“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” – Proverbs 31:8
Written by Rev. Brandon Durán
Have you ever seen a baby with a gender signal? Parents will dress a baby in a little blue suit or don their child with a pink headband? These clothing choices are meant as a biological sign to other adults (as a side note: please get me started on how pink was originally a boys color and blue was the color for girls). Parents will often dress their children in specific ways based upon their particular ideas about gender norms and in the hopes that others will refer to their child according to those parameters. They want others to know what pronouns to use.
Perhaps you have seen pronouns taking a prominent place in email signatures or Zoom meetings. Someone’s name will end with (she/her/her) or (he/him/his). The individual is telling you what pronouns they prefer. In the same way that we define a person when we use their name, so too do we define someone by the pronouns we apply to them. Just as someone may tell you what name they prefer (“don’t call me Mr. Weng that’s my father, call me Rico”), so too a person may tell you what pronouns they prefer.
You may think though, isn’t it obvious what pronouns to use? There are markers our society often leans upon to define one’s gender identity. Someone’s clothing, hairstyle, or accessories may all be used as indicators we subconsciously process. Or perhaps it is simply someone’s body shape that we look to as a clue for what pronoun to use. But rather than hunt for clues, which may be wrongly interpreted, the person sharing their pronouns is kindly telling you how they would like to be known. But this is more than a point of clear communication, it’s an act of compassion.
There are many, many people in the world for whom gender identity is not so simple. Clothing or body shape may not be an accurate, preferred, or even possible option for communicating their gender identity. Someone may have a biological condition that alters the shape of their body in ways they cannot control. Someone may have needed a life-saving surgery, such as a mastectomy or an orchiectomy, that affects their body image. Someone’s culture may have gender norms that do not conform to the dominant society. And for the well over a million people in the United States who identify as transgender, the issue of pronouns is not so simple.