International Pronouns Day is celebrated on the third Wednesday of October. This year it will be recognized on October 19th. According to the website pronounsday.org, “International Pronouns Day seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace.” The use of pronouns represents a deeply felt sense of identity for people and using the pronouns people choose is a demonstration of respect and human dignity. Transgender and non-binary people can be especially affected by misgendering or misuse of pronouns which can be detrimental to their comfort and safety. Normalizing the sharing and educating about personal pronouns takes away any assumptions one may have about others’ identities and helps support their right to human dignity.
Most people are familiar with the pronouns he/him, she/her, they/them However, there are over 76 pronouns in usage today. You may hear of other neopronouns, such as zie/zim/zir and vi/ver/vers. The use of neopronouns or gender neutral pronouns allow for greater selection of words that people feel comfortable using to refer to themselves. Typically, you would not refer to someone with neopronouns or gender neutral pronouns unless they request you use them. However, it is acceptable to use they/them as singular gender neutral pronouns for someone who has not yet shared their pronouns with you. Good practice, in the name of allyship, is to introduce yourself and your pronouns when meeting someone for the first time. Asking in a respectful manner, such as, “If you’re comfortable sharing, I would like to be able to use your personal pronouns” would be an invitation that lets others know you are striving to create a safe and inclusive space. However, everyone needs to be aware that pronouns may change as a person learns more about their own identity or feels comfortable giving you consent to call them by pronouns that best match their lived identity.
As an educator our positionality can truly set the tone of the learning space. Egale’s Report “Every Class in Every School” found that “When all identity-related grounds for feeling unsafe are taken into account, including ethnicity and religion, more than three quarters (78%) of trans students indicated feeling unsafe in some way at school.” Those numbers are reflective of schools in Canada; the very environments in which we work. There is a lot of learning and understanding needed to make schools safer, and surely only sharing and using correct pronouns is not enough, but it is a small step toward building equity and understanding.
This year, when contemplating my own allyship in anti-Transphobia and anti-Trans Violence I am choosing to be intentional in being a visible ally. A Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) that I support is choosing to make pronoun buttons that the students choose to best represent their identities. They are also planning to invite teachers to create and wear pronoun buttons at school and emphasizing that International Pronoun Day is only the start of wearing pronoun buttons all year long. I am conscious about not making assumptions about people’s pronouns and am offering my own when I first meet new people. I am also reminding myself that it is my obligation to demonstrate respect by using everyone’s correct pronouns and it is my own responsibility to monitor my own behaviour and speech.
Understanding and accepting that people have the ability and right to choose the words that best reflect their identities is an integral part of anti-transphobic work. This October, I am encouraging you to consider how you will show up to support International Pronouns Day and how you will carry that work forward throughout the rest of the year.