaces more inclusive by encouraging people to share their pronouns.
  • If you want to practice using pronouns you're not familiar with, both this site and this one will give you examples of how to use different pronouns, and then give you a quiz where you can practice.

💌 Footnotes

Footnotes is the section of Genderbent where I share what I've been writing, reading, and generally getting excited about recently.

  • My first commissioned piece of 2023 is up! I wrote about the Vagina Museum being forced to leave their current home in Bethnal Green for Xtra. I got to dig into the incompatibility of capitalism and sexual liberation a bit in the piece, which I definitely want to write more about this year.
  • This might be the third newsletter in a row where I've shared one of Niko Stratis' Autostraddle essays, but I'm not shaming myself for that. Her article about new year goal setting really spoke to me. I set a goal this year that feels like a promise to my future self, and it feels incredibly vulnerable to admit how much I want it.
  • Speaking of Autostraddle, I also loved Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya's deep dive into the cultural significance of the 'Queerleader'. I'm so here for queer media textual analysis that may or may not cross the line into full on academia. (I support Autostraddle as an A+ member because I just really need writing like this to exist.)
  • As a fellow sex writer, Kate Sloan livetweeting her first time watching Sex and the City is bringing me a lot of joy. I watched SATC for the first time during one of 2020's lockdowns and I had a LOT of thoughts about how Carrie, also supposedly a sex write, talks and thinks about sex.