my office wants my pronouns — but I’m still figuring it out

A reader writes:

I’m a queer person working in a mid-sized, politically progressive organization.

Recently our management team has been attempting to shift norms around pronouns at work. Our chief HR executive sent an email encouraging everyone to add pronouns to their Slack profiles and email signatures. Managers have begun asking new hires to state their preferred pronouns when they introduce themselves in our town halls.

I understand these changes are intended to make our office a more inclusive environment for queer and trans folks, but being asked to declare my pronouns makes me extremely uncomfortable.

The thing is … I don’t know what I am. I was assigned female at birth and am married to a woman. Friends and family use female pronouns because I’ve never asked them to do otherwise. I have short hair, wear men’s clothing, am sometimes mistaken for a teenage boy, and often think of myself as more of a man than a woman. But I’m not a man.

In other words, my relationship to gender is ambivalent at best, and I find being asked to discuss such a fraught, deeply personal topic at work distressing. Even typing out the previous paragraph was pretty embarrassing!

Right now my colleagues all assume I use female pronouns because my name is feminine. This works for me; it requires no active intervention on my part and allows everyone, especially me, to stay focused on work.

Being asked to publicly state my preference for female pronouns, on the other hand, makes me angry. It feels like I have to either lie or come out of the closet, when I’m not even sure what to come out as! I’m starting to resent the well-meaning leaders who are pushing these changes. It’s easy for cis people to pick their pronouns; gender is straightforward and obvious for them.

Complicating this issue is the fact that I’m about to be promoted to a management role, and all the managers in our org proudly share their pronouns in their profiles.

So, should I:

(a) bite the bullet and add “she/her” to my profile for the sake of conforming and handle my frustration the same way I handle my feelings about mansplainers and interrupters (a punching bag is involved).

(b) share my perspective on this with my boss or HR in the hope that they’ll reconsider asking people to state their pronouns, especially in large meetings.

(c) adopt “they/them” pronouns … but only at work? I’ll be the only manager using “they/them” in my workplace.

(d) adopt “he/him” pronouns but keep my feminine first name in the spirit of giving corporate gender interrogators the middle finger (kidding!).

(e) continue silently omitting pronouns from my profile until someone asks me about it.

I’m Still Figuring It Out, Boss, But I’ll Be Sure To Keep You Posted

Thank you for an excellent illustration of why companies need to be thoughtful about the way they signal inclusivity around gender identity and pronouns. Employers should encourage people to share their pronouns if they want to, make clear it’s welcome, and ensure it’s safe for people to do so … but requiring it (or “encouraging” it to the point that it’s essentially required) is a bad idea for exactly the reasons in your letter.

You should not need to declare pronouns that you’re not comfortable with or don’t identify with, nor should you need to figure it out on anyone’s timeline but your own.

And no one should feel pressured to out themselves as trans or non-binary just to comply with a corporate edict.

Your company’s efforts are no doubt well-meaning, but their implementation is bad.

As for what to do, if you are willing to talk to your boss or HR (or the person/team charged with working on diversity and inclusion issues, if you have one), that would be ideal. They likely haven’t thought about what this requirement means for people who are grappling with gender identity or simply don’t want to out themselves at work, and if they’re reasonable they’ll be open to changing their approach once they’re aware of the problem.

You wouldn’t even necessarily need to make it about you — you could say that you’ve heard the concern expressed in other contexts and wanted to bring it to their attention that the most inclusive practice is to encourage people to share their pronouns if they want to, but not to require it. That said, you might get more traction if you’re willing to personalize it. That shouldn’t be the case, but sometimes it is.

{ 679 comments… read them below }

  1. Excel Jedi*

    Oh my goodness, same. My email signature has (she/they), but I’m one of the only ones without pronouns in Zoom.

    But on the other hand, I love seeing others’ pronouns, because it signals that we’re in an inclusive place, and maybe it’s ok to share mine.

    No advice, just commiseration.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Question: Do you find “she/they” causes confusion by truncating the two different options into the same double word pattern used for single options like “she/her”?

      1. Excel Jedi*

        I haven’t had anyone mention it to me….but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t. In some places I’ll also use “she/her or they/them,” but a lot of the time pronouns don’t have that much real estate.

        1. DieTrying*

          This is really helpful. I would love go by she/they, but have avoided it because of that nagging inner voice that suggests that maybe I am insufficiently in the latter camp — not that there’s a quota, etc. But lovely to hear about awesome AAMers and friends who are doing it!

          1. cryptid*

            there’s no threshold amount of desire that makes it okay – literally just wanting to (for any reason) is enough!

          2. Littorally*

            As others have said, the desire to use certain pronouns is 100% sufficient to use those pronouns. As for that nagging inner voice — queer imposter syndrome is quite possibly as close as anything ever gets to a universal queer experience. Everyone I know has asked themselves, repeatedly, if they’re really queer enough to count. You can tell that nagging inner voice that you 100% are!

            1. Anon Y. Mouse*

              It’s funny (not FUNNY funny) the parallel in disability culture about wondering if you’re disabled enough to say you’re disabled.

              Joy of joy I get to experience BOTH

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Thank you for this. I’m a cisgender heterosexual female who also has an invisible disability. I’ve been trying to understand how that feels, and you just explained it in a way that makes perfect sense to me.

                1. jsmth*

                  Definitely parallels! Invisibly disabled so assumed to be able-bodied. Bi but in a mixed-sex relationship so assumed to be straight. Queer & crip identities both subsumed into hetero & abled normativity unless I repeatedly out myself.

          3. Katastrophreak*

            I also use she/ they. I started doing it after I saw my kids’ teacher using he/ they.

            Try it out and see how it feels.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’ll admit it confuses me a bit… in what circumstances should I use “she,” and when should I use “they?” Or does it mean that either is equally appropriate?

        1. Littorally*

          As a default, it generally means that either is appropriate. If the person has more specific needs for how their pronouns are used, they’ll let you know.

        2. hellohello*

          In my experience it generally means either is appropriate, and you can feel free to switch back and forth, though that can probably differ from person to person. If it’s someone you’re just briefly interacting with your best bet is probably to either use “they” or switch back and forth between she and they. If it’s someone you know personally, it can be helpful to ask in private if they have a preference or would prefer you to use both.

          1. many bells down*

            I just recently saw someone complain that they’d listed their pronouns as “they/she” and no one would use “they”. Their reasoning was that the first pronoun is slightly more preferred (or at least shouldn’t be ignored entirely!)

            1. hellohello*

              My she/they or he/they friends often experience people only using the binary pronoun when they list both options, which really stinks. It’s why I generally will default to using “they” more often, while trying to occasionally switch it up, for people who have multiple options listed. Having part of your gender identity routinely ignored because it makes people uncomfortable is not a terribly pleasant way to go through life :/

              (I do like the idea of listing “they” first! It’s upsetting that it doesn’t always have the desired effect, but I can see it helping at least with some people who are just unsure or not used to switching between pronoun options.)

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                Yup, I used to offer people options and consistently got the “obvious” default – so I stopped being so flexible. Now you can use my non-conforming pronouns and like it.

            2. Parakeet*

              I am a they/she and I am genuinely fine with either one – if I weren’t I wouldn’t give both – but I put they first in part to signal that it’s not there because I’m a cis person including a neutral option in an attempt to be inclusive or something. Not that I think that’s what she/they and he/they folks are doing, but when I first started using non-default pronouns a decade ago, it was a common assumption.

              I get a mix of what people use for me, with different people and different spaces tending to default differently. Which I personally (I would not speak for anyone else on this) am fine with.

              1. Luke G*

                I can 100% understand your logic. When I see a “she/they” it always reads to me as “I use female pronouns but am showing solidarity with the singular they/am OK if that’s what you want to call me.” (Knowing full well that may not be what they all mean by it, I’m just saying from a word flow sense that is how it comes across when read). Your “they/she” option makes it very clear that “they” is an actual identify/preference for you and not just an inclusive gesture.

                Sincere question from a cis guy (and if this is wildly inappropriate, please just ignore me)- when, if ever, would it be appropriate to ask someone who lists “they/she” if they have a preference? I always find myself unsure if the intent is “please use they, but use she if you must” or “use them both mixed in with each other” or “pick one, either is fine.” I’m just not sure how to navigate the desire to follow someone’s wishes vs the possible intrusive nature of the question.

                1. Parakeet*

                  I can only speak for myself (as a Jewish nonbinary person, I very much feel that the “two Jews, three opinions” affectionate intra-community stereotype also applies spectacularly to trans/nonbinary people, as you are possibly noticing in the comments on this post, and in general queer cultural generations tend to be very short, which can lead to a lot of disagreement based age/how long ago the person realized they were queer/etc). But I wouldn’t find it inappropriate at all as long as it’s done respectfully. I’ve had both cis and trans/nonbinary people ask me similar things (your sample question, and also whether there are particular contexts where I prefer one or the other) before, when we were introduced. If you’re unsure about how asking would be received, and they don’t provide other info to hint at an answer, I think it’s reasonable to default to the first pronoun set listed.

                2. anonylynx*

                  I was just on a video chat with a group of friends I hadn’t seen in a while. One of them had their name listed as “Name (he/they).” I wasn’t up-to-date on their pronouns, so I just said, “hey, Name, do you prefer gender neutral pronouns nowadays or are you indifferent?” They said that they/them was preferred, and I said, “cool, I will make that adjustment” and we all continued with our lovely group catch-up.

        3. MissBliss*

          That depends on the person. Some people want “she” and “they” to be used interchangeably. Some people want to be addressed as “she” when they’re presenting a certain way and “they” when they’re presenting another way. Listing “she/they” means that they’re both okay to use, but in my experience, folks won’t mind if you ask for clarification– “are there certain times when you want me to use one pronoun over the other, or do you just want people to use both to refer to you?”

        4. Excel Jedi*

          I can’t speak for other nonbinary folk, but for me it means something like: “I’m brave enough to tell you they, but she is fine. If you want. I’m not gonna make a thing of it.”

          I also happen to be femme enough that I expect people to read me as “she,” I’ve been called “she” for 30 years, and I don’t really have the emotional energy to expend on it.

          1. middle name danger*

            Mine is the opposite. I’m AFAB and go by he/they. Basically using that to say “He or they is fine if you can’t wrap your head around one or the other, just don’t use she/her.”

            1. Mad Harry Crewe*

              If you see this – can I ask how that’s gone for you at work? I’m in the same position, using male pronouns for almost a decade in my personal life, but I’ve always worried that making people uncomfortable at work could severely limit my ability to grow in a company or change jobs. I don’t think I could go back in the closet once I come out, so for now it’s easier to just stay closeted, even at accepting companies, versus trying to jam myself back in for a job hunt.

              1. middle name danger*

                It’s gone over surprisingly smoothly at my day job – I work in technology but in a niche that makes stuff for other creative fields, so that helps – our teams are used to really progressive customers. I’m positive it’s limited my freelancing (in a different creative field) but that was a risk I knew I was taking, and it hasn’t destroyed my ability to find work, just narrowed it a little.

                It really really depends on your company and field, I think.

                1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                  Thank you! I really appreciate the perspective. There’s a lot of back and forth – am I limiting myself for my own fears? But what if I shoot myself in the foot? etc.

        5. nonbinary writer*

          It’s different for everyone so the best thing to do if you come across someone with multiple pronouns is to ask. For example, I use they/he pronouns, I’m perfectly comfortable being referred to with either “they/them” or “he/him.” My truly favorite people mix it up and refer to me using both depending on the vibes :)

        6. Loredena Frisealach*

          Thanks for this question! I’ve been putting she/her in my signature as my small attempt at being supportive/making including pronouns seem commonplace at work. But, I’m cis! I thought the she/they pattern mirrored my she/her so now I’m learning something.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I use she/her, and I’ve seen other cis people use this format, so… is that not correct?

            1. cryptid*

              nope, it’s totally good! most people use she/her type formatting to make it clear about grammar, which is important if you run into a pronoun you’ve never seen before (idk that most cis people would guess “hir” goes with “zie” but zie/hir makes it clear). people using multiple pronouns usually default to the she/he/they etc version more for space constraints than anything else, since they might not have room to write “she/her or they/them”.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I really like it when people fully decline the preferred adjectives; it offers me some peace of mind that I’m using them as desired. It’d be disappointing to deliberately use Zie correctly and then use Zir incorrectly.

              2. The Other Victoria*

                I’ve also heard that another reason it’s she/her or he/him when spoken aloud is because “she” and “he” can sound alike (poor acoustics, background noise, hearing difficulties, lack of enunciation, etc.) and it’s easy for confusion but “her” and “him” are easier to distinguish.

        7. Ursula*

          One more option: I don’t care what pronouns anyone uses for me as I am agender (of the “gender has no bearing on my identity” variety), so, I use “she/they” to designate that. Since I don’t care, I’m more using it to normalize the idea that non-cis people exist than anything else. I present as very feminine, so people pretty much always use “she”.

        8. Midwest Teacher*

          It means you should use both. It absolutely doesn’t mean you should “pick” one or the other and solely use that with the person. I am mostly okay with she/they also, but I tend to only tell people my pronouns are they/them because when given the option, people default to only using “she”, which is really frustrating.

          1. Mr. Shark*

            I guess I don’t understand why, if you put she/they, you would be frustrated if someone only used she. That is one of your preferred pronouns, so why isn’t it acceptable in all cases? Wouldn’t you just use they if that were not the case?

            1. Midwest Teacher*

              Because BOTH are my preferred pronouns. I do not want people to use she/her exclusively.

              1. Mr. Shark*

                It just seems like for the person talking to you, if you have two preferred, then either would be acceptable. It’s similar (not the same, of course) if my name were Michael and some people called me Mike, others called me Michael, and I didn’t care either way, I wouldn’t expect someone to switch back and forth. Once they knew that I was either Mike/Michael, but wasn’t Mikey, it wouldn’t make a difference if they called me one of the first two, but definitely not Mikey. As I said, I know gender is different, but it doesn’t seem like a big expectation to pick one of your preferred pronouns and stick with it rather than switch. How would one know whether you prefer they on one day or she on another day?

                1. allathian*

                  Yeah, that’s a really good question. I guess I’m lucky in that I’m in Finland and my main working language is Finnish, with its gender-neutral pronoun. I think that you’d have to know someone really well to be able to tell at a glance what their preferred pronoun for that day is. (I’m using preferred intentionally here, because if your preference changes from day to day, I just can’t bring myself to say correct pronoun.) I just think that it’s unfair to expect people who know you only casually to switch pronouns all the time. Pick one and stick to it, or indicate that you’re fine with people using whichever of the alternatives you provide. Otherwise you’re going to get a lot of pushback from people who think that all this non-binary stuff is just too complicated.

                2. jazzhands*

                  Defaulting to just the pronoun that matches what you think that person looks like can feel like your identity isn’t being seen. It’s not the same for everyone, but if I know someone uses more than one pronoun, I’ll try to alternate them or otherwise mix it up.

                  To your example, maybe someone goes by Mike or Michael and both are okay, but they prefer Michael a bit more and it feels nice when folks use Michael. You might be fine with either, but the Michael next to you might not be.

          2. Kyubey*

            The thing about this, to me, is that it feels confusing using different pronouns for one person and constantly switching without causing some confusion (for others, mostly) “Jane is having trouble with the copy machine, can you help her? It’s their first day)”
            Or maybe on Monday I use she, and on Tuesday I use they to refer to Jane? I truly don’t understand how it should work, sorry if this sounds insensitive.

            1. Midwest Teacher*

              I promise it isn’t once you are used to it. It can seen strange at first if it’s new to you, but I don’t even think about it (or notice) now. I have many friends who use multiple pronouns, and some who use any. Some people even use two different ones in the same sentence when referring to someone. If you know those are the person’s pronouns, you know who they’re talking about. It’s not insensitive. Totally fine to ask questions :)

              1. Mr. Shark*

                And again, I want to be an ally and inclusive, but it seems like getting frustrated over one or the other when you are providing your pronouns and giving both options is fraught with problems for those trying to be inclusive, if you get upset with them because they are only using she or they consistently.

          3. Eliza*

            I personally kind of feel the opposite way; I’m okay with people using either she or they pronouns for me but I think I’d feel a little odd if the same person were constantly switching up the pronouns they use for me.

        9. Wren*

          I still remember my check in for a uni placement between my team at a queer organisation and the university liaison. My supervisors at the org used “they” and my preferred name (which is a shorter version of my legal name). The university used “she” and my full name.

          It made me feel really disenfranchised that the uni did that, and my supervisors looked really uncomfortable in that space too.

          1. Wren*

            Edit to add: my pronouns are she/they. I prefer that people try to use they when they can, but I’m okay with she in spaces that aren’t queer safe.

      3. Parakeet*

        I use they/she (if I have the real estate, “they/them or she/her”) and I’ve never had anyone expression confusion (though if they did I’d be happy to answer). People grasp that it’s shorthand (and my work signature block has the longer version). I work at a heavily queer/trans workplace so I wouldn’t expect anyone to be confused about it there anyway, but I haven’t had a problem with it in cishet-normative spaces where people are otherwise aware of and amenable to the idea of stating pronouns, either.

      4. Sweet Christmas*

        We have a lot of people at work who identify this way, and most people interpret it to mean that either set of pronouns is fine.

      5. Nyx*

        Can I just put “use my name” in the place people are putting their pronouns? Like Jane Doe (just use my name) instead of Jane Doe (she/her/hers)? I am cis, but have had bad experiences with men at work saying “SHE” instead of my name, especially when I am the only woman in the room. I become she or her instead of my name. In this respect, I do not like being forced to put my pronouns in emails. Plus, I tend to want my work, like my freelance, to speak for itself because people will judge your gender, not your work at times if you put “she”. It is sexist yes, but it is real life.

    2. DataGirl*

      This is what I was going to say, I’ve seen she/ they or he/ they. From a personal perspective my afab adult child uses she/they because they are non-binary, but don’t mind people using she. Of course each person has to decide for themselves what they are comfort with, and OP shouldn’t feel obliged to provide any pronouns if that’s is what they are now conspiracies with.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I also use she/they — I’m more sporty-female than you describe yourself, but I find “she” confining and get really itchy being lumped in with “women.” (And I’m 56, you’d think I’d have figured this out by now!). Because I’m in Canada, sometimes I put she/they/elle — like I’m female-adjacent but not quite settled on it. I feel you. It’s COMPLEX and evolving. I guess I consider myself genderqueer but not quite in the territory of non-binary, in the sense that I tend to look pretty female and don’t hold the same risks in the world that truly NB or trans people do. So she/they/elle. I hear you.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Membership in queerness is not defined by risk, danger, or appearance. It’s defined by your desire to identify with a specific word. If non-binary is a word you want to use, good news! You’re non-binary. If it’s not, then all good.

          1. Fieldpoppy*

            I tend to agree with you — I’ve been out as queer since 1987 ;-) — but there is something about the way the people in my life (and there are many) who identify as nonbinary have experienced the world as more gender non-confirming than I have, and I tend to want to respect that experience and not feel like I’m ‘horning in’ on it somehow, like claiming a kind of oppression I haven’t experienced. (Experienced as queer, yes, but not because of my perceived gender, not the way more GNC people in my life regularly have). But I may actually just be skittish about it for reasons I can’t yet articulate.

            1. max*

              Can I gently push back against that framing? It still seems like you’re centering the identity of nonbinary around experiencing oppression. Speaking as a nonbinary person, the implications that nonbinariness must always coexist with pain, and that my identity is only legitimate if I’ve suffered enough to ‘earn’ it, actually feels kind of upsetting. I would much rather have people see “nonbinary” as an expansive umbrella that they’re welcome to get underneath if they feel like it. I promise, there’s room.

                1. Divergent*

                  Thirded! Nonbinary isn’t even a single category, exactly… it’s just not solidly in one or the other of the binary genders 100% of the time. That includes all sorts!

                  If the goal is a world where associating with nonbinary genders doesn’t traumatize people (this is my goal) we absolutely can’t exclude people for not being traumatized /g

    3. Rainy*

      Yeah. I’m in the same boat. I’ve gone back and forth about pronouns and I just don’t know anymore, and it feels pretty uncomfortable to be required to define it for other people when I’m still not sure myself. I like that I work somewhere that people pay attention to this stuff! I dislike that there’s an expectation that I should have it all figured out and then define it for everyone so they can be comfortable.

      1. Meh about pronouns*

        Same! Also, there isn’t room in an email signature for “Gender is a social construct and I hate gendered language!”

        It’s not safe for me to be out in all aspects of my life, and I don’t want to have this conversation at work. I don’t have the energy to constantly explain this to people either. I don’t want to share this with external clients, either. Ugh.

        “Reluctant she/her” isn’t really professional either… :)

        1. call me whatever you want, just don't make me think about it*

          I’m not really nonbinary, I’m just a nonstandard woman who is uncomfortable with the idea of femininity and doesn’t really “click” with other women. I have long hair and a uterus and I wear dresses regularly, “she” is a perfectly acceptable description of how I present to the world. But I don’t like it.

          I’ve been strongly considering adding “no pronouns” to my signature to avoid the issue, but that would be a whole discussion in itself.

    4. rc*

      I was coming here to also recommend she/they! I’m a they/them, fwiw. And I literally have one coworker who uses my pronouns correctly, despite correcting everybody all the time for years in a liberal east coast university.

    5. Anon Y. Mouse*

      I’m with you, SO Much of this email could have been written by me, and I’ve been in a number of situations where everyone was told to introduce themselves with their pronouns, to the point that it would have felt weird not to, and I PANICKED in those moments. I’ve registered for well meaning events where they REQUIRED it on the registration form and I struggled to find a way around it.

      I’m AMAB and generally have a male gender expression, though more because of having the bloody hell beaten out of me as a gender non conforming kid than natural inclination. I don’t really feel connection to that male gender though.

      I tend to avoid putting it at all in signatures etc because I’m still working it out, and thankfully I’m not in a prominent enough position for it to matter and I fly under the radar.

      1. Gender Not Given*

        I can totally relate. AMAB, don’t care what people use for me, but really hate needing to pick a pronoun. I wish there was a way to signal you’re cool with using whatever pronouns people want but don’t need to draw attention to your own.

    6. Like, Totally Anonymous, Man*

      I also don’t have any advice, but just want to hop into the thread to offer another voice of support and commiseration. Almost everything in this letter could currently apply to me and I’ve been really struggling lately with what to do with my evolving understanding of myself. It’s something I’d like to share by using “she/they” as my stated pronouns, but I’m not sure either of those (or any neopronouns I’ve encountered) are actually correct for me.

  2. OceanDiva*

    I was recently in a meeting with someone who had “all pronouns ” with their name, which I had not seen before.

    1. Been There*

      oh I like this! My best friend uses she/them but I know that they would rather be referred to as they/him. But I’ve also known them as She for the entirety of my life so it’s sometimes confusing to others.

      1. Meep*

        I use she/them online because I want to help normalize using the singular they and people may not know. I only really care when people call me “he/him” with the intent of being a bigot (in which case it is obvious).

        1. Nonny*

          I use any/they/them online mostly for anonymity reasons. I like “they/them” specifically because it feels more respectful to the fact that someone doesn’t know, but at the same time I don’t really care as long as its not intentionally malicious (i.e. I’m assigned female at birth, perceived as female by society standards and share the same struggles of other people who are perceived as female in this society and have a solidarity with them because of that, but personally feel more genderless as I feel like gender doesn’t or shouldn’t really have a purpose in society. Expression is just expression to me)

          1. Keyboard Cowboy*

            I’ve recently started preferring they/them online for anonymity reasons as well, and I think my general feeling about gender aligns with yours, so thanks for posting – this was really affirming for me to read.

        2. Happy Pride*

          I feel the same. It’s the intent to be insulting that’s the problem, not the pronouns themselves. My gender is irrelevant to literally everything except reproductive healthcare, and I’d love it if we as a society could move away from caring so damn much about it. If you like dresses, or long hair, or short hair, or pants, or makeup, or no makeup, you do you regardless of what’s under your clothes. It shouldn’t even be a blip on anyone’s radar. It’s a source of frustration to me that it is. I don’t care what pronoun you use for me; I care when you use a pronoun for misgendering bigotry performance. You could even be using the “right” pronounce for said performance, I would still get angry.

          n.b. I have zero attachment to my own gender, to the point that I have very little grasp of what gender IS (as opposed to gender expression, which is a different thing). I don’t “feel like a man/woman/agender,” I don’t know what that’s supposed to “feel like,” because there are MUCH more important aspects to who I am (artist, partner, friend, cat parent, etc.). Does that make me NB? I have no idea. Gender nonconforming, certainly, since I definitely don’t conform to traditional gender expectations.

          I feel for the OP. I’m currently working for a corporate behemoth that encourages declarations of pronouns, and would be VERY uncomfortable if this were forced upon me. It feels like performative corporate wokeness, to be blunt. I’m sure they wouldn’t bother if it didn’t help them market themselves (both to customers and job candidates), and I don’t really wish to be tokenized in this way.

          1. Just graduated*

            Would like to add one caviot here since everyone experiences this different – for me, as a trans person, both the intent and the actual pronouns do matter a lot. Getting calling the me wrong pronoun feels like a gut punch, even simple slip ups give me insight into the gender the person really sees me as. This is not to make anyone feel bad for messing up, but to help explain why pronouns are so important

            1. Happy Pride*

              Yes, agreed. “I feel” statements are a declaration of my own experience, not anyone else’s.

            2. E*

              I don’t think this is exclusively a trans experience. I’m a cis woman who has a lot of angst bound up with being consistently misgendered as a child due to clothing choices my parents made, and I think if someone called me ‘he’, I would probably burst into tears. (with that said, I’m consistently misgendered over email by international students, but that doesn’t bother me because they are going off my name – I also frequently fail to correctly identify gender by name if it isn’t a name I’m familiar with, but can thankfully check in our system to avoid insult!)

          2. Queer Earthling*

            My gender is irrelevant to literally everything except reproductive healthcare

            And actually that’s still irrelevant, since gender is distinct from sexual organs.

            1. Happy Pride*

              Eh, I can see an argument that it’s relevant for those who are transitioning / have transitioned. If you need gender confirmation therapies, your gender will come up. You’re right that gender doesn’t come up as a topic of conversation between me, personally, and my doctors. We stick to talking about the organs.

            2. Brandy E*

              Ye, it certainly is. However, if for example you present as male, prefer male pronouns, etc. a health provider may still need to know your birth sex is different to properly care for you. So I suppose that the gender is nobody’s business but the birth sex is important here….but that’s a very sensitive thing to communicate.

            3. Hamish the Accountant*

              Eh, well, being a trans man who is 8 months pregnant and went through IVF to get here… I really would have appreciated it if my reproductive healthcare providers up to this point paid more attention to my gender.

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                Congratulations! I’m sorry your doctors were not careful about how they spoke to and about you.

              2. Queer Earthling*

                Congratulations! I apologize for overgeneralizing as well; I’d intended to communicate that gender != sex organs but i worded it poorly/flippantly.

          3. Tech editor by day*

            Well said! I wish we didn’t have gendered pronouns; that artifact of English makes gender take on a bigger role than it merits.

            I say I don’t care about my pronouns, but my *adjectives* are “silver” or “white,” not “gray.”

          4. Jenn*

            I’m AFAB and I assume I am b/c I don’t hate it. But with modern feminism stating that any biological woman can do/be anything or anyway they want…why does my gender matter?

            1. Brit*

              Because being a biological women isn’t the same as your gender and people’s gender identity isn’t to do with wanting the opportunities of a different gender.

            2. Cedrus Libani*

              I’m in the same boat – made it to age 30 before I realized that people could identify with their gender, and it wasn’t just internalized sexism, it was some kind of body-integrity neurological hard-wiring. My brain doesn’t have that feature. I suspect that’s more common than people realize. But there are those who need me to see their gender, and it costs me very little to honor their preferences, so.

        3. tamarack "I'm a woman, but 'they' is perfectly fine" fireweed*

          I was also about to put she/them on the table. It’s low-key, if the LW doesn’t want to push any envelopes. Even a non-trans lesbian like myself has played with the idea of putting she/them on a label – because I’m truly ok with being addressed as they/them and my relationship to my gender is mediated through my queerness in a way that makes “cis” feel a little … flat? I’m cis by default b/c I don’t presume to be trans.

          Or even she/they/he . Not volunteering any explanations, and if anyone makes a remark, they could just shrug and say “I am fine with any of these, really”.

          This is notwithstanding what Alison says about companies needing to be thoughtful about this sort of thing. Do not push anyone out of the closet, and check that your initiatives actually make marginalized people, including people on the fence and not out in the open, more welcome rather than less.

          1. Aerin*

            Another one coming in to suggest she/they. I’ve seen it used both by people who do have a preference for one of the two but won’t get upset by the other, and by people who genuinely don’t care that much or haven’t made a firm decision. I’ve also seen it used by people who identify as NB, people who are ambivalent/fluid, and people who are cis but run in the kind of circles where “they” is common. If someone asks you what you mean by it you can go into as much or as little detail as you like. (“It means either is fine” is a sufficient answer and doesn’t have to reveal much about yourself.)

          2. Sweet Christmas*

            I was also coming to suggest she/they – but only if the LW feels comfortable sharing any pronouns.

      2. Mad Harry Crewe*

        I guarantee if you use male pronouns with this friend you will make his week. Just do it. Who cares if it’s confusing to other people.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Sorry, to clarify – IF you know that he would actually like it or wants it. If you’re just guessing, then definitely check first.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I have a coworker who’s pronoun line in their signature is “Anything goes.”

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Not my intention, but if you’re a fan, there’s a lot of pretty good covers on the soundtrack for “De-Lovely” – I love Sheryl Crow’s minor key (I think) rendition of “Begin the Beguine” :) /off-topic

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I really like this. I haven’t been pushed into putting a pronoun line in my signature, but if I ever am this is what I’d use.

        I have a feminine name and I’ve been called female pronouns my whole life, and that’s fine. I’ve also been called by male pronouns on occasion, which is fine too. And I’m okay with gender neutral “they.” I just really don’t want people thinking about or calling attention to my gender at all…. which includes thinking about which pronouns to use.

      2. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

        I like that! Kind of reminds me of those awesome restroom signs — “Whatever, just wash your hands.” Maybe something like that could be modified for email signatures! “Whatever, just be respectful.” (Needs some workshopping!)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I had never seen or heard of those restroom signs, but awesome indeed and well-worth the google image search.

        2. Sweet Christmas*

          My favorite is the one that blends the signs of many genders and says “we don’t care.”

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s where I was going, though I was going to call it “pan-pronouns.”

    4. Anonymous Hippo*

      This is what I was going to suggest. If you don’t have a current preference, are you ok with any and all?

    5. Nora*

      Yeah I know several people who indicate “any pronouns”. I’ve also seen “she/he/they” in various orders.

    6. Manders*

      I have been using “Pronouns: Any” in places where it’s required or strongly recommended, and that’s been working for me so far. It’s a little frustrating to be pushed to be out when I haven’t figured things out for myself yet! I do think a lot of these diversity initiatives are working with the assumption that everyone’s born with a perfect understanding of their own gender and no one has a moment of doubt, needs to stay closeted for safety, or goes through a period of questioning and change.

    7. Cake, yes please*

      Ooh, I like this, although I’m worried I couldn’t get away with it. I’ve concluded I’m gender apathetic – I really couldn’t care less what gender people think or don’t think I am, and I don’t think of myself as any particular gender OR as non-binary or anything – I just think of myself as a person, and I super resent having to pinpoint myself as anything, or even think much about it to be honest. However, I’m AFAB with a feminine name and very mainstream feminine presentation, which makes me worry that anything I do other than stating my pronouns in a very conventional fashion will come off as bigoted or sarcastic. I struggled with what pronouns to list in my email signature as well, and finally landed on she/they, which I guess is sufficient for work but also not quite accurate.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Your (non)gender is valid and real. Queerness isn’t only for people who look “queer enough” and there is no correct way to do gender nonconformity. You don’t owe someone a performance in order to qualify for your preferred pronouns, whatever they are.

      2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        I’m in the same boat — gender apathetic or agender — I’ve never seen myself as female (except during pregnancy/nursing and that was hella dysphoria for me) but I am AFAB and female presenting, and have never explicitly had a problem with people using she/her pronouns for me, though I am also ok with they/them but not so much he/him because it feels performative to me.

        1. ampersand*

          It’s encouraging that other people feel this way! I’ve mentioned before in a weekend thread/conversation that I feel similarly—I’m AFAB, I identify as female, I’m not typically girly by any means, and I don’t give it much thought until it comes up in conversations like this but I don’t really identify with being female (or male, or anything really). I think gender has been forced on us for so long and in so many ways that there’s an expectation that it is a super identifying characteristic for just about everyone, though as I hear more people discuss it, I’m starting to think the reality may be different (and YMMV of course). I felt weird for a long time because I don’t strongly identify with being female—it’s seeming like maybe that’s more typical than I thought and I’m not totally an outlier. Even if I’m wrong and there are only like five other similar people and you just all happen to be here in the comments, it’s nice to know y’all are out there!

          1. Happy Pride*

            Same here. From the way people talk about it (when they talk about it), it always seemed like other people invariably experienced being really strongly attached to their gender (whether assigned at birth or not) as a core identity thing, so I thought I was like some rare mythological beast or something. (Maybe that can be my gender: manticore. XD )

            I’m sort of relieved to know I’m not alone here.

          2. Alict*

            Chiming in to say I’m also on the “gender apathetic” train and it’s nice to see others. I’m AFAB and fine with she/her, but also not particularly gender confirming and… I just don’t care? Gender seems so important to so many people and I just could not care less.

            I grew up being punished for not being AFAB the “right” way (ie, a traditionally feminine woman) and sometimes the contemporary pressure to pick a gender feels like the same animal in slightly different skin. Let me live my liiiiife

            1. Despachito*

              Seven :-).

              Actually, there are very few occasions when I considered my gender relevant or important, and as someone has mentioned, I have always thought about myself primarily as a PERSON.

              I find many stereotypical things related to gender highly annoying (because people assume that you will like/know this or that just because you are of a certain gender, and call me old-fashioned, but I have always felt some reluctance to engage in one-in-one activities with a person of the opposite sex because it might have unwanted sex connotations, and I hate that.

          3. Ellie*

            More than five! I default to she/they for the same reasons, I’d rather think of myself with no gender at all, but being a naturally feminine looking woman, who’s married to a naturally masculine looking man, if I omit the ‘she’ it just confuses people and provokes a lot of questions. This is annoying since the whole point is that I don’t want people speculating on my gender. I just want to be me. I’d rather have no pronouns, but when I’m forced to list them, she/they gets me closest.

            1. Eliza*

              I’m not in quite the same situation as you but I can relate; as an AMAB trans person who lands somewhere between female and non-binary, the first thing I want is for people to not see me as a man and the second thing I want is for people to not make a big deal of my gender, and sometimes those two goals are at odds with one another; “she/they” does seem to be the most effective option for what I want overall, if I have to list pronouns in the first place.

            2. Elli*

              This is where I am too, I am married to a very masculine man and I look fairly feminine, if not massively dressed that way, and am very neutral about being referred to a woman as the first part of my identity. It is a secondary part of me and I am dodging pronouns like the plague just now. I don’t see why I need to tell everyone I am female.

          4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            I have to say that yours and the comments after you give me life and help me feel less alone.

    8. Dragon_dreamer*

      I use “Any” if pressed, being genderfluid. There’s always a chance of someone being right at any given moment.

    9. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That’s kind of where my child is now. She was using she/they, but has always been flattered if someone uses he. And finally she said, whatever people see when they look at me, that’s what they can call me: he, she, or they, don’t care.

    10. not a doctor*

      Reminds me of a friend who says, “My pronouns are he/him, but you can really call me whatever the f*** you want.”

    11. KoiFeeder*

      I’ve done “just don’t call me it/its” and “Roger Rabbit style: whichever pronouns are funniest” before.

      Honestly, though, I’ve never found a pronoun set I actually have any positive feelings about hearing in reference to me, the best emotion I get is grudging acceptance. I’m pretty sure I forgot to download the gender software and just don’t have one.

    12. Ace Up My Sleeve*

      This comment thread has been incredibly validating to read, just to realize I’m not the only one thinking like this in a workplace setting. I’m AFAB with a (sometimes annoyingly) feminine name, and I have a fairly feminine presentation overall. But I always feel a little squicked whenever coworkers in my all-women cohort and majority-women department greet me with “Hey girl!” or “Hello ladies!” It’s meant with good intentions of course, and I guess they have no reason to suspect anything else, but having my gender presentation pointed out to me first-thing in an interaction always feels “off.” I don’t list pronouns in my email signature or on Zoom because I’d just as soon prefer my gender not be thought about. I’ve debated going by a more neutral or masculine-coded nickname at work, because sometimes my given name is grating. Most days, I’m fine, but on a bad day, just hearing my name once and thinking about how cutesy or girly it is can distract me for hours (obviously, that doesn’t help me focus on my job). I’ve felt so conflicted that I don’t want to risk outing myself at work, and I don’t want to give my coworkers the wrong impression or change how they approach me. But seeing other people here talking about how they’ve navigated gender apathy or nonbinary/agender identity in the workplace makes me feel a little less scared and alone.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Ooooh, thank you, that’s given me a little insight as to what specifically bothers me about gendered references. I’m AMAB, and I don’t mind being referred to with he/him/his, but I’ve decided to list my pronouns as he/him/they/them because I….just don’t care, and I don’t think others should care. I’ve never felt particularly or specifically male, and I have no attachment to the term, although in general and without subtext, I don’t usually mind the label “him” any more than I do any other. Specifically, I guess I’m uncomfortable with intentionally gendered spaces and references as they are intentionally exclusionary, as you mention.

      2. Divergent*

        Oh goodness, a huge amount of my gender angst would disappear if I never heard the phrase “ladies” used in reference to a group I’m part of ever again. It should *not* be a default in a professional setting (ladies’ night, ladies’ clubs, ladies’ bathroom, anything. Ugh)

        1. Happy Pride*

          I found some peace with the terms “ladies” or “women” after I came to view them as terms for a solidarity (and/or political) group. Women group together because women have to cope with sexism, and activism to dismantle sexism (especially systemic sexism) requires working in groups/working in solidarity. So for me it became less of a gendered term than a term for an oppressed class: “Women” is the group that has the common experience of having been subjected to sexism.

          But yeah. I was in my 30s before this happened.

          1. Alict*

            I also think the rise of “ladies” has been a way for people to stop calling adults “girls”. It’s certainly *better*, but normalizing gender-neutral collectives like “y’all” is imo more ideal

            1. Katy*

              “Y’all”, “all”, “folks”, “friends”, “comrades”….there are many great alternatives out there. In the restaurant industry our focus for years was avoiding the term “guys” (which I personally find pretty gender neutral, but I understand why another might have a very different perception of the term!) I haven’t thought much about “ladies” – despite being female myself – but I’ll be tempering my use of that term now as well. Thank you for mentioning that!

          2. Rhoda*

            Completely agree. I think there are more connatations to the word ‘ladies’ than to ‘women’, with it’s associations of class and femininity.
            (Shame there isn’t an upvote system for the lurkers).

          3. Despachito*

            I think that what would make me find peace with the term “ladies” would be if it became devoid of all the stupid connotations and expectations and prejudices usually connected with feminity.

            And it certainly depends on the tone, but I see it more often than not as a divider telling me that I am in a different boat that a significant group of other people, based on assumptions which are often completely off the target, while I think that apart from our partner lives, which are of course very important but by far not the only part of our interactions with the world, we – women and men – are most of the time ON THE SAME BOAT as HUMANS. The more the world changes towards this perception, the happier I will be.

    13. SeekYou*

      Similarly, I had a coworker who stated “pronoun indifferent” when we were asked to share our pronouns as part of our introduction.

    14. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      I know multiple people who say “any pronouns are fine” in form fields, email signatures, etc. It’s a 100% valid way to go.

    15. quill*

      I see that sometimes… sometimes with people who are trying things out, sometimes with people who have explicitly said “I can afford to be flexible (and it’s much easier for people to not make assumptions when I’m a screenname and a cartoon cat.)”

  3. Person from the Resume*

    LW, would it be less fraught (allowing you to avoid the conversation about it) to offer as your pronouns “she/her/they/them” or “she/her/they/them/he/him”?

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      I’m not the OP, but I would feel more confused if I was told or saw in email that their preferred pronouns were “she/her/they/them/he/him”. I think that obfuscates and has the potential to seem like OP is being trivial or joking about preferred pronouns. We know they aren’t, but I think it risks having to have more conversations about pronouns, not less.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        +1 on confusion. If I saw that, I’d compose my text extremely deliberately to avoid using any pronouns whatsoever, because for each case (as in declension), there’s a 2:1 chance the one I pick will be wrong.

        1. JB*

          I really hope you understand that when people give you multiple pronouns, they’re not asking for an unusual declension.

          The idea is that you pick one from the list and use it normally. If they list their pronouns as ‘she/he/they’ then all of the following are correct:
          She went to the store to buy her favorite soda.
          He went to the store to buy his favorite soda.
          They went to the store to buy their favorite soda.

          I’m growing tired of this confused assumption that trans people are, I suppose, inventing new grammar for fun, and expecting something like ‘She went to the store to buy he favorite soda’.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I really hope you understand that when people give you multiple pronouns, they’re not asking for an unusual declension.

            No, I didn’t mean any new cases or using pronoun forms outside their conventional case, and I apologize for the impression that I had. I get that he, she, ze, and they are all nominative, his, her, zi(r), and their are all genitive, him, her, zim, and them are all accusative, and that what little declension English still preserves would perform the same. What I meant is that seeing “he/she/they” doesn’t tell me if one is preferred, or another is mostly tolerated, or if they’re all equally fungible within the case. He could come first from vestigial convention, or alphabetics, or preference, or indifference. Human beings have an almost boundless capacity for nuance, and I want to get it right–or at the very least not get it wrong.

            That’s the whole point of providing others the pronouns, that they be used correctly at the given circumstance and grammatical context, right?

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              Agree- that’s where I would be confused- I’d be unable to tell at a glance which is preferred, so would avoid any usage to avoid causing pain to the person. But at that point, the long list is obscuring more than it’s helping.

          2. Delphine*

            I have seen folks saying that if someone’s pronouns are she/they, then both must be used and people shouldn’t pick one and use it exclusively. This was in the context of writing articles. So, “She went to the store to buy her favorite soda. While they were there, they picked up some chips. Then she went home.” So I think Sola’s point is important.

            1. Catherine*

              This is definitely an individual preference that needs to be checked with the person in question, though. I have they/she pronouns listed but “she” is really only there as a concession to convention. I find people who switch about/on me irritating.

    2. But Does That Fit?*

      I definitely see where some folks would find that a bit confusing, but I’m more focused on a different part of this suggestion. Between statements like “The thing is … I don’t know what I am.”, “my relationship to gender is ambivalent at best”, and “It feels like I have to either lie or come out of the closet, when I’m not even sure what to come out as!”, it feels very likely that LW is running into the same problem that plenty of folks who fall on the agender spectrum encounter with mandatory (or effectively so) pronoun sharing.

      The suggestion of “would it be less fraught to offer as your pronouns [insert defined lists]” might be helpful if any of those fit, but it hinges on the assumption that anything fits. Between “Friends and family use female pronouns because I’ve never asked them to do otherwise.” and “Right now my colleagues all assume I use female pronouns because my name is feminine. This works for me; it requires no active intervention on my part and allows everyone, especially me, to stay focused on work.”, it sounds like LW is in a boat that is very familiar to me (I run into the exact same problem with this whole normalization of pronoun sharing evolving into an expectation).

      I’m getting the sense that LW is also in a position where assigned-at-birth pronouns functionally work because decades of effectively being trained to respond, but actively claiming those pronouns very much Does. Not. Fit. in ways that introduce a ton of internal conflict. Claiming a broad range of options would, in such a scenario, fail to address the actual issue at hand.

      I certainly don’t have a great solution (if I did, I’d be using it at my own workplace), but I certainly feel for LW if my reading is correct. Not having a gender identity that fits right easily reads as a false positive for intolerance of gender diversity and such to someone who doesn’t actively pay attention to queer identities and the concept of gender as a spectrum (and even to some who do pay attention to that). It basically leads to having the simultaneous conversations “No, see, that doesn’t fit me, you’re actively anti-including me when you force me to do this and that sucks.” and “Yeah, I know it looks like I’m anti-gender-diversity, but that’s not actually the issue here, it’s actually just an even more complex framing than the one that leads to doing this pronoun thing in the first place.”, and having to have both of those conversations at the same time (often in realtime during the situation where the topic is coming up because you’re expected to have an answer right then, so added pressure there) is just lousy.

      It’s awesome that Alison’s response indicates a clear understanding of the issue at hand. That’s definitely a refreshing change of pace from the (perhaps too frequent) responses that I can best describe as consistent with someone assuming bad faith when an individual doesn’t have an answer to “What are your pronouns?” readily available.

      1. Martin Blackwood*

        Yeah, personally I’ve been sort or in awe of all the comments so far offering alternate pronoun options when LW clearly isn’t comfortable with including any, or with coming out at work! When you dont have an answer to the “what are you” question, the last thing you want to do is invite questions. I’m with alison this time, biting the bullet and talking to management is the best options

    3. ele4phant*

      I’m CIS, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think this would be confusing (wait, what do you want me to use? What does this mean?), and might make me wonder if the person was perhaps mocking the whole concept.

  4. hellohello*

    One helpful phrasing I’ve seen used in workplaces is “what pronouns do you want used in this space” instead of straight up “what are your pronouns.” That allows people to know what pronouns to use at work/during a meeting with clients/etc. without asking anyone to make a grand declaration about their gender identity now and in the future. It doesn’t solve all the issues the LW has, but I’ve found it helpful to ease some of them at least while still creating a space where sharing pronouns is normalized so people don’t get misgendered.

    1. BethRA*

      ““what pronouns do you want used in this space” ”

      I would love to hear from trans/NB folks on this – it certainly seems like a workable (or at least better) solution to me, but I’m cis so that’s easy for me to say.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        As an extremely queer person, it’s better than the alternative. I’ve actually started using this construction when I’m asked – “for the purposes of work, I use female pronouns” – and that’s better than making what feels like an extremely untrue blanket statement, but it’s still not something I love when it’s in the context of a mandatory “go around and share your pronouns” kind of deal. If someone asks me one-on-one, I feel seen because they cared enough to check, and I feel like that answer provides a fair amount of nuance or indicates that the situation is different outside of work. If it’s a meeting and everybody’s just expected to do it… it’s not great, even if I have a phrase that doesn’t completely plaster over the complexities of my relationship with gender.

      2. JB*

        It is mildly effective to ineffective at best.

        I don’t want to use female pronouns at work. I WANT to be recognized as a man. But in our current political climate, that’s still a dangerous proposition. Asking me ‘what pronouns do you want us to use in this space’ and making me say ‘she/her’ is a reminder that I am being pressured into the closet on pain of violence.

        1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

          This is where I am as well. I would like to be out at work, but I’m not comfortable being so. At least not to the point of making that kind of declaration. (I am actually out to a few coworkers, or semi-out.) I don’t want to *have* to put pronouns in my email signature or officially declare them, no matter the wording.

      3. Lucien Nova*

        As a trans man, who does use he/him pronouns (and briefly flirted with they/them before I started transitioning), I would absolutely appreciate that question. It’s far less blunt, which could come off as less rude to those who are unsure, and doesn’t assume you have got a specific set of pronouns picked out. Good option.

        1. Lucien Nova*

          (Caveat given, of course, that there are those who would still be uncomfortable with this because it’s still pushing them to pick something – I’m afraid I haven’t got a solution to that and I’m sorry I didn’t bring that up in the initial reply. I think I need more caffeine.)

      4. Sunny*

        Trans person here. I would have been much happier with this in the “I don’t know what I am, I’m just not comfortable actively identifying as female” phase – it’s easier to work with “for purposes of this class/assignment/etc., ‘she’ is best” than “I use ‘she’ pronouns, which clearly means that I am female”.

        (I will now actively select “he” pronouns when given the option, so also, be open to these things changing.)

    2. TallTeapot*

      But then the person has to answer! For many people, they have an easy answer, but I think for LW–this would be agony. In every interaction they would have to give an answer to the pronoun question, which they don’t have any easy answer to.

      1. hellohello*

        It’s not a perfect solution, but on the flip side not creating an explicit place to share pronouns often leads to trans/non-binary people being the only ones who share pronouns, which also stinks. This is a hard issue because there are a lot of competing needs, so often times you’re teasing out the best options among imperfect answers.

        (And of course, the most important thing above all is to have an actually inclusive and supportive workplace rather than token gestures. If you’re demanding pronouns but not taking real steps towards supporting and protecting LGBTQ+ employees then you’re going to cause more harm than good.)

        1. Gender Nihilist*

          The solution here is nametags. If you have a group of people who don’t know one another and are meeting for the first time, or a situation with a bunch of new people who need to be introduced, give everyone a nametag, explicitly state that people are welcome to put their pronouns as well as their names, and let people make up their own minds.

          Personally, I find the whole, “But I’m such a great ally because I’m a cis person sharing my pronouns, which are not an uncomfortable or complicated or difficult subject for me!” routine frustrating and performative, though I know that there are some trans people who feel differently, which is why I usually just let it go. But it makes me very angry when other people more or less demand that I, someone who has a very fraught history with my gender identity and presentation, and for whom the whole pronoun game is frankly triggering, join them in a pronoun and gender identity round robin when I’m only there because my job requires me to be there, and I’m just trying to attend this meeting or team building exercise and move on with my life. I don’t want to be Gender Nihilist the Nonbinary Person or Gender Nihilist the Person Who Can’t Figure Out Their Pronouns to my colleagues. I want to be seen as a professional person who has their act together and is taken seriously. It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re left stumbling and nervous over your own pronouns in front of your bosses and coworkers. Companies and managers, however well-meaning, need to stop doing this to us, especially while gaslighting us by claiming that it’s “inclusive” (and thus implying that we’re NOT “inclusive” if we feel ambushed by it).

          1. Elliott*

            I have very mixed feelings about the practice. One, I absolutely agree with what you, the OP, and many others have said about putting pressure on people to out themselves or make a declaration that might not feel natural. I can definitely relate to that for a number of reasons. When I was first realizing I was non-binary, I didn’t have strong feelings about pronouns. Then when I was starting my career, I wasn’t sure how out I wanted to be. Now I’m contemplating using masculine pronouns, but since I’m AFAB, don’t pass as male, and doing know if I necessarily identify as a man or not, I expect that trying to do this at work would introduce a lot of confusion and awkwardness that I’d rather avoid.

            But also, while I do like normalizing sharing pronouns as long as it’s not forced, I haven’t found that it really makes much difference in how much I’m misgendered. Some people are great. Others continually use female pronouns for me even when my Zoom name has “they/them” on the end, and then I have to decide whether to correct them. While I’m all for cis and cis-passing people sharing their pronouns, I feel like efforts at inclusion often stop there. People feel like they’re being aware and inclusive, but there’s a difference between happening to get someone’s pronouns right because they use the ones you would have assumed are correct and getting it right when their pronouns aren’t what you would have used by default.

          2. Slipping The Leash*

            I’m a cis woman, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But I think there is an advantage to the cis-iverse stating their pronouns, without performative ally fanfare, when appropriate. It normalizes the fact that gender identify should not be assumed, a concept that will slowly but surely filter into the minds of most people, including lots of bigots, so that eventually routinely taking care to use the preferred pronoun is just unquestioned basic manners. Someday.

            1. Slipping The Leash*

              Edited to add: But of course I have no idea what it feels like to deal with this turmoil on a personal level — I can only see it from the political/strategic standpoint. All of you out there wrestling with your own sense of identity or fighting the mighty uphill battles with our hidebound society — you have all my sympathy!

            2. Hamish the Accountant*

              While I appreciate your perspective, I’m not sure how cis people displaying their pronouns normalizes the fact that gender identity should not be assumed. Since the pronouns of most cis people are going to be, well, what you would assume based on their appearance and name.

              1. Gender Nihilist*

                Yeah, this. I suppose it’s nice if cis people state their pronouns in that it can be a signal that they’re affirming of trans people (hopefully, anyway), but if I’m the only trans/gender nonconforming person sitting in a room full of cis people who are all giving binary pronouns, that doesn’t actually do anything to help me feel less uncomfortable or more safe saying, “Just call me by whichever pronouns, I don’t mind.” Because the cis people are risking nothing by giving those pronouns. They’re not revealing anything remotely as personal or making themselves anywhere near as vulnerable as I am when I’m asked to do the same thing. Especially when it’s happening before a meeting that has nothing whatsoever to do with LGBT or gender issues.

      2. Gender Nihilist*

        Person in a situation very similar to the OP’s, with feelings very similar to the OP’s, and yes, this. It is a better option than being the pronoun police and demanding that all of us trans and gender nonconforming types trot out our gender story for an assembled mass of our colleagues, but ultimately, it’s still putting us on the spot and forcing us to a) pick a pronoun and b) share it with everyone. I understand making space for people to share pronouns if they want and trying not to other trans and gender nonconforming people, but this IS othering a lot of us. We just suffer in silence and talk about it amongst ourselves, because the last thing we want is to have to try and explain any of this to our overwhelmingly cis managers or coworkers. It really is humiliating, and every time I see the issue of pronouns brought up in a work context by well-meaning people, it makes my skin crawl.

        My suggestion would be nametags. If this is a big enough space with enough people that don’t know one another that sharing pronouns is necessary, give everyone a nametag and state while doing so that anyone who wishes to is welcome and encouraged to add their pronouns.

        1. Tau*

          Also in a similar situation to OP’s – my management haven’t pushed the pronouns issue but I live in fear of them deciding to start – and agreed.

          Honestly, the whole “but in an ideal world nobody would ever assume other people’s pronouns” argument doesn’t hold water to me. We don’t live in that world, and most workplaces are a million years away from it. Closing your eyes and pretending we do is a luxury not everyone can afford.

          1. Gender Nihilist*

            Right? Quite frankly, there are times where it is to my benefit for people to make certain assumptions about my gender and for me to just… let them do that. It can make me safer, and it can make both parties more comfortable in a situation where my gender identity is not and should not be the focus. And I know from talking to colleagues who are in situations similar to mine that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

            My current company recently announced a pronoun initiative, but they did it by saying, “Hey, we’re happy to ship badges with pronouns on them for anyone who wants them, but this is voluntary, so do whatever your comfortable with,” which I thought was perfect. I work with someone else who’s very gender nonconforming, and we talked about our mutual relief that this wasn’t required (and neither of us opted to get badges with pronouns). I’m all about supporting the trans community, not least because I’m part of the trans community, but a lot of times, this feels like it’s more about giving cis people a low stakes (for them) opportunity to pretend that they’re doing something really Big and Helpful when it’s really not.

            1. Tau*

              Yeah. Plus, I don’t actually hear people talking about me in the third person that much? I can go quite some time without ever hearing a third person pronoun attached to me at work? So not being out isn’t ideal but it’s the best of a bad lot of options, or it is unless people start insisting I add my pronoun to my Slack display name. At that point I’d have to talk to HR.

              I’m all about supporting the trans community, not least because I’m part of the trans community, but a lot of times, this feels like it’s more about giving cis people a low stakes (for them) opportunity to pretend that they’re doing something really Big and Helpful when it’s really not.

              This is 100% the feeling I get off my company. Easy way to get some inclusivity brownie points and make motions towards making the company more trans-friendly. It’s been very noticeable that not a single one of the people who’s shared pronouns has shared anything other than the apparent binary ones, and although I haven’t actually talked to anyone about it I suspect that the support for trans people among the rank and file is… not great.

              1. Gender Nihilist*

                Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel- I’m not often in a situation where someone is referring to me by third person pronouns, so what do I care what they call me? I’m in a job where I deal with the public, so I get both “sir” and “ma’am,” and I do occasionally overhear someone referring to me as “he” to my coworkers (who will correct them, which I appreciate, but I’ve told them that it’s not a big deal to me). It just is what it is- like, I know how I present. I didn’t just wake up looking super androgynous by accident. And however people opt to interpret that, so long as they’re treating me with respect and dignity, is fine by me, especially when they’re strangers that I’ll probably never see again.

                And yeah, I have yet to see anyone in my company use anything but he/she, either, despite everyone going all-in on the pronoun stuff. I totally related to the OP about how, if they were to use “they/them” pronouns in the workplace, they would be the only person in management doing so. I’m not a huge fan of “they/them” for myself for various reasons, but even if I were to go with it as the easiest way to signal my nonbinariness, I wouldn’t want to be the only they/them in my whole (large) company, because I don’t want to be the one people come to with Gender Questions and treated as the sole representative of what nonbinary is or looks like. I do think that the company, as a whole, is very LGBT-friendly for a larger, mainstream corporation, and we do have out trans people in fairly high level positions within the company, which is great, but I suspect that may also be why they handled the thing with pronouns on badges in a pretty sensible, non-pressuring way.

            2. biobotb*

              So then are you OK with people just assuming your preferred pronouns, or using any pronoun they’d like when referring to you? And how does society square your attitude with the messages that have been given about how hurtful and othering it is to assume and use the wrong pronouns for people?

              1. Martin Blackwood*

                It’s the sort of situation where theres no one answer, like, strangers asking my pronouns often make me feel like a deer in the headlights, but a coworker one on one asking me feels a lot more thoughtful, etc? I find when I have to include pronouns it makes me just wish I could pass and for people to assume correctly. Personally, I’m resigned to not passing, so wrong pronouns are an inevitability, so I’m not especially hurt or othered by it

                1. Gender Nihilist*

                  Yeah, I would find it much less awkward and unnerving for a coworker to pause in a one on one conversation to say, “Hey, by the way, is ‘she/her’ okay with you?” than I find it when some cis person stands up in front of a group of employees and is all, “AND NOW LET’S ALL GIVE OUR PRONOUNS OKAY.” Especially when I can look around the group and see that I am the only gender nonconforming/ambiguous-looking person in the room, then have that confirmed as every single person gives binary pronouns. Hell no, I’m not going to get into the vagaries of my gender in an environment like that. I’m going to give “she/her,” feel super uncomfortable, and keep it moving so the spotlight is no longer on me.

              2. Tau*

                In general, if I’m not offering my pronouns I’m saying I’m fine with you going ahead with whatever, and if that changes it’s on me to raise that. With the addendum that chances are we’re in a space where it would raise some serious eyebrows to use anything other than “she/her” with someone who’s presenting female, clearly in the possession of breasts and hasn’t stated any other preference, which is the whole reason I’m not coming out as nonbinary.

                And how does society square your attitude with the messages that have been given about how hurtful and othering it is to assume and use the wrong pronouns for people?

                …by the fact that I’m clearly willing to run the risk? And that as hurtful/othering as being misgendered can be, it’s still better than outing myself in a potentially hostile environment?

                The problem is that the world is messy, and hostile to trans people in about a thousand ways. There just aren’t any perfect, clear-cut ways of handling this that will work in all situations and never cause pain. Everything depends on context, and even in one context you may encounter competing needs. All you can do is try to do the best you can or at least find the least bad option, listen to what people say and course-correct as necessary. Trust me, I wish there were easy answers here too. :/

                1. biobotb*

                  I mean, I guess I’m still sort of confused because it sounds like people listing their pronouns *are* trying to find the least bad option, and there are plenty of people chiming in about how burdensome *that* option is to them, and they wish people wouldn’t, and implying that people doing so are being thoughtless. Is there room to assume that people listing pronouns are applying what appears to them to be the least bad option, knowing that it can’t suit everyone, but still trying?

                2. anonymath*

                  biobotb, I think that the message is that “people should do what seems the best or least bad option to them” and also “they shouldn’t assume it’s the same for others, so let people do what they wanna do”. That’s all.

                3. Tau*

                  ? No one in the thread you’re replying to here is saying that stating your pronouns is bad or burdensome? We were talking about not stating our pronouns, at which point you came in and asked how you were supposed to handle that given that misgendering is bad. I have zero objection to anyone stating what pronoun they prefer? My objection is to asking other people what their pronouns are, or making people providing their pronouns mandatory in some way.

                  Seriously, I’m having trouble making sense of this comment as a response to what I said and this thread as a whole?

                4. biobotb*

                  Guess I’m confused by your confusion, since your comment suggested listening to others and finding the least bad option, and I was referring to others’ comments as I understood them. Anyhow, there are other people whose comments I’ve read on this comment board who have pushed back against *other* people (not just themselves) listing pronouns, so my question was where that leaves people who were trying to support yet other people who *do* want pronouns listed. Yet other comments dismissed the pronoun listing by non-trans people as performative and not true support (again, paraphrasing based on my understanding of their comments).

                  What I was trying to learn more about was how do you feel/react if someone (or maybe a group of someones, since we’re talking about employers here) chooses an option that supports someone else, but not you, given that your objections are different than others’ objections?

                  I’m not arguing for making people state their pronouns. I would hate to put people on the spot, but I also want to avoid misgendering anyone, and it seems like there are going to be situations where only one of these values can be served.

                5. Tau*

                  Ah, OK, see how that could be confusing. I meant “listen to people” pretty broadly, not so much specifically to the other threads going on, and in particular was thinking that if you know any trans people at your job listen to them over internet strangers. But that was absolutely not clear – sorry!

                  You’re right that there are competing access needs, hence my comments about it being messy. However, I think there’s still two general guidelines to follow:
                  – make it as easy and comfortable as possible for people to share their pronouns with zero pushback or fuss
                  – make certain people can opt out of sharing pronouns without any pressure or implication as to why
                  These will obviously often conflict but IMO it’s still often possible to work towards both, or figure out which one is most at risk in a given situation and work towards that.

                  I’m not arguing for making people state their pronouns. I would hate to put people on the spot, but I also want to avoid misgendering anyone, and it seems like there are going to be situations where only one of these values can be served.

                  I’m not clear here if by “avoid misgendering anyone” you mean that you’re concerned trans people who want to be out won’t feel comfortable sharing if you cede too much space to people not disclosing pronouns, or if you’re worried about us closeted/non-pronoun-sharing folk?

                  If the latter… seriously, you don’t have to feel guilty about misgendering people who actively don’t want to give you the tools to gender them correctly. I’m well aware that if I don’t give my pronouns at work I’m going to be misgendered all the time. I’ve decided it’s preferable to being out in that context – and I’m the one who gets to make that choice. This is similar to how I expect any of my friends who know I’m nonbinary to use “she” to refer to me if they happen to speak to my family. In terms of badness, I find nonconsensual outing significantly worse than misgendering.

              3. tamarack "I'm a woman, but 'they' is perfectly fine" fireweed*

                With all due respect, you seem to be operating from rather reductive assumptions. There are other options – people could check in if they didn’t get a cue about pronouns (“is ‘she’ ok?”).

                I think Gender Nihilist has this one right. Creating space for people to unfold whatever their gender expression and identity are does not require badgering everyone into a particular form of pronoun performance.

                (Up to now I was wondering if I am maybe a slacker as I’m not one who relentlessly puts out my pronouns [I’ve been using she/her as people would assumed – I’m also out as queer] in every Zoom meeting. But I think I’m gonna continue being a force for higher entropy in this area.)

                1. biobotb*

                  Not totally sure what you mean by reductive assumptions in this case. I’ve seen other comments about people not wanting to be put on the spot with questions about their pronouns. It just seems like every option has the potential to really, really hurt someone. Ask for pronouns could put someone on the spot, and also may tend to highlight whether the asker thinks they’re gender non-conforming or not (since it seems like people who will get the pronoun question will be more likely to be gender nonconforming–so assumptions based on the asker’s ideas of gender are still being made). Don’t ask, likely misgender people.

              4. Gender Nihilist*

                I mean, yes? I don’t particularly love “they/them” (although it doesn’t hugely upset me, either), but I’m routinely referred to as both “she/her” and “he/him,” and as far as I’m concerned, whatever the speaker wants to assume to make my gender situation make sense in their head is fine by me. I don’t particularly care which one they use (or it may be more accurate to say that I’m equally uncomfortable with all of the pronoun options, because none of them feel completely “right”). If forced, I’ll give “she/her,” since that’s what I’ve been using since I was a kid, and I’m used to it, and I’m frankly lazy and disinterested in having long conversations with passers by about my gender, but at the end of the day, I’m meh about pronouns in general. The only time I can imagine myself really pulling someone up and telling them to never, ever call me that again would be if they tried to refer to me as “it,” because that’s deliberately dehumanizing and an obvious attempt to be nasty and transphobic.

                As far as how “society” squares my attitude, maybe “society” should consider just… not obsessing over gender all the time? Create space for people to give their pronouns without making it mandatory? Ask someone about their pronouns in a low-key way (i.e. not as part of some elaborate presentation in front of a huge group of strangers and/or coworkers) or give them the option to put them on a name badge or similar if they want to? Get comfortable with gender ambiguity? Hell, I don’t know. And even if I did know, “society” isn’t likely to take direction from little old me, anyway.

                At the end of the day, it is not actually my job, as a nonbinary person, to fix society writ large (and society’s attendant gender issues). It is not my job to make myself vulnerable, especially in my workplace, to satisfy other people’s curiosity or need to feel validated, particularly cisgender people who have no idea of what my gender history is or why I would feel supremely uncomfortable discussing it with them. It is not my job to speak for all trans people- I can only speak for myself. But this comments section has been enlightening, because I always assumed I was a bit of an outlier on this issue, and it’s clear from the discussion here that I’m not. Clearly, this is something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, so maybe cis-dominated companies and spaces should take that on board and consider whether their efforts at inclusion, when it comes to gender identity, are actually all that inclusive, especially when they become coercive like this.

          2. Sunny*

            In my ideal world, people would 100% assume my pronouns. I assume other people’s pronouns all the time. When someone shows up in a dress and introduces themself as Sally, they are clearly putting in an effort to present as female and assuming they want “she” pronouns feels like I’m trying to respect that. (There’s less of a way to telegraph “I am presenting as male”, but I do my best.)

            1. e*

              This idea really isn’t so great for gnc women and men. It actually really sucks to be a gnc woman and have people refer to you as they/them or he/him purely because of your interests and the way you’re dressed.

        2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I honestly mean this and it comes from an agender person who has just never bothered to switch from she/her pronouns because frankly I don’t care what people refer to me as (though I would prefer not ‘it’, though I did know someone in college who used ‘it’) since it has no bearing on the ‘inner me’ or ‘real me’.

          Isn’t the issue with pronouns on nametags exactly the same as pronouns in emails — that some people will do it to prove allyship, that others will not be comfortable, that some won’t include them because they think it’s “stupid,” and that people will STILL misgender people? I guess I just don’t perceive a difference, but I also understand that while I’m NB/A, I still use my AFAB pronouns so I’m probably not a target audience.

          1. Gender Nihilist*

            As I stated below, I don’t know where the impression is coming from that I object to pronouns being given ever, at all, by anyone. I don’t. I object to this culture of coercion that has cropped up around giving pronouns, particularly when, as is often the case, it’s enforced indiscriminately by cis people in positions of authority. There’s nothing wrong with a company sending out an e-mail saying, “Hey! This is optional, but if you want to put your pronouns in your sig, feel free! Here’s how to do that,” just as there’s nothing wrong with someone handing out nametags at a meeting and saying, “Oh, BTW, you’re welcome to list your pronouns on your nametag, but it’s not mandatory if you’re uncomfortable doing that.” This is not the same as what often happens, which is an initial e-mail saying that people can put pronouns if they want, followed by additional, increasingly forceful e-mails hectoring people to include pronouns, implying or saying outright that if you don’t include pronouns, you’re not supportive of trans people or are otherwise doing something wrong, et cetera, et cetera.

            Likewise, there is a huge difference, at least for me, between having the option to jot my pronouns down on a nametag IF I WANT TO and being put on the spot in a room full of people (usually a room full of cis people, where I’m the only gender nonconforming person there) while someone demands that I give my pronouns while a bunch of strangers look at me. I’m not here to be some kind of weird sideshow exhibit, I’m here to do my job and hopefully be treated as something more than my gender identity or my sexuality. Especially when the workplace in question does little or nothing else to include trans people and meet our needs, whether that’s in terms of healthcare coverage or bathrooms or whatever else.

            If people choose not to list pronouns because they think it’s stupid, as opposed to because they don’t want to out themselves or just aren’t comfortable, I could not possibly care less, because unless they’re overtly saying that they think it’s stupid or otherwise disparaging trans people, the presence or absence of pronouns on someone’s nametag has no bearing on my life. If I’m really worried that I might be using a pronoun they don’t like, I’ll ask them about it privately and in a low-key way, not loudly and in front of ten or fifteen other people.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              No, I get that! I’m sorry if I came across as saying I didn’t. I was strictly meaning in terms of pronouns on email vs. pronouns on nametags, since some people seem to think they are different and I guess I don’t perceive that, it is probably just my overly-literal mind.

        3. pancakes*

          Wouldn’t optional pronouns in signatures be the large-company equivalent of name tags, though? In a multinational company or firm or whatnot with hundreds or thousands of employees, people frequently need to be in contact with other people they’re not meeting face-to-face. Wearing a name tag seems like it would only be useful for people meeting face-to-face.

          1. Gender Nihilist*

            I don’t know why people seem to think that I take issue with anyone giving their pronouns. I don’t. I take issue with everyone being forced (or compelled through strong peer pressure/being voluntold) to give their pronouns. If individuals make an individual decision to put pronouns in their e-mail signature, cool! Go for it! I do not want to get repeated e-mails from corporate or HR or whoever about how everyone “should” put pronouns in their sigs, or how doing so is the only/best way to show support for trans people, or “friendly reminders” to add my pronouns to my signature after I have chosen not to do that. Likewise, if someone hands out nametags and says, “BTW, if you want to put your pronouns on, feel free, but it’s not required,” and there’s no heavy-handed hinting that it is, in fact, required, or signaling that people who don’t want to put pronouns on their nametags are somehow wrong or secret transphobes, I have no issue with that. It’s the coercion, especially coming from cis people, to which I’m objecting. Not people telling other people what their pronouns are as a concept.

            1. Properlike*

              Gender Nihilist, I think most of these summaries of the conversations are not directed at you specifically. It’s such a multi-threaded, internested, wide-ranging topic with a lot of different responses that I can’t track who said what, but it’s safe to say that there is no one right way that works for everyone here. Whether cisgender, agender, genderfluid, or trans, we’re all bringing history to the conversation, and some of it is very painful, particularly for those who have faced (or continue to face) consequences for noncompliance with the old expectations.

              I do appreciate hearing all the different perspectives. We do seem to be shaking out to the conclusion: don’t make it mandatory. No one’s going to get it right all the time. Seek to be helpful and not do harm, even unintentionally. I’m so grateful that this topic is being discussed here!

              1. Gender Nihilist*

                “Gender Nihilist, I think most of these summaries of the conversations are not directed at you specifically.”

                The comment to which I replied referenced name tags, which was the central point of my initial comment, so in this case, I think they probably were responding to me.

            2. pancakes*

              I didn’t say or intend to suggest that I thought you take issue with anyone giving their pronouns. There seems to have since been a bit of a pile-on about this, which is unfortunate, but when I asked this question, I just wanted to point out that name tags wouldn’t do much good in my workplace, and wanted to know what you’d prefer instead, or in addition to them.

      3. AthenaC*

        Would it be workable to respond with, “Whatever comes out naturally”? In a way de-emphasizing pronouns for oneself without affirmatively identifying with pronouns that one doesn’t want to affirmatively identify with?

        1. Gender Nihilist*

          If this is directed at me, if I’m fine with any/all of the three major pronouns, then they’re not repeatedly misgendering me. I literally do not care how they refer to me, especially since nine times out of ten, I won’t even be in the vicinity when they’re calling me by whatever third person pronoun they choose. I work with the public right now. In the course of a day, I am inevitably referred to as both “he” and “she,” and I’m sure people have referred to me as “they,” as well. All of those are fine- I can’t remember the last time I corrected someone for using any of them, because the act of correcting them (usually followed by awkwardness and apologies) is way more cringey for me than whatever pronoun they picked.

      4. rubble*

        I don’t think they meant it should be asked constantly whenever you meet someone new! I think they were suggesting that as a wording for an initial email inviting people to include pronouns in their email signatures or whatever else the company might use. it’s still not good if they then pressure you to answer the question, but if it’s just asked once it’s less demanding or invasive than “what are your pronouns?”

    3. CmdrShepard*

      I think the “what pronouns do you want used in this space” is a great way to look at it.

      I am cisgendered so take the rest of what I say for whatever it is worth. You say “Right now my colleagues all assume I use female pronouns because my name is feminine. This works for me; it requires no active intervention on my part and allows everyone, especially me, to stay focused on work,” in a way she/her pronouns are already in your signature they are just invisible/assumed. I think I can see where you are coming from that actively putting (she/her) makes it seem that you have decided this is who you are or who you are pretending to be. But maybe you can reframe it as this is what fits best for now, and if you feel that different pronouns at a later date fit better you can change them?

      Do you think you would feel comfortable and could get away with just adding your name as your preferred “pronoun?” CmdrShepard (CmdrShepard)

      1. Queer Earthling*

        I’m trans nonbinary and while I don’t know if this is a perfect solution for this individual, I do think there is something to be said for, you know, “This is what I’m using for now and it can change.”

        My understanding of my own queerness, including gender, has evolved a lot and will probably continue to evolve. I was she/her for a long time; I’ve recently switched to “she/they” and I’m starting to like “they” more but not enough to be upset when folks use she/her. Maybe down the line that’ll change! When I note my pronouns in my signature or elsewhere, they’re “as it stands now,” not “this is me and this is the end of the story!!!!”

      2. DumbassLesbian*

        I much prefer “Are there any particular pronouns that you would like used in this space?”, to which I can simply answer “not really”
        The follow up to that in my mental utopia would be “would you prefer just your name, or are any pronouns good?”

    4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yes to this, and thank you for using that wording! I also like “what pronouns should we use for you in this space?”

      Also, if someone in a group asks what my pronouns are, I’ll respond “you can use she/her today” or “she/her will work,” to turn the question into something it doesn’t make my stomach hurt to answer.

      LW, I’m in a similar space about my pronouns. I don’t really feel comfortable with the discussion that using “any/all” at work would bring but while I have no problems with people using “she/her” to me, I myself don’t prefer any pronouns. I do not want to be made to define myself by them.

      So… so far I just haven’t put them in my signature. It’s not my favorite solution but until my work is ACTUALLY inclusive, not just trying to be, it’s going to be that way. You can’t get to inclusivity if you sacrifice people who are questioning or in the closet on the way there.

      I did go to our diversity coordinator with feedback similar to what hellohello said above, and it has helped! I hope you’re able to do something like that.

      If nothing else, I hope it helps to see how many of us are in the boat with you.

    5. PlainGrayLady*

      Doesn’t this imply that it’s a choice / want though? When in reality, people are born this way. My AMAB coworker likened asking what pronouns they “wanted” to use as similar to the term sexual “preference” in the 1980s. I think we all recognize now that preference has always been a deeply offensive way of describing sexuality.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        I didn’t realize “preference” was an offensive term; my understanding was that it applies in situations where one leans more toward certain genders (for example) than others. I will make sure to keep this in mind for the future.

        1. tamarack fireweed*

          Well, the framing of “preference” was used to stop digging deeper, and looking at, like, *rights* for LGBT people. Offensive is the wrong term –

          All the same, let’s not over-interpret. If someone is asked if I they the chicken on rice or the veggie lasagna, they’re not going to answer “I can’t eat gluten, so it’s not that I *want* it, it is that I *need* it”. One can still use the word want in a loose, everyday manner without implying anything deep about the nature of free-choice preference.

          I went through the choice wars WRT sexual orientation on the 90s internet and what I came out of it is that there are many quite different things we can use the term choice for. “Sexual orientation is not a choice” means it’s not like “hm, dessert options are strawberry cake and mousse au chocolate – which one will it be?”. All the same I’m quite attached to the concept that my choices, and my going for certain ways of entering romantic relationships, impacted the kind of sexual orientation identity I have today, and that if things had gone differently I could have ended up with a different label. (But I didn’t. And I deserve the same rights and recognition as a straight-partnered person.)

      2. Metadata minion*

        I think it’s more complicated than that, though. Gender isn’t necessarily innate and unchanging (which doesn’t make it any less important! No, your trans kid probably isn’t going through “a phase”, but if they are, their current gender is still valid.), and while me using they/them pronouns isn’t a choice in that I woke up one day and said “aha, I shall be nonbinary now!”, I did make a choice that they/them was how I wanted people to refer to me.

        I think a better comparison than sexuality might be names — someone might prefer to go by their full first name in one context, and a nickname or their middle name in another. If a coworker says “call me Jonathan”, it would be really rude to go “nope; I’m going to call you Johnny” even though Jonathan is expressing a choice about how he wants to be referred to in the workplace.

      3. hellohello*

        I think there’s a difference between “what are your preferred pronouns”, which implies pronouns are a choice rather than just a fact about you, versus “what would you like used here”, which speaks to function rather than identity. Because some people do use different pronouns at different times, and some people use pronouns that don’t accurately describe them because they are not out yet/don’t feel safe using correct pronouns in a specific space/are still figuring things 0ut/etc.

      4. nnn*

        If the use of the word “want” is an issue, an alternative wording could be “which pronouns should we use for you?” or “which pronouns should people use for you in this space?”

        This boils it down to the very practical fact that sometimes people need to refer to you using pronouns and/or in other ways that involve grammatical gender, and it would be useful to have the necessary information to do so correctly.

        1. Allypopx*

          “What are your pronouns?” is the typical phrasing, but I think you raise a good point that sometimes people use different pronouns in different spaces and “what should we use in this space” can recognize that.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            Personally, as an agender but AFAB and she/her pronoun user, “What are your pronouns” feels like asking “What are you” and honestly I don’t like that, though I don’t make a big deal because others don’t have an issue with it.

          2. tamarack fireweed*

            The point of the OP is that the reification of “your pronouns”, especially in spaces where not everyone is out or wants to be out or feels they can be safely out, is oppressive too.

      5. Bon Voyage*

        I would absolutely avoid the term “preferred pronouns” for the reasons that you’ve indicated. I don’t think it’s off-base to acknowledge that at least some people may have different priorities regarding how others address them in different contexts, and so the “in this space” (or “at the office” or what have you) is key.

        In teaching situations, I’ve asked my students (through questions on an optional, online “about you” form) how they’d like me to address them in the classroom and how they’d like me to address in formal communications (i.e., with their advisors or the head instructor). I’ve had a small but non-zero number of students who have requested different pronouns for different contexts. And all students have the option to decline to answer, too.–I know that I really hated feeling put on the spot about pronouns as an agender but assumed-cis person.

        1. CmdrShepard*

          Is the issue the prefers is implying that it is a singular preference? So that if a person prefers he/they, that means they always want to be referred to as he/they in all situations? But isn’t have certain priorities in different situations/environments still what someone prefers? In the office a person prefers this he/they, with friends they prefer they/them, etc…?

          1. Elliott*

            I think the issue with “preference” in this context is that it’s common for people to see being trans/non-binary as a choice, and view people as being their gender assigned at birth. For example, I’ve seen language like “Jane says she’s non-binary and uses they/them pronouns” more than once.

            I personally do see the pronouns I use as a preference, but I’m cautious about wording it that way because of the possible implications. Especially when talking about other people.

            1. dx*

              I also agree with pronouns essentially being a preference (separate from gender identity, which I don’t consider a preference). My preferred pronouns are not the same as my pronouns.

              I prefer people use she/her because it’s easy and I’ve got enough on my mind without having to talk about gender identity. They are not the pronouns I identify with: they’re my pronouns of convenience, and they serve that purpose well.
              I would like being asked what pronouns I prefer. It feels like a better question than what pronouns I have.

              (On a secondary note, while I don’t feel dysphoric when people call me she/her either because they’re assuming it’s correct or because I’ve told them to – I would be bothered if I asked people to use other pronouns, and they purposely or accidentally called me she/her. I’m also choosing to avoid that experience.)

          2. Bon Voyage*

            I think it’s that the phrase “sexual preference” was used to dismiss LGBQ+ sexual orientation as merely a “preference” (whereas being straight was just seen as the default, and not a choice at all). “Preferred pronouns” brought very similar language to gender identity, which wasn’t great. It implied that non-cis people chose “preferred pronouns” (while cis people’s pronouns–and genders–were treated as immutable fact).

            I think the conversation is moving past that–gender identity is not the same as gender expression is not the same as pronoun use–but phrase “preferred pronouns” still carries that older legacy.

      6. Bubbles*

        Not a choice or a want, but situationally dependent. Some people, like your friend, may find that their pronoun use doesn’t change; cis people would find that! But some of us find ourselves more comfortable with different pronouns in different situations. I’m fairly femme in appearance and cheerfully accept “she/her” at work, but default to “they” online–and sometimes “he” (and other masculine words) in non-work contexts! That’s part of *my* identity, as a genderqueer person.

        This is one of those situations where it’s difficult to find a one-size-fits-all approach.

      7. Rusty Shackelford*

        But isn’t “what do you want me to call you” just the baseline respect that everyone deserves? Isn’t that a choice people should get to make? They’re not asking “what gender do you prefer to be.”

        1. anonny*

          Exactly. Maybe nicknames is an analogy? I am “Jenny” with people who knew me before the age of 5, “Jen” with personal friends, and “Jennifer” at work. Those are all part of my identity but I do have desires about what I’m called in different contexts that I want honored. If we work together and you call me Jenny I am going to correct you.

      8. JSPA*

        Something can be a necessity for one person, and a preference for another person. One’s preferences lie within the zone circumscribed by one’s identity.

        Furthermore, whether identities (of any sort) are flexible or fixed is also individual. Unless you feel that all [descriptor]-flexible and [descriptor]-fluid identities are fake, you already accept this, on some level.

        Furthermore, someone can have a gender identity even in a culture where language doesn’t have gendered pronouns. Not to mention, people use names of convenience and pronouns of convenience all the time.

        There’s space between identity and language.

        “Identities can be fluid enough to permit more than one set of pronouns, let us know what you’d like to use” is not the same as, “anyone can be comfortable using any set of pronouns.”

      9. Temperance*

        We use “personal pronouns” instead of “preferred pronouns” for exactly this reason.

    6. anonymath*

      I have been trying to practice “Please let me know pronouns if desired” so that people can indicate or ignore. I do like the nod toward “this space”.

    7. Anon Y. Mouse*

      Something I’ve been trying that doesn’t feel perfect, but works for the other end of this (ie as the askee not the asker).

      Something along the lines of, if you need pronouns for me today you may use X

      Because if I decide to use pronouns that would fit people’s assumptions looking at me, it comes off as more reminding folks that gender can be fluid and changing for some folks, and that in many cases when talking to me, they won’t even need them.
      and the you may use part gives the ‘this doesn’t mean this is actually me, but this is what you have permission for today.’

      though sometimes it comes off a bit… passive aggressive?

    8. MT*

      I was coming by to say something similar – I try to ask people what pronouns they’d like me to use for them, making it clear that it’s situation- and relationship-dependent, not necessarily a reflection of their deepest innermost self. Similarly, I vastly prefer they/them, but I also seriously don’t want to get into my gender situation at work for a number of reasons. When the question comes up, I usually say, “she and her are fine for pronouns”, which is true without getting into which pronouns I consider “mine”. It’s a small distinction, but it makes things feel better for me; possibly a similar reframing would work for OP?

  5. Goose*

    OP, this is me to a T. I use she/her for ease of use, but don’t feel like they/them or he/him would be any better fit. Thankfully I haven’t been asked to share my pronouns because it fills me with the same dread you expressed. I hope you are able to work this out!

  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Inclusion should mean encouraging and supporting people to be who they are – but not making it mandatory.

    I’d definitely take it higher or to HR to point out that not everyone is free to be open about things like pronouns because of not wanting to be outed/because they’re still figuring it out and it’s problematic to try and enforce it. It can make people feel really cornered and pressured.

    (My workplace encourages pronouns in emails etc. But doesn’t enforce it. Got at least two staff who don’t put it in their signature)

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I would likely opt-out as well. 1, I mostly don’t care. Heaven knows I’ve been mis-gendered enough times in my life, and the other is hardly an insult. 2, it’s too sensitive to have fun with (I can’t joke about using ille or illa without it coming across as mocking when I have no desire to mock). 3, there’s a je ne sais quois about it where I feel like having it every email and correspondence keeps what should just fade into the status quo front and center. I can see adding them on the first email to introduce yourself, or *possibly* on an org chart, but every email… it’d be like a coworker walking around humming Chicago’s “I’m a Man” or Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman” all the time.

      1. JSPA*

        That’s a good point! I feel a bit taken aback every time I’m (essentially) instructed / reminded to consider the gender of the person I’m talking to, when I’d otherwise conceptualize them with minimal respect to gender (“the wry IT specialist with no time for fools” or “the chipper intern” or “the person who seems to quietly hold the key to institutional knowledge”).

        So often, when it’s two people temporarily working on a problem that needs to be fixed, gender falls in the same, “who needs to know?” or “and why exactly should I care about this?” category as so many other things that may well be essential to a person’s self-conception, but are not automatically work-relevant. I get that for closer associates–the people who might also know if you’re looking forward to a date, are a huge hockey fan, are active in your synagogue, listen to trap *(but ironically), “gender and how I feel about it” is normally relevant early on.

        But for the many people one meets in passing? If your gender and gendered pronouns are super important to you, then I’ll of course make your gender important to me. But flagging that up as a matter of course (simply to indicate that hypothetically it could be something else) seems like it can’t be the best way to indicate, “I support the right of trans, nonconforming, enby and other people to specify their pronouns.”

        Heterosexuals didn’t support gay and lesbian rights by walking around with tags saying, “heterosexual,” to indirectly imply that there were other possibilities.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Damnit, now I gotta get rid of my business cards that just say “heterosexual” on them. But seriously, great response here.

        2. Mockingdragon*

          I was taught that cis allies providing their pronouns was a way to help people not have to come out in order to get the respect they need – so that it isn’t ONLY trans, NB, and other non-cis people listing pronouns. If most of the department lists pronouns, then Riley in accounting who’s a trans woman can list “she/her” without flagging for clients that she isn’t cis. In the same way I’ve seen it requested that straight people use “partner” some of the time instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend” so that a person talking about their “partner” isn’t automatically outing themselves. Does that square at all with your experience?

          1. JSPA*

            My experience is that in less progressive areas / states, using “partner” for an opposite sex spouse or partner is just as likely to confuse the heck out of people (gay straight and otherwise) or even lead them to feel misled, while in progressive urban areas and college towns, partner has not had any gay vs straight connotation for 20 years or more. You can read that as, “it worked, which is why it’s not a big deal,” or as, “that philosophy only works in areas where it’s intrinsically not a big deal.” IMO, if one’s somewhere where one needs “cover,” it’s probably not a safe environment to come out, in the first place. A sea of nothing but she/her and he/him isn’t intrinsically welcoming, especially if the listing is there as policy from HQ in some coastal progressive mecca. I’m not saying it’s always bad! Only that it’s not always as helpful as one might wish it to be.

          2. KHB*

            I have to say, I’ve never, ever heard of the idea of straight people using “partner” to provide cover for people in same-sex relationships. Everywhere I’ve ever lived, “partner” clearly means someone you’re in a serious, long-term relationship with but aren’t married to.

        3. Just @ me next time*

          I think there’s a contextual difference between disclosing your pronoun and disclosing your sexuality. Because of how our language is currently used, it’s incredibly common to use pronouns when referring to someone in the third person. It’s possible to use only a person’s name, but it takes a lot of conscious thought to do so. And I think for many of us, our work involves instances where we need to communicate about a person in the third person. If I need to tell my boss that Oscar reviewed a document, it’s helpful for me to know what pronouns Oscar is comfortable with me using so I don’t use the wrong ones. It’s not 100% necessary, because I could say “Oscar reviewed and Oscar had no comments,” but it makes it a bit easier, because my brain wants to default to “Oscar reviewed and he/she/they/other pronoun had no comments.” So if Oscar has a pronoun Oscar is comfortable with me using, it makes sense for Oscar to share it.

          But there is no work-related reason (and probably no personal reason, either) why it would be helpful for me to know Oscar’s sexuality. There are some jobs where it might be relevant (for example, if a person is experiencing discrimination because of their sexuality, it may be helpful for their therapist to know about it), but even in those cases, I expect an email signature or a name tag is not the best communication channel.

          I think it’s also important to realize that being told a person’s pronoun is not the same as being told a person’s gender. If someone asks you to use the pronoun “she,” it does not necessarily mean that person is a woman. So what you’re really being reminded of when you’re told someone’s pronoun is not what gender you need to conceptualize them as, just what language you need to use when you are referring to them in the third person.

          1. JSPA*

            I’d hazard a guess that a considerable majority of people, cis and trans alike, do presume that pronouns do approximately track with gender identity, if not always in a 1:1 correlation.

        4. Starbuck*

          ” feel a bit taken aback every time I’m (essentially) instructed / reminded to consider the gender of the person I’m talking to, when I’d otherwise conceptualize them with minimal respect to gender ”

          This is a nice point. We also sadly have research that shows “priming” girls to think about their gender before taking a math test can negatively affect their performance (and I’ve heard of similar studies with other stereotyped groups primed in different ways). So it’s ok to not have gender be front and center all the time – but also keep in mind that the status quo of just not talking about it or making assumptions still favors cis people. And that of course pronouns don’t equal gender. Anyone of any (or no) gender can use any pronouns.

  7. Emby*

    Alison, the company does “encourage” people to put their pronouns in their emails, not require. But even “encouraging” through a memo like that is too much. It’s much better for people to just lead by example.

    That being said, I’m not sure what I would do in the managerial role in this case. I’d want to lead by example, but also not share anything that I’m not ready to share (or don’t know myself)

    1. Snailing*

      Yeah there’s a point when the encouraging starts to feel like a lowkey requirement, and almost worse than a straight-up requirement!

    2. JT*

      I disagree. Encouragement is necessary – too many people who have never grappled with gender identity would never think on their own to add their pronouns, even after seeing someone else do it. Or they might think that they’re not allowed, because they aren’t queer. I’m of the opinion that pronouns should be discussed and encouraged – BUT also that nothing is ever made mandatory nor people who choose not the participate judged.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        In my company, hearing that it was “encouraged” was my first inkling that it was actually allowed. But I know there are situations where “encouraged” does basically mean “required.”

        1. Littorally*

          Right. How ‘encouraged’ reads depends on the company. For example, at my firm, I would read ‘encouraged’ more toward the allowed side for something like this, because my industry is straightlaced, formal, and conservative. For the company to say they “allow” pronouns in email signatures would read as reluctant, ‘oh if you must’ sort of thing; to say they “encourage” it would come across much more like ‘we actually think this is a good thing to do if you’re comfortable.’

        2. Meganon*

          Not going to lie, I’m just confused at this point. It seems like no matter what choice a manager makes is wrong.

          Maybe it’s best to just focus on work at work, and leave the rest, defined as “anything not related to deliverables,” for after-hours.

          1. pancakes*

            This isn’t an accurate summary of the comments or of the broader consensus that’s forming around this topic – many people appreciate being given a chance to add pronouns to their signature, but almost no one besides cis people who haven’t really thought it through believe it should be mandatory.

      2. Fulana del Tal*

        But if someone is asked to announce their pronouns and declines, will that be “encouraged and discussed “ until they do so or will it be accepted? Unfortunately their is a lot of judgement especially from allies when people don’t want to announce their pronouns.

    3. JLP*

      I think (cisgender so clearly not that important of an opinion) that the way to ‘encourage’ is to include examples of this in style guides/templates that are shared with folks as they join the company. If there’s a branded way to do it or not do it, it helps. To me, it provides the space to do it if wanted but isn’t requiring it. Just a thought on how examples can help.

      1. ecnaseener*

        If you’re going to put it in a formal style guide, I would definitely flag it explicitly as optional. Otherwise it looks like “here’s the email signature template that you must use, it must include all of these elements”

  8. Xavier Desmond*

    Good advice. A quiet word saying that requiring employees to state their gender identity at work could be counter productive. Assuming they are well meaning (but misguided) that should hopefully be enough for them to rethink.

    1. ThatGirl*

      In my mind, gender identity and pronouns are not necessarily tied together – but I’m also a cis woman, so my experience is not nearly as important as those grappling with their gender or pronouns. Regardless, I agree that this should not be a requirement.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Not necessarily, but the point still stands – if your pronouns don’t match what your coworkers assume about you, then sharing your pronouns is stating *something* about your gender identity.

  9. SNS*

    I definitely think you should speak up to HR and not put your pronouns in if you’re not comfortable, but you also don’t have to stick to one pronoun! I’ve seen lots of people do a combo like She/They before.

  10. ARose*

    I am in the *exact* same boat. I’ve been signing my emails she/they for awhile, just to see how it feels on me and I’m still not 100% there, but I do presentations and basically HAVE to have my pronouns stated in bios and such and it’s… Hard when you’re not sure

    I’ve been trying out “all pronouns” for a bit but it’s still a hugely vulnerable thing. My heart goes out to you OP

  11. Erin*

    I had this conversation with a friend a few months ago and it absolutely needs to be an opt-in situation. I’m happy to include my pronouns (she/her/hers) as a sign of allyship, but certainly wouldn’t force someone who isn’t out at work or just isn’t comfortable with sharing their pronouns to do the same. That’s the exact opposite of allyship.

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely. I also worry that sometimes these things get taken over by cis people who think ‘Oh great! Here’s a way I can show my allyship and be part of something inclusive!’ so you end up with a load of people excitedly putting she/her in their email signatures and one person sitting there thinking ‘well, I don’t want to be literally the only they/them, I’ll stick out like a sore thumb’.

      1. Hamish the Accountant*

        Yep. This is definitely a thing that happens.

        Generally, I’d discourage people from deciding for themselves that they’re allies and/or trying to show their allyship. People who are in the group you’re trying to support can say whether you’re an ally, not you. (“You” generally, not you specifically londonedit!) My experience with people who decide for themselves that they’re allies is that they often cause tough situations like you’re describing, or worse, get mad at trans people for not being enthusiastic about this kind of “allyship”.

        1. Expelliarmus*

          So how do we show our support if it’s not in our place to self-declare as allies? It’s easy enough with people I know personally, but what about with people I don’t know? Not trying to disagree with your statement, just curious for my own reference.

          1. Hamish the Accountant*

            By actually showing your support in situations where it’s relevant. Ex., if you were at the OP’s company, by contacting HR to point out that this policy can backfire and make queer folks very uncomfortable. By calling out friends who make crappy jokes. By participating in phone banks against anti-trans legislation. Etc. Not by saying “I’m an ally.”

            It’s literally the act of self-identifying that is often a red flag. I’m immediately skeptical of people who feel a need to have everyone around them know that they’re an ally. Some are great. Some are people who will buy an “ally” t-shirt, then ask me rude questions about my body and get angry and insulting about being excluded from queer spaces. Most seem to be people who will make an effort to get my pronouns right, but won’t come out to the phone bank. You know? So someone calls themselves an ally… Hmmm, okay, well, I’m noting that you’ve called yourself that, at any rate.

            If you’re in an environment where you think it might be helpful for LGBT people to know you’re a safe person to talk to (high school teachers and HR staff come to mind) I’d honestly suggest just discreetly displaying rainbow stuff somewhere. Get a rainbow mug for your coffee. Or if you’re in a position of authority/a position where it makes sense to do, grab a rainbow safe space type sticker and put it on your office door.

            1. Oryx*

              I agree on the rainbow stuff. I saw a TikTok the other day where a pair of moms went to the playground with their kid and talked about how they look at the cars in the parking lot to see if there are any rainbow or human rights campaign bumper stickers on the cars, letting them know there are families at the playground who are themselves LGBTQ+ or at least supportive. It’s a super simple gesture that is ultimately like a beacon.

              1. Hamish the Accountant*

                Yes, definitely. Bumper stickers are actually another thing I thought about mentioning, especially if your colleagues know which car is yours.

            2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Ok — but again, how is a rainbow flag actually different from pronouns in emails? Maybe I’m not getting it. This isn’t asked to challenge, I genuinely don’t understand how if one is performative, the other isn’t?

              1. Hamish the Accountant*

                Even with a rainbow flag, I don’t think I’d suggest that people just randomly have them in their office if they’re not queer and don’t have any particular reason to think that queer people around them might need a signal that they’re safe. Note that I mentioned high school teachers and HR staff as folks who might have a reason to purposely signal their support.

                But, regardless. I’m literally talking about people “self-declaring as allies” as Expelliarmus put it. Or being eager to “show my allyship” as londonedit put it. I’m not talking about the difference between putting pronouns in your signature or getting a rainbow mug. I’m talking about the separate phenomenon of thinking to yourself “I’m an ally! I’m doing this because I’m an ally! Let me demonstrate that I am an ally!”

                I’m obviously glad that many cis-het people are supportive of the queer community, but I’m confused about why they think they can label themselves as allies or not. The group you’re supporting decides whether you’re an “ally” based on your behavior. And the people who actually say “I’m an ally!” in general do not display behavior that makes me feel supported.

                1. Onyx*

                  Also, announcing that you’re “an ally” sort of seems to go out of your way to separate yourself from the group you’re saying you support. Why not just speak/act in support of LGBTQ+ rights or whatever specific topic is at hand? Why is important to pre-emptively announce that you’re not one of the LGBTQ+ people you purport to support? There are some discussions where it’s relevant, like here when cis people are offering their perspectives but don’t want their opinions to be taken as representing the trans/non-binary people who are the ones affected. But in general, why would it be such a problem for an ally to be mistaken for non-cis/heterosexual that they need to head it off up front?

              2. Mad Harry Crewe*

                When I saw that my then-prospective company had a bunch of people who had pronouns in their signatures/linkedin names, I thought “oh hell, I hope this isn’t required because my pronouns are not that simple and I’m fine with people making assumptions but I’m not fine either outing myself or misgendering myself.”

                When I walked in for my first in-person interview and saw that they had a trans pride flag tucked in a potted plant on the front desk (next to a rainbow flag), and it was no longer Pride Month… I felt safe.

                I’m trying to figure it out and I really think it comes down to pressure on me to out/define myself in a situation that I might not feel safe in. Right now, pronouns in signatures/Slack/Zoom/etc is very common and deviation from the norm (whether that’s not including them when the rest of your company does, or including unusual ones when the rest of your cis colleagues have their assigned-at-birth pronouns in theirs) is noticed and noticeable. In order to participate, I MUST make a call about myself that’s going to be visible from space, or at least to everybody I send an email to/chat with/call with – close colleagues whom I trust to know me pretty well, further out colleagues whom I don’t know and who don’t know me, customers, clients, trans folks, trans allies, transphobes, people who aren’t going to be outright awful but will be vaguely uncomfortable around you for the rest of time, people who think they aren’t outright awful but will ask invasive questions about your genitals, people who Have an Opinion on the whole thing and want to Tell You About It (good or bad, I’m not the forum for that opinion, thanks!)…

                I can’t just put (pronouns) next to my name to check the “participation” box, and anything I say that hits close to truth is INCREDIBLY revealing. Or, if I decide to play it safe, then it’s a really fundamental lie and other people in this thread have said it better than me, but it makes a difference whether I’m allowing a mistaken assumption versus actually speaking an untruth about myself.

                On the other hand, if I (or you) have a trans flag up, it means… nothing, except that I know (a) what the trans pride flag is (yay!) and (b) that I’m comfortable displaying it (double yay!). Am I binary trans, pre-transition? Am I binary trans post-transition? Or mid-transition? Am I nonbinary/genderqueer/nonconforming? Am I married to/dating a trans person? Are my friends trans and I love them? Is my parent or child or other relative trans? Am I just a broad-spectrum ally? You don’t know anything about me, just by looking at that flag.

                Since the point, for a lot of us, is that you can’t know about someone just by looking, displaying a flag is much more in line with those values. I cannot be reduced to pronouns, and you’ll hurt yourself if you try. But I can be represented by a flag.

                1. Littorally*

                  When I walked in for my first in-person interview and saw that they had a trans pride flag tucked in a potted plant on the front desk (next to a rainbow flag), and it was no longer Pride Month… I felt safe.

                  Same hat! I got walked around the office when I interviewed and saw several cubicles with Pride flags/items on display — in mid November. It was an immediate sense of safety and made me very eager to take the job. This is the company I worked for as I transitioned, and their support was really outstanding.

              3. biobotb*

                I’m curious as to the difference myself. How is putting a sticker on one’s car super supportive, but trying to use the right pronouns for someone, and trying to make it normal for people to volunteer pronouns not?

                1. Hamish the Accountant*

                  You should read my response to the comment, because you’re not contrasting the right things.

                2. Mad Harry Crewe*

                  It’s not “super” supportive, but it’s a better way of expressing support than making people feel obligated to out themselves or lie about their identities. I’d invite you to read the longer replies above, by Hamish the Accountant and myself.

          2. Littorally*

            By doing it. It’s not as nice and neat and easy as putting pronouns in your bio, but then, the things that actually constitute valuable allyship rarely are.

            If a colleague says something homophobic or transphobic, challenge the statement instead of letting it pass by. Be an advocate for breaking down gender segregation and enforced gender roles (women’s/men’s activities, gendered dress codes, etc).

          3. Hadespuppy*

            In my experience, listen to what people are asking for, and do that. Declaring one’s self an ally just makes it seem like you’re looking for cookies, but actions speak a lot louder, and are far more appreciated.
            Raise up the voices of the people you want to support, make sure your spaces are inclusive and welcoming, and work on educating the other straight, cis people around you so that queer folks don’t always have to take on that labour.

            That’s what I try to do, at least.

            1. biobotb*

              But if someone is trying to help create a trans-supportive culture at work, but their trans or nonbinary colleagues are not out, how can they listen for what those colleagues want?

              1. pancakes*

                I’m a cis bi woman so please don’t mistake me for an authority on this, but I think there are a lot of situations that don’t require the presence of an out trans or NB person to count as meaningful support. Pushing back on transphobic comments when you hear them, for example, and not supporting transphobic policies or community leaders. Pushing back on policies like mandatory pronouns in signatures at work, like what’s described in the letter – knowing that it might make people feel pressured to out themselves before they’re ready to or feel safe doing so doesn’t require the presence of an out trans or NB person to understand.

                1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                  Spot on! Make the space safe for whoever might be there, whenever the might show up. If they’re already present, then you’re doing good work for your existing colleagues. If they aren’t, you’ll make it more likely that the company can attract queer applicants.

                  But I can pretty much guarantee you, they (we) are already there.

                2. biobotb*

                  But I’ve heard from some people who *want* offering pronouns to be standard, so how can someone know whether supporting pronoun policies or pushing back against them would be most supportive of trans people in their workplace? I think everyone in an underserved community has felt the frustration of someone outside the community just assuming they know best. Like, that’s what’s happening with the pronoun proffering, but deciding to pull back from that could also fall into the same trap, depending on the perspective of the trans people in that workplace.

                3. anonymath*

                  biobotb you seem to be posting the same thing a number of times. Offering pronouns is not the same as forcing pronouns. Offering someone apple pie if they like is different than forcing them to confirm on the record in public whether they want apple pie AT THIS TIME or NOT and then referring to it again and again.

                  The answer is “just chill”. If you yourself are confident in your pronouns and want to share, do so — it is something that *can* signal useful allyship, but is neither necessary nor sufficient in itself. And don’t give people who don’t want to share their pronouns any grief about it. That’s all.

          4. Oryx*

            You show your support through action, not names. Think of allyship as a verb. What are you actively doing to make the world safer and better for LGBTQ+ folks (or any other marginalized community)?

            I’d also ask yourself why it is important for you to be seen and known as an ally versus just quietly doing the work without any titles or acknowledgment attached.

            1. biobotb*

              I mean, why does anyone want to signal that they’re an ally of any group? Probably to make people in that group aware that the person won’t discriminate against them or supports their rights without making a huge announcement? It seems like casual, seemingly low-stakes behavior/comments/actions could signal that without the potential ally having to hunt down someone they assume is part of a specific group just to let them know?

              1. Hamish the Accountant*

                The problem isn’t casual, low stakes behavior/comments/actions. Being a supportive person during those times is great and the correct way forward.

                The problem is literally going around saying “I’m an ally!”, which is usually completely separate from whether that person is actually being supportive of queer people in those low-stakes conversations. Why on Earth would you want to hunt down someone to let them know you’re an ally? That achieves little or nothing for that person. It’s about you.

                1. biobotb*

                  In the comment I was responding to, JB was responding to a question about how do people show support without self-declaring as allies. I was addressing *that.*

                  “Why on Earth would you want to hunt down someone to let them know you’re an ally?”

                  I wouldn’t! My comment was literally about how small, low-stakes *signals* of support are a BETTER option than doing that!

              2. Oryx*

                The casual, seemingly low-stakes behavior/comments/actions IS how you signal you are an ally.

                But feeling the need to declare “I’m an ally!” and making sure people know you think of yourself as an ally comes across as needing and wanting cookies or praise for doing the bare minimum as a decent human being. It centers you in a conversation that isn’t about you at all.

                It’s that whole actions speak louder than words thing.

                1. biobotb*

                  “The casual, seemingly low-stakes behavior/comments/actions IS how you signal you are an ally.”

                  Yes, that was what I said. (“It seems like casual, seemingly low-stakes behavior/comments/actions could signal that…” to be specific.) Declaring is different than signaling, to my mind. Signaling would be the small things that let others know you’re a supportive person without having to have a really explicit conversation, so they could open up about being part of that community IF THEY WANT TO, at their own pace.

                  At no point did I suggest someone should declare “I’m an ally!” I was arguing FOR signaling as a way to be supportive WITHOUT running around declaring oneself an ally.

              3. tamarack fireweed*

                Signalling that you’re an ally is *fine*. It’s not something you deserve huge accolades for, or even a cookie, but in general it’s a good thing … EXCEPT if the signaling itself, or making it a norm, creates an additional pressure on the group you’re purported to help. If you don’t help them, what you’re doing is worthless.

                1. biobotb*

                  OK? I was responding to someone who asked why people would want to signal allyship, so clearly I agree that signaling is fine. I certainly wasn’t arguing for trying to find ways of NOT helping people? My argument was explicitly that signaling allyship is probably more helpful than declaring allyship.

        2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          But it isn’t fair for me to decide that someone is “just an ally” versus part of the community. I’m AFAB, use she/her, and am NB/A but don’t really care how people perceive me in terms of what they use. My partner has her pronouns in her email not because she struggles with gender but out of solidarity and support of ME, and obviously we are queer but that is hard to read on seeing us.

          1. Hamish the Accountant*

            I’m not sure what your point is here. You may be misinterpreting me.

            I’m not saying that queer people can look at others who are calling themselves queer and say no, they’re just an ally. (Note that you put “just an ally” in quotes, but it’s not something I said.) Sure, sometimes misunderstandings happen because not everything is obvious just from looking at people – ex. my partner, who is also a trans man and very involved in activism, passes extremely well and people are often shocked to learn that he’s trans. A number of people have said “I thought you were just a really passionate ally!” Obviously no one is going to say “oh, no, I wasn’t mistaken, you were mistaken, you’re just an ally” or something. That would be ridiculous.

            I’m saying that it’s up to queer people to decide whether cis-het people are allies or not. (Or for people in any X group to decide whether people outside X group are allies.) No one gets to look at my partner and say “nah you’re not really trans.” But my partner does get to look at someone who is calling themselves an ally and say “No, you really aren’t.”

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Sorry – the quote wasn’t to indicate it was your language, just the difference between a dismissive mention of ally vs part of community. I do agree that only queer people can determine if allies are actually allies. My only point/question (and I’m probably not expressing myself well) is this idea that people who use pronouns in their email may be allies, or may be part of the community, and if all I can see is the email, I don’t know which they are.

              1. Hamish the Accountant*

                Okay. I don’t disagree. My comment was a side note in response to londonedit’s comment about over-enthusiastic cis people clamoring to show their allyship. If I see pronouns in someone’s signature I can’t know whether they’re a member of my community, trying to be supportive, or trying to virtue-signal – but since it’s being discussed here, I would discourage people from doing anything where their motivation is just to show that they’re an ally. And from declaring themselves an ally to the LGBT community.

      2. some dude*

        I want to push back on this because the whole reason I put my pronouns in my signature even though I am clearly a cisdude is because my trans colleagues said it was important to them. There are way more cis people than trans people, so of course our pronouns will dominate.

        1. Hamish the Accountant*

          Just remember that trans people are not a monolith. It makes sense to me that your trans colleagues would ask you to do that for that reason and I’m glad you did, but not all trans people have the same opinions on everything.

          Also, gentle heads up that no one is “clearly” a cis dude. If you think think you’re “clearly” a cis dude, you’re probably assuming that you can always clock trans men. I promise you, you can’t.

          1. Tau*

            I think it (share or don’t share as a cis person) depends on context, too. If there are a lot of cis people and hardly anyone has shared their pronoun, it can be valuable to take that step to help normalize the idea of “having preferred pronouns isn’t some special trans-only thing”. But if there are a lot of cis people where a lot of them have shared pronouns, it can be helpful to hold back to help give cover for trans people who don’t want to out themselves or nonbinary/questioning people who are not in a great place for giving pronouns in general.

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            Not that I’m pushing back against you in a harsh way but I read “clearly a cisdude” as meaning that TO HIMSELF, he is clearly cis — as in he has never wrestled with his pronouns.

            1. Hamish the Accountant*

              I don’t think that makes a lot of sense based on context, but I could see it, for sure.

          3. some dude*

            You’re right, I mean clearly a dude. I have male pattern baldness, a beard, dress and present male, and then I’ll go to a meeting and say “i use he/him pronouns.” As if my colleagues are like, wow, thanks doug from accounting, that really clears things up for me because until you said that I was really on the fence about how to address you.

            I’ll go to a meeting of 50 people and everyone has a binary pronoun that conforms to their gender presentation except the one very obviously gender nonconforming person who then identifies as they, and its like, was that helpful to them, or just make them feel like the lone person with their identity? And now we all just started a meeting with strangers and the first thing I said was that I was a man, which is not how I generally would choose to lead in a professional space.

            1. Mad Harry Crewe*

              I mean, if you read this thread you’ll see that this is a matter off deep divide within the community, and there truly isn’t a right answer. I would like to throw it out there that there are people who have male pattern baldness, a beard, dress and present male and aren’t dudes, or men. Queer people don’t need to put on a certain level of external presentation for their experiences and genders to be valid or worth recognizing.

              Yeah, you’re not exactly breaking ground or defying stereotypes, but your colleagues said it was important, and (somewhat tautologically) it’s important that you follow their lead. And I do think it’s actually valuable for someone whose male pronouns match his male presentation to do this, because a lot of the time it’s just queer people and cis (or cis-appearing) women, and there’s way too much to unpack there about fragile masculinity (if you’re asking me to tell you my pronouns, then I must present yet more manlier so you don’t have to ask) and emotional labor (being considerate of colleagues’ needs and aware that this can be a helpful thing to do), but honestly – I do think it’s valuable.

            2. Hamish the Accountant*

              >I have male pattern baldness, a beard, dress and present male, and then I’ll go to a meeting and say “i use he/him pronouns.” As if my colleagues are like, wow, thanks doug from accounting, that really clears things up for me because until you said that I was really on the fence about how to address you.

              This cracked me up, thanks. :D

              Yeah, I don’t think it’s very helpful either. But, it’s all context and individual situations.

        2. tamarack fireweed*

          That’s great, and continue to do it – just be aware that there may be more trans people out there who have additional input to give that your trans co-workers are not seeing. There is no trans or LGBT hivemind – and no one is able to perceive the whole picture, neither the one who says “it would be great if cis people put their pronouns in their email .sig” nor the one who says “ugh, now that everyone – even cis people – are putting pronouns in their .sig it’s pushing me in ways I don’t want to be”.

          *Both* can be right. No one is being an asshole. The world isn’t reducible on 2-3 simple rules.

      3. Tau*

        Or, y’know, management going “we don’t think our workplace is trans-friendly enough, let’s have everyone share their pronouns!” Because who doesn’t want to be encouraged to out themselves in a potentially hostile environment?

  12. scooby dooby doo*

    oy. i wish i had advice but i empathize with you op. reminds me of when my company made this switch and i asked IT to put “they/them or she/her” in my email signature (i’m nb but not out at work & i use both) and they said they could only put he or she so i asked them to not put anything and then the head of diversity personally called me to apologize and it was just this whole weird thing and i ended up regretting doing anything. still do, bc even though they/she is now in my email i am called she 100% of the time lol. anyway i just wish no one had ever asked tbh so i feel you.

      1. scooby dooby doo*

        i think they were directed by the highers-up, but still it wasn’t thought out quite well lol

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I work for the government, and I see a lot of people putting pronouns in their signatures. That’s fine, I just don’t want to do it. I hope it’s never a requirement.

    I get how the OP feels!

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In a social group I belong to, many of us have our pronouns listed as part of our online handles and one person has “any pronouns” listed. That might be an option for you for now?

    Though Alison’s advice to talk to someone and flag this as potentially problematic is a good idea if you feel comfortable doing so.

  15. PrairieEffingDawn*

    I wonder if, when one doesn’t want to make a declaration of pronouns, there’s a way to request just being referred to by one’s name instead of he/she/they. Yes, it could be odd to use someone’s name over and over when a pronoun would work better, but may be more fitting than any pronoun would be.

    1. Brett*

      It might look odd in written communication, but it does not sound as weird as you might think in verbal communication. My co-workers use an enormous array of pronouns (something north of 80 different combinations across three main languages), so I generally just use their names in verbal communication where I don’t have a written guide sitting in front of me. Then I only have to remember who prefers to be referred to by their middle name, alternate name, or surname instead of their first name.

    2. many bells down*

      I do know someone that does this and it is difficult linguistically to refer to that person in conversation. English, at least, isn’t really built that way. It might make a bigger deal out of the whole thing than LW is willing to make.

    3. Librar**

      I have a colleague, Taylor* who has “no pronouns” affixed to Taylor’s email signature and Zoom profile. My workplace is not exactly exemplary from a progressive/inclusive standpoint (pronouns in email/zoom isn’t unusual but there is zero corporate communication about it), but we all refer to Taylor by Taylor’s name. I’ve never heard the type of awkward stumbling that sometimes accompanies they/them pronouns, even when people meet Taylor for the first time or are referring to Taylor without Taylor present. The one time someone asked about Taylor’s pronouns, Taylor said “I’d prefer you just use my name.”
      All that to say, LW, using “no pronouns” might be a reasonable option if you aren’t comfortable applying she/he/they pronouns.

    4. ChemPlantPrincess*

      I’ve got a friend “Pat” who uses Pat’s name as Pat’s preferred pronoun. It took some getting used to, but hey — Pat’s my friend & I want Pat to feel comfortable, so I do it gladly.

        1. allathian*

          It also helps that Pat is a short name. The longer the name is, the more awkward it’s going to sound to use the name rather than a pronoun.

          If you want people to avoid using pronouns and to use your name, pick a nickname that’s preferably only one syllable or at the very most, two. If you use a longer one, even a gender-neutral one like Bellamy or Avery, don’t be surprised if people use either they or the pronoun for whatever gender they perceive you as.

    5. CJ*

      I’ve been on zoomeeteams calls in the last couple weeks with three different people whose declared pronoun preference is “(avoid pronouns)”, so it’s not unheard of. Two of the people identify as agender, and the third doesn’t know what pronouns fit best. It just requires a little sentence juggling.

      1. Momof1*

        I feel like this is the exact situation that they/them was designed to combat originally, but now it has been coopted to mean something specific. I am so on the fence about the whole pronoun situation in general, that I don’t know how to feel about it at all. Like, I’m never present when someone uses my pronouns, so why do I care? And also, they/them is quite useful when you just don’t know. I have always defaulted to it when I didn’t know, like if a repairperson was coming, but I didn’t even have a name to refer to yet, or for a person you don’t know with a gender neutral name. But, I will also just say them because sometimes it’s easier, like when your introducing someone “I’m going to turn the floor over to Sam. Please give them a warm welcome.” Which works just as well if you know Sam is a man as it does if you’re not sure, or if you can’t remember because you’ve never actually met them in person. But, this whole comment section makes me think that that’s not okay any more, so what does a well meaning person do when the gender is unknown, or non-specific? Do we need another gender neutral pronoun to use to refer to people for whom they/them doesn’t feel right? Or is they/them still okay as a placeholder until something more specific is revealed? It’s a minefield out there right now.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          This is one queer person’s opinion, but I think you’re ok continuing to use “they” when you don’t yet know. It’s definitely better than using “he” as the default pronoun. Once you know someone, you should use whatever pronoun they’ve indicated, or ask if you aren’t sure.

          You’re right that “they” is no longer just a placeholder for an unknown binary pronoun – some people identified with that space and decided to occupy it permanently. But I think that would happen with any neutral pronoun. If you create a linguistic space, someone is going to want to get cozy in it. I mean, for example, most people, cis or trans, would be *very unhappy* to be called “it” because it feels dehumanizing to them. But there are people who identify with “it” as a personal pronoun, and that is absolutely their right to do so. You’re never going to be able to find or invent a pronoun that is in common enough use to be understood, but not actually used by any specific person as their personal pronoun.

    6. Dahlia*

      Yeah, you just put “no pronouns”. It’s a little awkward at first but you get used to it.

    7. ecnaseener*

      There’s actually a cool historical precedent for this! The “Public Universal Friend” was an 18th century preacher who used no pronouns at all. Followers shortened the name to “the Friend” or “P.U.F.” instead of using pronouns.

    8. HelenofWhat*

      I’ve worked with someone who didn’t use pronouns. My thought was “that’s tough for me linguistically, but also I admire this person for it.”

  16. Undercover*

    Hey! I’m also an AFAB person who continues to use she/her because gender is deeply personal to me and I don’t want to get that personal with my coworkers… ever, under any circumstances, about anything. Even though I occasionally use they/them in other contexts, I have absolutely no plans to come out at work in the foreseeable future, and I’m comfortable and happy with that.

    That said, one thing that’s helped me get comfortable with this work/personal divide is to reframe the use of pronouns in my head. Instead of thinking “I *am* [pronouns here]”, I’ve started thinking of it as “You can refer to me as [pronouns here]”.

    The language that makes you the most comfortable doesn’t have to pass some sort of objective sorting, and most people don’t want to really get to know the real you, in all the glory and nuance of your gender–they want to refer to you in a way that makes you comfortable, and go on with their day. That’s all I want from them, too.

    1. hellohello*

      Yes, this is exactly how i’ve been thinking of it lately. No one but my close friends particularly cares about my complex thoughts on my own gender, nor do I want them to, but my coworkers do jut need the practical information of how to refer to me during the latest meeting on Boring TPS Report #15. I put she/her in my email/zoom names/etc so that they have the data they need to keep the conversation going smoothly, and try not to think of it as a declaration about the complicated web of my gender identity and expression.

    2. some dude*

      I had a colleague who came out and had this complicated thing about how they might feel one day or another and what pronouns they might use, and I was like….I don’t care. I mean, you are awesome, do you, but in our relationship as colleagues, how you are perceiving your gender identity on a given day is more than I need to know. Just like your thoughts about religion or politics or whether you are a vegan or on a keto diet. I don’t have the bandwith to track it, and it isn’t super salient to our relationship. I can respect that you are gender non-conforming, I can watch how I talk about gender around you to not be stereotypical or exclusionary, but man, I don’t need to know all the deeply personal stuff going on in your head. Which isn’t to say that stuff in one’s head isn’t important, but it is not something the person asking for your TPS report needs to necessarily be involved in.

  17. Macaroni Penguin*

    I feel you OP. I haven’t added gender pronouns to my work email, because I don’t know what to list. Is there an “Any Pronoun Option?”

    1. Brunhilde*

      My daughter says, “I have no pronouns. Do not address me.” Which I personally find amusing. Maybe not so appropriate for work, though.

      1. Hamish the Accountant*

        Yep, I’ve always identified deeply with the “I have no pronouns, please do not refer to me” joke. :)

      2. CmdrShepard*

        I have seen people that actively list “(Any)” or “(She/him/they)” one that I have not seen but wonder if it would work is just listing your name as your pronoun? CmdrShepard (CmdrShepard). If someone just had their name I would just use their name. In some situations such as town halls when I don’t know/remember someone’s name or prounouns I have used “as they were saying (pointing in the person’s direction)….” or “as the speaker before me said….

      3. Queer Earthling*

        A friend of mine (also nb) has recently joked that their pronouns are “I/do/not/wish/to/be/perceived” but that might be a little lengthy for an email. ;)

    2. hellohello*

      I do know people who use “any pronouns are fine” at work! I think it’s an option, though depending on your work culture it may open you up to questions/confusion you don’t particularly want to field. The people I know who work at genuinely supportive/understanding offices seem pleased with it as an option, though.

    3. Macaroni Penguin*

      Heh! Well, I want people to address me. Though it would be tempting to put a paper bag over my head request that people not speak to me.

      I just don’t want to make a big deal about my pronouns. Or list them on a work email. Whatever people call me (typically feminine pronouns) is fine. Though if I was addressed with male or neutral pronouns, that would also be accurate. And yet, it feels that Any Pronoun would just lead to unnecessary confusion or explanations.

  18. Humorless Feminist*

    When forced to declare pronouns, I use she/him/their. Because your perception of my gender is utterly irrelevant to me

      1. A Person*

        I also like this, and I’m a HILARIOUS feminist. I crack jokes all the time. Because shit is funny. (But that doesn’t include making fun of people, because that shit ain’t funny at all.)

    1. KHB*

      So do people usually take this to mean “I completely defer to your judgement on what words you want to use to talk about me in the third person” (which I’m assuming is what you mean), or do they ever read it as “I need you to refer to me using a mix of she, he, and they pronouns, and I’ll get upset with you if you don’t”?

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Generally it’s going to fall on the spectrum of “whatever goes, I don’t have strong opinions” to “I’m not willing to put myself out there and take shit/have my hopes crushed again” to “I *am* putting myself out there and if you pick the non-default ones you’ll make my day” – in practice, that means you get your assigned-at-birth pronoun if there’s even the slightest hint of what that was. This is a source of ongoing frustration for many, many people.

        Queer people aren’t a monolith, and the same external statement can be a stand-in or representation for a lot of different internal truths.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I’ve also seen the occasional “I’d prefer A, but if you hear a mutual acquaintance / my mom / my coworker use B for the love of god don’t out me”

        2. biobotb*

          “the same external statement can be a stand-in or representation for a lot of different internal truths.”

          So how are people outside someone’s head supposed to know which truth it is? Why are people getting frustrated that other’s aren’t picking up on what wasn’t explicitly stated?

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Oh, it’s you. Look, take people at their word. You don’t actually need to know the complex relationship someone has with gender in order to respect their request for a specific set or sets of pronouns.

            You seem to think that you are owed an accounting. You aren’t. Get over it.

            1. biobotb*

              I’m not sure what accounting I claimed to be owed, since I didn’t ask anyone to spell out their internal truths. I asked why they get frustrated when others can’t intuit them.

              Truly, I DON’T want to know the complex relationship with gender that most people have. That’s personal to them and not my business nor relevant to my interactions with just about everybody. I certainly don’t think that a single pronoun sheds much light on personal nuances of gender identity, for anyone. I think by their nature they’re broad brushes, but they’re brushes that English uses, so I’d like to be able to use them without hurting anyone either through incorrect usage or by how I figure out the appropriate usage.

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                When someone tells you what pronouns they want, use one or more of the pronouns in the set they specified. Optional upgrade: if you want to (very likely) light up someone’s day, use the not-default-binary one.

                If someone’s relationship with their own gender is complicated enough that they will be hurt by the pronouns they have asked you to use, that’s not your responsibility to figure out or prevent. They have already decided which harm they would rather heal from today.

                All you need to do is act on the instructions you’ve been given. No mindreading or intuiting necessary.

                1. biobotb*

                  I suspect any answer I give will sound snarky, though it’s not intend this way because, well, this is exactly what I do. Yet this whole comment board was stimulated by a letter written by someone who didn’t want to give instructions about their pronouns–in fact the request for pronouns has made the LW angry, so saying that no intuiting is necessary seems dismissive of that conundrum that the LW and the LW’s coworkers find themselves in.

                2. allathian*

                  @biobotb: I think that you can take it as a given that if someone doesn’t want to out themselves at work by giving their pronouns, you’re free to use any. In the LW’s case, I’d probably use they until they tell me otherwise, as referring to a person of indeterminate gender.

                3. biobotb*

                  @allathian, are you saying you start with “they” for everyone until they give you other pronouns to use, or that for some reason you’d start there for the LW specifically? It seems like you’d be forcing the LW into the exact position she said she doesn’t want—having to commit publicly to certain pronouns, possibly leading her to being outed when doesn’t want to be, and having to make her gender a point of discussion.

                  And I used she here because it seems like the LW prefers coworkers, and even friends and family, to go that route, so even after having read the same letter, we would make different choices regarding choosing the pronouns that seem to best cater to the LW’s needs.

  19. anonymous whatever*

    Solidarity, sibling!

    I have very similar feelings, and here are some different ways I have handled this in different contexts.

    1. Sometimes someone is actually asking “what pronouns do you want people in this room to use for you today?” If the easiest answer is “just keep she-ing me”, I will phrase my introduction as such–“I’m ___, and you can use she/her pronouns for me,” — PARTICULARLY if it is a room where I do NOT want to go deeper into any conversation about my gender — or “I’m ______, and I’ll answer to any pronouns.”

    1a. If it suits you, but you feel weird about it–there is NOTHING wrong with deciding that you’re “she” at this job and in your current professional circles, but you want to be “they” among friends, “she/they/he” at a meeting of queer people in your field, and “he” on your new recreational sports team.

    2. I have put both “she” and “they” in my e-mail signature. I have to answer a lot of questions about this! People still mostly don’t “they” me. I do want other theys to know I’m here. If you don’t think your gender is something you want to discuss at work, or you don’t want to be the go-to “but what does it MEEEEEAN” person, I think e (make them make you do it) is a solid choice.

    3. I was once in a space with someone who identified in our pronoun-sharing introduction circle as a “pronoun-unhappy person”; you know what, I still think about that person about once a week. I feel it! Maybe your actual preference for now is that people just use your name, in which case you don’t have “preferred” pronouns to put in an e-mail or introduction.

    1. Parakeet*

      Yeah I want to emphasize 1a here (though I think the other side of that is that other people do need to understand that some people use different pronouns in different spaces and not try to “correct” you, which you would think would be obvious but I’ve heard of it happening). And also, it’s fine to change if you want to. What you use today in a particular space isn’t something you’re locked into forever, in that space or otherwise.

  20. KHB*

    There are so many reasons why people might be uncomfortable declaring their pronouns. (Among other things, there’s the implications for stereotype threat, and the fact that it forces women with gender-ambiguous names to “out” themselves as female to people they interact with only via email.) You can rattle off a bunch of them, without letting on which one applies to you.

    If it’s just “encouraged,” not required, then it seems like the path of least resistance would be just not to do it, and see if anybody bothers you about it. But if you want to actively push back, you totally can.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      This is a good point that people have looked at me oddly when I bring it up. My name is about 50/50 men and women, so it’s not immediately obvious that I am a woman. I work in an extremely male-dominated industry (85%!) and I like to have that layer of protection when dealing with someone I’ve never met in real life before. It’s very useful.

      1. KHB*

        I don’t blame you at all. I’ve thought about using my middle name professionally, since it’s sometimes given to boys (or has been in the past, anyway), but ultimately I decided it would feel too weird and probably wouldn’t actually fool anyone.

        I’m not a lawyer, but I wonder if you’d have grounds to complain if you were forced to declare yourself to be a she/her? There’s plenty of evidence that people engage with emails more respectfully if they think they’re coming from a man, so it seems very reasonable to argue that you’re being subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex that you wouldn’t otherwise face.

    2. OneBean TwoBean*

      You hit on one of the things that makes me hesitant to put my pronouns in my email signature. I’m a cis female with a gender-ambiguous name and I really like the fact that people I email don’t know my gender right off the bat. But I debate with myself if that’s really worth me not including my pronouns and helping normalize the practice at work.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Queer person approved: you are absolutely allowed to dodge sexism and/or engage with a mild amount of gender ambiguity at work by avoiding putting pronouns in your sig. There are other (much better) ways of being a trans ally, such as donating to trans youth or advocacy orgs, calling your reps if you’re in a state that’s putting forward one of the horrendous anti-trans bills (there are 100+ in front of state legislatures right now – seriously, go check), being a chill and easy friend or colleague to your trans friends and colleagues… this is not a hill worth dying on.

  21. V*

    Same. I wrote to the person doing the heavy encouraging and outed myself as non-binary and told them to pull their head in a bit, and the pressure has lessened. I feel funny (as in hilarious) being the only person in the lgbtq employee resource group without my pronouns visible. Am I a troglodyte who simply refuses, or have I now de facto outed myself by omitting them? It’s a sparkly mystery for all concerned.

    I’m thinking of deploying she/they soon because it’s close enough and hopefully people will be puzzled enough to leave me alone about it, but those aren’t “my” pronouns, because sweet Sappho alone knows what those might be. I will happily tell the world when I know the answer myself.

    1. Anonym*

      “a sparkly mystery for all concerned”

      You are mischief deity, and an inspiration. We could all benefit from a bit of this approach to some of the anxieties of the work world.

    2. Victorian Box Tree*

      Ooooh. I have a kindergarten-age “sparkly mystery” child who might like to borrow that phrasing. For trans/nb/agender/genderfluid/questioning/sparkly mystery commenters, is there anything you particularly wish your own parents had known or done in regard to gender while raising you?

      1. Queer Earthling*

        For trans/nb/agender/genderfluid/questioning/sparkly mystery commenters, is there anything you particularly wish your own parents had known or done in regard to gender while raising you?

        Listen, I was raised by an extremely gender essentialist, homophobic evangelical family, my bar for good queer parenting is on the ground. (In all seriousness, just hte fact that you’re asking is genuinely a good sign and I appreciate you!)

      2. Hamish the Accountant*

        I just wish my parents had talked about it! My partner and I are both trans men. For both of us, when we came out, our parents said something along the lines of “I always wondered/I thought so.” But despite apparently wondering about our genders, they had never tried to talk to us about it, never said “hey you know, trans people exist and that’s neat,” nothing to help put us at ease about potentially coming out to them much less helping us find resources and support. Very frustrating.

  22. Mystic*

    Makes me wonder if your work is actually ok with other types of pronouns besides she/her, he/him, or they/them, because there’s a million (slightly exaggerated) other ones.

  23. Meg*

    Thank you to the OP for sharing this perspective, and I’m sorry it’s so fraught for you. This is a perspective I didn’t think of when I pushed my company to include pronouns in email signatures. My push was mostly based on the fact that they’re weird and rigid with templates, and I wanted someone in authority to present it as an option. I think the way we ended up doing it was effective, but I’m going to keep this perspective in mind moving forward. We were sent a template of how they should slot into our signatures, and and told it was optional. I haven’t heard anything about it since, but have noticed more people adding them, including people in leadership.

    1. hayling*

      I’m so glad that Alison printed this letter, it’s a great education about the nuances of pronoun sharing.

      I manage my company’s email signature platform, and a few months ago I added a field for pronouns, but it’s optional, and has to be filled in by the employee. I confirmed with a trans coworker that it should be optional. Trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming people aren’t always out in all contexts, and forcing people to share pronouns puts them in the position of having to out themselves to strangers or misgender themselves.

  24. Sylvan*

    I don’t have pronouns in my email signature or on Teams for pretty much this reason. I’m out to some trans coworkers, so I don’t think I need to do anything special to signal to them.

    Anyway, you could say without talking about yourself that asking people for their pronouns publicly can make them feel pulled into the spotlight. Some people like to talk about things privately instead. That should be very easy for anyone to understand — we all have things we might want to share, but wouldn’t want to announce to our coworkers via email signature.

  25. Observer*

    Obviously, the advice to talk to HR – but make is someone high enough to have some clout – is the bet fundamental solution. But if it doesn’t work, or it’s not something you are up for, and you feel pushed into putting pronouns in, would a shift in perspective be helpful?

    The pronouns you choose FOR NOW are not cast in stone. They are also not a definitive statement about how you see yourself, but rather a choice of how to manage interactions at this point in time. Think of it as telling everyone what pronoun they can use without offending you. And that’s subject to change on your timeline.

    Would approaching it that way – as a stop gap interaction manager rather than a formal declaration of identity – help?

  26. PT*

    If I was LW’s manager I would understand completely and say that LW can leave pronouns off entirely.

    However I suspect a company that is pressing so hard for pronouns would hear LW’s story and start saying that LW owes it to the company to come out as a LGBTQ ambassador, which is gross.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I felt that way, too. It’s like the company is saying, ‘We support our LGBTQIA associates, and we know how everyone identifies.’ That might sound good in a PR way, but it’s not a good thing for folks like the OP who are still processing their thoughts and feelings.

      No one should announce their pronouns until they are ready – and even then, those pronouns can change. The company’s timeline doesn’t matter and they’ll just have to cope.

    2. JB*

      Yup. Watched this happen at my workplace just a month ago. The poor guy has been voluntold to do a bunch of extra unpaid work in the name of diversity because he came out as trans.

      It’s honestly quite grim out here, and watching cis people squabble over whether or not putting their pronouns in their signature counts as being an ally is exhausting.

      1. anonymath*

        :( Please push back on that. The piling-on of unpaid work onto already-minoritized people to make corporations & majorities look good and virtuous is one of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered in my career, and I’m minoritized on one axis only!

  27. JustKnope*

    A friend’s workplace recently sent out a note saying that the IT department would be adding pronouns to all email signatures, and if they didn’t receive a response by XX date, the pronouns would default to they/them. I was… horrified. (Not least by the idea of IT like hard-coding your pronouns into an email signature??? And implying that they/them is some kind of default???)

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*


      Holy heck our job is to keep the systems running, not enforce people’s gender. That’s either a very badly run IT department or an IT department getting a shedload of inappropriate orders from higher up.

    2. Data Analyst*

      WOW! That goes in the “something that started off with good intentions spinning out of control to the point where it’s now having the opposite effect” hall of fame!

    3. JSPA*

      Heh. They’re asking to be messed with. Time to get 20 people to submit long and complex neopronouns. Each one different. Ideally, each one also more complex than using the person’s name would be.

      Llooboo / Boolooth
      Kinglet / Highness
      L7 / Cmoon

      I especially don’t like that it’s not clear if they/them is meant to be egalitarian / not gender determinative or if it’s intended as a veiled threat against people who do have strong gender identities (which I don’t much understand, but do respect and honor).

      1. Littorally*

        I know you mean this to be funny, but treating people who use neopronouns as a joke is most definitely punching down. Maybe don’t.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Eh, I think this works because it’s so extreme, and because it’s in reaction to such a stupid and oppressive mandate. I would be unhappy if a cis colleague adopted one of these as a joke, but as an act of protest I think it has a very different connotation.

        2. JSPA*

          in the same way that wigs in general are not a joke, but SOME wigs are a joke,
          neopronouns are not a joke, but THESE neopronouns are a joke.

    4. TechWorker*

      I’m not saying this is good (it’s not. I think it should be optional and changeable but the employee) – but genuine question – is ‘they/them’ that terrible as a default? I feel like using it for work interactions when you’ve not met someone or had any indication of what they would like it would be better than guessing based on name or gender presentation?

      1. londonedit*

        I think it’s absolutely fine when it’s something like ‘The lead designer is going to call me – I’m not sure what their plans are’ and you don’t actually know the lead designer. That’s perfectly normal and it’s what I’d automatically do anyway (I never had any of this ‘you must not ever use “they” for a singular person’ thing when I was at school so using ‘they’ instead of he/she when you’ve never met the person or you’re not sure which lead designer you’re talking about is really normal to me).

      2. Sylvan*

        It’s just fine as a default, it’s just that you can misgender someone by using “they/them” just like you can by using “he/him” or “she/her.”

        For example, I have two friends who defaulted to “they/them” for everyone for a while, even when talking about people who they knew used other pronouns. Had a bizarre conversation with them about not misgendering a mutual friend, a trans man, behind his back.

        1. Parakeet*

          Yeah, there’s a phenomenon that I’ve seen trans women in particular talk about online, where when people who purport to be trans-respectful are angry with them/talking negatively about them, suddenly they get “they”d instead of “she”d. There’s an important distinction between they as default when you don’t know correct pronouns, and they as a way of rejecting someone’s use of she or he.

      3. NEVER a "they"*

        I think it’s fine for work *conversations* when referring to someone you don’t know about, but forcibly including it in email signatures is going to straight-up forcibly misgender some people, same as he/she would.

      4. Cisely*

        For some trans people (my trans loved one included), being referred to as they/them is just as painful as being misgendered with the incorrect binary pronouns. My family member is not nonbinary, she is very firmly female, and being “they-ed” is dysphoria-inducing.

      5. Littorally*

        When you don’t know someone’s gender, referring to them as they/them is appropriate; when you’re slapping that label directly on someone, as in an email signature which would be presumed to correctly identify a person, it’s horrifying.

        Think of it this way — you wouldn’t want IT to set up your email signature as “the new person in Accounting” if they weren’t told your name, even though that would be a non-insulting way for them to refer to you in conversation.

      6. JB*

        As a default for you to use when referring to people whose pronouns you don’t know? Yes, that’s absolutely fine.

        But that’s not at all what’s being described here.

        It’s being used as a default that will be appended to people’s signature, by mandate, as if it were the pronouns they had requested.

    5. Single Noun*

      Heh, I’m in a very similar place to the OP and while this is a terrible idea in general, from a personal standpoint I would love it- *because* I could keep it as ‘they’ and keep that ambiguity as to whether I chose they or just forgot to change it.

      …of course, that would last about three minutes before coworkers started “helpfully” telling me my pronouns were still set to they and we’re right back where we started.

  28. Raine*

    My friends and I refer to our attitude as ‘gender-meh’ – essentially, we understand that our language requires pronoun usage for ease and clarity of communication, but we have little-to-no preference on which pronouns are used. In places where they’re asked for, I’ve taken to ‘she/he/they’. But with my social group, we tend to avoid pronouns as much as possible, because it’s honestly just easier that way. I find using someone’s name is a far clearer identifier than a gender marker, anyway.

  29. SometimesALurker*

    I’m sorry you’re in this situation. One dodge that some of my loved ones use in introductions where pronouns are expected is to say “Most people use she/her pronouns for me” or “People typically use she/her pronouns for me” instead of “My pronounse are she/her.” It doesn’t necessarily help with email signatures and it’s crappy that you need a dodge at all.

  30. TimeTravlR*

    Thank you, OP, for this very insightful take. I had not considered this and sincerely appreciate your perspective.

  31. EK*

    I’m a woman, but my first name is gender-neutral. I’m sometimes mis-gendered as a man over email, but so many studies have shown that men are treated more courteously and cut more slack than women in professional settings, so I’ve never been tempted to correct any misperceptions, quite honestly…

    1. Tomato Frog*

      I don’t include my pronouns in email signatures etc. for this reason. I like being in places where people are encouraged to do so, but I feel liberated by the ambiguity created by my first name and I have no desire to draw attention to my gender.

  32. meyer lemon*

    Similar to Alison’s advice, I would suggest just saying something like “I wouldn’t want any employees feeling pressured to identify their pronouns if they’re not comfortable with that, so I think we should make them completely optional and not track who is including them.” It is possible that coworkers will read something into that stance, but they might also assume that you’re just modelling the use that you think will be better for employees.

  33. middle name danger*

    This is a huge problems with online communities now. We went from “if cis people would like to be inclusive, please consider adding your pronouns to your profile/signature” to “you’re transphobic if you don’t show pronouns” forcing people to lie or out themselves.

    I would love it if pronouns in email signatures became more normalized, but not required. Even then, it’s tricky. I tend to use they/them professionally, even though I use he/they in my personal life. Just seems like it’s easier for cis folks to grasp onto one set of pronouns for all nonbinary people.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      YES. It’s gross. Yet further policing.
      I’m a cis woman who dresses in an exaggeratedly feminine style because my size has historically made people question my gender. When people ask me, an hourglass-shaped human in a lace dress with pink streaks in her hair, what pronouns I use, my brain hears, “THEY STILL THINK YOU LOOK LIKE A MAN.”

      1. anonymous whatever*

        SaffyTaffy, I hear that being asked to verbally affirm your gender is hard for you and causes you distress, because you assume your presentation is speaking for you. I also encourage you to consider that someone could look and present *identically* to you and still be a man, or a nonbinary person, or agender, or a genderfluid person, etc.

        I think we’re both on team “asking for my pronouns just to feel woke is not great.” But if someone IS going to use a pronoun for me, particularly in a formal or published document, I want them to be intentional about using an accurate and appropriate one.

        1. SaffyTaffy*

          @anonymous whatever of course they could. THEY could. I don’t, and I am not in a place yet where I’m able to cause myself discomfort in this way to prevent someone else’s discomfort. I deserve not to be put in a situation where I have a panic attack at work.

        2. Properlike*

          Yes to this. I had a student who was male but androgynous and dressed in exaggerated feminine clothes, but was still firmly he/him. He was kind enough to explain to me the difference between “drag” and “transgender” and “genderfluid”. I also had a transgender man in my class who still wore feminine-coded or androgynous clothes but was hurt if people misgendered him as “she.” My son went through a long sparkles/pink/dresses phase where people (adults!) kept insisting he was a girl or gay because “that’s how he dresses.”

          When I ask for pronouns and give mine, it’s because I’ve encountered so many different people on the gender spectrum that I’ve learned “obvious” markers aren’t always. Given past experience, I ask everyone I’ll be interacting with over the long-term, usually by giving my own first, in hopes that those for whom gender pronouns are important will let me know so I’m not unintentionally causing them pain. Since our current language has no way to refer to oneself in conversation with a gender-specific version of “I”, asking upfront seems to be an imperfect solution until we get a better one.

      2. Tau*

        I’ve heard something similar from some binary trans people who’ve transitioned, too – that being asked their pronouns can be actively distressing because it comes across as “you look trans”/”people still aren’t reading you as your actual gender”.

        1. anonymous whatever*

          To me, this is also a negative consequence of cis people continuing to assign binary pronouns automatically to people with adequately binary presentations–it makes getting correctly pronouned a challenge or a test for binary trans people to pass (and for people who don’t use binary pronouns, for that matter, because it leads to the “all nonbinary people must be androgynous-looking” flattening). Only asking “confusing”-looking people their pronouns is possibly THE WORST option.

          It’s not something we’re going to solve by getting “better” at guessing people’s gender based on their presentation or their name, or assuming their pronouns based on our guess at their gender. (This is also why tools that use algorithms/guesses to assign gender to people are yucky and cause distress!)

          1. Tau*

            Yeah, agreed. The whole thing is awkward because sure, in an ideal world we would never assume pronouns for anyone, and everyone would be completely comfortable with hearing “today it’s xe/xem/xyr, but ask again tomorrow” or “none, please” or “ugh I can’t actually handle pronouns right now I’m sorry” and the like…

            But I’m skeptical of the idea that we should just pretend we already live in that world which IMO underlies a bunch of these pronoun policies. That can have some hefty collateral damage. (I do not think everyone at my workplace will react well to a nonbinary person and I am not interested in being the test case.)

            1. anonymous whatever*

              Yup. Management loves an initiative that puts all the burden on individual people to do the explaining, defending, and educating without actually requiring less vulnerable people in the workplace to change or give up some of their comfortable assumptions.

  34. JT*

    I use they/them pronouns, and if I were to be vocal about what my pronouns are and asking people to respect them *just for my own benefit* I would likely shy away from it, just to save those awkward moments. However, I strongly believe that every time I share my pronouns, ask others to respect my pronouns, or encourage others to think about their own pronouns, I am doing so for the benefit of those who come after me. That makes it easier – I’m not necessarily standing up for myself, but so that the next queer person this person encounters doesn’t have as hard a time.

    That said, I’m fairly comfortable with my pronouns – though I did go through using the “she/they” as a stop gap between “she/her” and “they/them”. I added my pronouns to my work signature *when I was comfortable doing so* and I changed them to fit my identity as my understanding of my identity changed *when I was comfortable doing so*.

    If you’re open to being an advocate, you could consider adding your pronouns as “Pronouns: undecided” and use that as a conversation-starter for the perils of demanding pronouns before a person is ready.

    1. JSPA*

      This is great for people who do identify as they/them (or something other than he or she). But at the same time, it takes me back to when bi people were universally presumed to be gay or lesbian people who were not yet clear on their identity, and “in a process.”

      Some of us have been clear on being left cold by genderism and the concept of gender primacy, gender importance, and the thrills of gender performance since we were wee tots, decades ago.

      It’s impossible to prove that this isn’t a process, I suppose; but let’s just stipulate that it’s taken me 50+ years to get from A to B (wherein I’m understanding that gender does have greater importance to others). I’m not on a course to reach C, let alone Z, in my lifetime. So in practical terms, just as you would not tell someone who’s been functionally and happily bi for decades that they are on a path to full gayness, I’d like you to recognize that plenty of us are right where we want to be, as “gender, meh, whatever, just don’t make me wear anything uncomfortable” human beings.

  35. JSPA*

    Total agreement with all of the above. I’m cool with having a female body. Would also be cool with a male body. Or any other functional body.

    I don’t much conform to any gender, in terms of behavior or clothing. I’m not “fluid.” I’m just very, very, very rarely comfortable “performing gender.”

    I’ve been answering to female pronouns for over 50 years. So long as they don’t come loaded with gender norms, that’s fine. Given how low gender identity rates on my own personal scale of things that I care about for my own self, and given how much energy I put into keeping track of the gender(s) of friends and coworkers for whome gender identity is a SIGNIFICANT or GIANT part of their self-perception, I don’t see why there’s not a “whatever feels right to you, the person addressing me” or a “just don’t call me late for dinner” option.

    Less facetiously, my gender, if any, would most correctly be, “nonconformist / nonconforming.” Which doesn’t add up to “they,” but does add up to, “allergic to labels and even more so, to the easy behavioral categorizations that attache to them.”

    If I were 15 now, and had nothing more emotionally pressing than exploring my gender, and felt a duty to make my identity lined up for the comfort of others, I could plump for “they.” Except that I’m emotionally and psychologically and philosophically not into the concept of gender essentialism (even the variety of gender essentialism that says, “it’s what’s inside your soul that counts).

    I don’t mind maam–or sir–but “excuse me” works just as well.

    If I had to, I’d probably state, “she/her or they/them or name / name” to indicate that I’m “female by convenience and history, not deep identity.” But if work made me pick from radio buttons (one choice only), I’d “prefer not to.”

    1. anonymath*

      Cheering for this! I feel so much the same way! I have spent so many decades struggling against gender essentialism. I know that many folks exploring gender identity and performance today also reject gender essentialism, but there’s also a strain of thought that oversimplifies and just wants to squash down to “trinary” or n+1 genders, or really double down that if you’re a she/her you have to conform to she/her-ity. Any nuanced pattern of thought is going to have its popular and counter-productive oversimplification I guess…..

  36. Properlike*

    I’m cisgender female, use she/her when asked. Recently I was considering a switch to she/they because… I don’t actually care. “They” seems like a good inclusive default for everyone. (I never did figure out why we couldn’t use inclusive “they” back when you had to write papers with “he and/or she.”) I understand this may come from a place of privilege, but wondered if it would help remove for others the fraught aspect of declaring identity via pronouns in professional situations.

    1. anonymous whatever*

      One fraught area for they-as-default: it is not uncommon for “she”- or “he”-using trans people to get “they”-d by people who know it’s transphobic to use the wrong binary pronoun, and know it’s transphobic to say “it,” but still don’t want to use a person’s actual gender pronoun/acknowledge their actual gender.

      1. Properlike*

        Thank you for that excellent point, which I hadn’t considered. I certainly wouldn’t want to contribute to misgendering someone for whom it’s especially important. On the other hand, I feel like transphobes gonna transphobe by weaponizing whatever language is available, and in this spectrum we only seem to have the three choices. I’m thinking about situations where gender may not immediately be clear, (a situation I run into frequently as a college instructor.) If I use “they” as a go-to for all until asked otherwise, can that be an inclusive neutral?

      2. Anon for now*

        Yeah, I know someone in work who has a trans kid, and I thought for a long time the kid used “they/them” pronouns because every time she mentioned them she used they/them. Then one day colleague referred to them as “he” and I said oh have they changed pronouns again only to get a blank look no it’s always been he/him.

        I thought, but did not say, well you’ve consistently used they/them ever since you said the kid had come out, so maybe you’re not as ok with this as you think.

    2. Hamish the Accountant*

      Meh. My knee-jerk reaction is… if you don’t actually care, please do not start using different pronouns. That would really rub me the wrong way. (I’m a trans man.)

      I’m not immediately sure why that would bother me. Interesting.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      As a translator, I totally use “they” instead of “he/she”. I too wish we could just ungender everything. All names should be for any gender, no need to specify Mr Mrs Miss Ms.
      In France, your social security number starts with 1 if you have a penis, 2 if you don’t. Every time I have to type it out, I’m reminded that I’m a second-class citizen.

      1. allathian*

        My first language is Finnish, which doesn’t have any gendered personal pronouns at all. Makes it really easy to ignore gender in situations where it’s irrelevant. We’ve also pretty much done away with gendered titles. Makes things a lot less fraught for people who are questioning their own gender identity, because they don’t get people’s assumptions about their gender rammed down their throats all the time.

        We do have a (IMO stupid) law that says that a child must be given a name that is identifiable by gender, although there are a few traditional names that are equally common among men and women. This can also cause trouble for intersex children, and the parents of intersex children who at least in the past have been pressured to agree to surgery for their child so that the kid’s genitals look either male or female but not something in between, a procedure I consider repugnant. Time enough for gender-affirming surgery later, if necessary, when the child is competent to make medical decisions concerning themself.

        Non-binary people often change their names to an invented name that’s not identified with any gender.

        I’m really hoping for a male/female/other gender classification for legal purposes.

    4. NEVER a "they"*

      As a nonbinary person who is NOT a “they” under any circumstances, I don’t object to being meh about *your own* pronouns, but please do NOT think of “they” as inclusive. It’s fine for *unknowns*, but it is NOT a universal pronoun.

    5. nonbinary writer*

      I mean do what you want, pronouns don’t equal gender. That said, adding “they” to your pronoun set as a cis woman doesn’t inherently benefit trans people. There are much more tangible things you can do to support trans folks materially, and changing your pronouns purely out of allyship feels more like centering yourself than actually helping the community. Issues of housing and job discrimination, access to healthcare, etc are all more vital to trans folks survival than normalizing they/them pronouns.

      1. Properlike*

        I don’t see why you can’t do multiple things at once. I’m into performative allyship about as much as I’m into performative gender. :)

        Thank you all for your perspectives on this!

  37. Anony*

    Actually…d is an option. Pronouns are a form of gender expression in a lot of cases they match gender identity but they don’t always do. They/them and he/him lesbians exist.

    Here’s a link with the info.

    It’s absolutely whatever you feel most comfortable and it’s your expression.

  38. Butch in the Office*

    Alison, Thank you for posting this! I could have written this. It’s amazing to see one’s niche perspective reflected on a mainstream blog about work.

    Letter writer!!! First off — you are not alone.

    I am in your same exact situation, down to the details about most people see me as a boy or a man at first. I guess the one exception to that would be that I am not mulling a pronoun change, I actually like using she/her when that seems to be increasingly uncommon for women who do not conform to gender norms. I like showing that being a woman doesn’t have to mean shit all about who you, your interests, your personality. I feel I’m a woman because of my body — to me, the rest is stereotypes. (I’ve gotten to this place after years of study and reflection and being around REALLY BUTCH women who are super proud to be women and not hung up about being different.)

    I have gone with this option: (e) continue silently omitting pronouns from my profile until someone asks me about it.I’ve also silently omitted mandatory pronoun pressure from all meetings I run, and I do not say my pronouns when we go around in meetings and everyone else says them. I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t think me doing something that goes against my feminist beliefs actually helps trans people in a meaningful way. This whole thing seems more cis and straight people driven, sort of going overboard in a heavy-handed way in the name of inclusivity.

    I would also suggest that you are giving your job too much power in your life and identity if you make a pronoun change based on the culture of pronoun sharing there (!!!) You own your body, your life, your way of seeing yourself. No one should have the ability to push you in a direction that doesn’t feel like you being you.

    Tips for readers (my two cents):
    * Never make sharing of pronouns mandatory — or mandated by social pressure. People who feel called to share their pronouns will do so, and people who don’t want to won’t. Which is ok! (Why do we need to get to an end result of everyone constantly sharing their pronouns, anyway? I would seriously question that idea.)

    * If you are going to ask people’s pronouns. ASK EVERYONE. Do not ONLY ask the gender non conforming people in the room. I have seen that practice recommended in diversity trainings. Being singled out in a room of other women and asked my pronouns, when no one else is asked — that’s happened to me over and over. Or even 1:1, someone will ask me my pronouns in a conversation but never ask a colleage or friend who conforms to gender roles to a greater degree than I do.

    * Same with questions like “is that the name you go by?” — I was just asked this at a medical clinic that DID NOT ask my female, gender conforming relative the same thing. This is HOMOPHOBIC, regressive gender policing. It does not help trans people. They also asked me if I wanted **Gender Related Care** (ie therapy about gender or transition services like testosterone) OUT OF THE BLUE, presumably just because I look/act how I do. (Nope, straight appearing relative was not asked if she wanted to see the gender clinic, before you ask.. LOL).

    I see this stuff so often in workplaces that I felt the need to elaborate a bit more, hope it’s ok.

    1. Butch in the Office*

      PS I have found with my direct reports it’s been helpful to be like “You may have noticed I don’t use pronouns on things like my email signature. I just want to be clear that that’s just my own personal choice, not anything you need to follow. Many people here do choose to share their pronouns on signatures” and then just move right along to other work things. It’s been fine.

      1. hellohello*

        This is great phrasing for a manager who doesn’t want to share pronouns but wants to support others who do! Thanks for sharing :)

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, thanks for this. The whole “feeling you’re a woman in a man’s body” or vice versa is actually kind of playing right into stereotypes, which makes me uncomfortable.
      If you don’t look like you should be using the pronouns you use, it’s useful to have you specify them, but if this whole pronoun thing is actually making non-binary people feel uncomfortable, maybe we should quietly drop the whole thing?
      I wish we could just ungender everything, pronouns and whatever else so that you are who you are and nobody gives a shit as to what’s between your legs unless intimacy is on the agenda.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        As many people as it makes deeply uncomfortable, it makes the same number feel happy and seen. Queer folks aren’t a monolith and there is not a right answer here. That’s why it’s important that this not be mandatory, but that it is an option.

        1. Butch in the Office*

          Another example of us not being a monolith: Many of us don’t want straight and/or cis people to call us “the queer community” or “queer folx” because queer is a reclaimed slur, while many of us DO prefer that language. (Not saying Mad Harry Crewe is straight or cis obviously, just riffing for the benefit of readers).

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Mad Harry Crewe is very much neither straight nor cis, and when he says “the queer community” he means the community of people who identify with the word or concept of queer.

            Every single word we use for ourselves has been a slur. There is no word so pure that it cannot be said without malice. If we invented a new word today, tomorrow it would be used in anger by someone who wants to put another person in their place, or indicate how unacceptable their behavior or identity is.

            I’m not sure if you buy into the Discourse you’re referencing, or if you’re just trying to give another perspective, but telling me that my identity is a slur is (1) not news, thanks! and (2) not relevant, either. Maybe just don’t.

            1. Gender Nihilist*

              I don’t know, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for LGBTQ people who do not want to be referred to as “queer” to speak up and say that they don’t want to be called that. Obviously, other people who identify as queer can and should refer to themselves and be asked to referred to that way, but I do think it’s a problem when that word is coercively applied to someone who hasn’t specifically said that they’re okay with it. Growing up, I heard “queer” used as a slur (including in the context of a delightful little game called “smear the queer,” in which the person designated as “the queer” was basically smacked around and beaten up by the other participants) too many times to feel at all comfortable having it applied to me. It’s great that some people have decided to reclaim it for themselves, and I absolutely support them in that, but I do not want to be referred to as “queer” under any circumstances, and I don’t think that’s inappropriate or unreasonable, and I also think that I have every right to say so without getting a lecture about how any word can be a slur.

              I also get the discomfort some LGBTQ people have with cis/straight people, many of whom were happily using “queer” as a slur themselves just five or ten years ago, suddenly reveling in the ability to use it to refer to LGBTQ people whenever they want now without fear of consequence. I don’t really fight it, at this point, because I think that that ship has sailed, but I do understand why people find it jarring or off putting, because I find it jarring and off putting. Every time I hear a cishet person talk about “queer folx,” or whatever, I’m thrown back to hearing it used in my childhood, while they probably have no idea that it brings back a lot of really painful memories for some of us.

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                But again, that’s the case for every word we use. “Lesbian” sends someone into a tailspin. “LGBT” leaves me out in the cold. Why do you think it’s ok to tell me (for the second time in this thread!) that my identity is a slur? Please reconsider.

                I’m not cishet. I am the person you referenced in your second sentence, the person who wants to be referred to as queer, and who enjoys my queer community (made up of other people, who also identify as queer!)

                Universities have Queer Studies. Lots of places have Q-Centers, supporting the local queer community. Any number of magazines and AIDS organizations in the 80s included “queer” in their names. This is not a novel idea, and insisting that it’s ok if I want to call myself this in the privacy of my own home, but I’d better not be out doing it in public… that’s not a good look.

                1. Butch in the Office*

                  I think we’re all aware at how widespread the reclamation is. But even when slurs are widely reclaimed I think there should be some care taken with those words.

                  Calling yourself a slur is different from calling it “slur community.”

                  I personally don’t care when other lgbtq people say “queer community” — it’s when straight people do it without thinking that bothers me.

                  It’s like hearing your male boss call women “the slut community” because Slutwalk exists.

                  Also.. Lesbian was never a slur used in violent encounters.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          But if everyone had the same non-sex-specific pronouns, surely those who currently specify pronouns could just go with the flow?

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            You mean, if the language had only one set of pronouns and it’s used for all people? Yeah, that’s the case in a lot of non-English languages – Hungarian comes to mind, and I know there are a bunch of others. My understanding, as a monolingual genderqueer person with no direct experience of the queer scenes in those countries, is that it’s just not an issue. Because pronouns are not gendered, gendered pronouns aren’t a concern.

            1. allathian*

              Yup, that’s definitely the case in Finland, where Finnish doesn’t have gendered pronouns, and we’ve pretty much done away with gendered titles in day to day usage. I’m bilingual from birth, with Swedish as my second family language, and Swedish does have gendered pronouns “han”/”hon”, and also the singular gender-neutral neopronoun “hen”, which is used in the same way as they in English, as both the correct pronoun for non-binary people who want to use it, and when referring to a person whose gender is unknown.

              This doesn’t mean that everything is fine and dandy for all trans or genderqueer people, necessarily, just that they don’t have to deal with being misgendered because others are using the wrong pronouns all the time.

              Hungary just passed a law which makes it illegal to give any information about non-binary gender identities or non-heterosexual forms of sexuality to minors. This is beyond awful and just goes to show that just because a language doesn’t have gendered pronouns doesn’t mean that those who speak it are progressive regarding sexuality and gender identity and expression.

    3. Anon for this*

      I’ve had extremely similar experiences as you have, particularly with healthcare. I mentioned in another comment that I transitioned as an adolescent, but it would be more accurate to say that the adults in my life transitioned me. I’m a moderately GNC lesbian. I remember often being asked if I really wanted to go by my (female) name, having my therapist ask me whether I thought I might be transgender, being taken to a trans healthcare doctor without requesting it to “explore my options” about puberty, etc. I ended up taking puberty blockers as a very young person and starting testosterone at the legal age in my country, which is sixteen, just because it was what all the adults in my life seemed to expect.

      A lot of my friends who are also lesbians, especially butch lesbians and lesbians who’ve detransitioned, have talked to me about experiences they’ve had when people have asked their and only their pronouns, have asked them if they’re transmasculine, etc., purely because of their appearances. They’ve all found it invasive and humiliating. I experience it similarly, when people make similar assumptions about me. I wish pronouns would stop being a mandatory thing to share in the workplace.

      1. Hamish the Accountant*

        Stories like this make me so mad and sad. I’m sorry you went through all that. It bothers me so much when parents, therapists etc swing so far in the “I’m being supportive!!!” direction that they just assume GNC = trans.

        Growing up as a little trans boy in the 90s everyone assumed I was a butch lesbian. It sucked, and made it hard for me to figure things out, because I’m a gay guy. But at least that situation didn’t lead to medical interventions. :/

  39. SaffyTaffy*

    People should NOT be pre-emptively asking strangers or anyone in a formal setting for their pronouns! This information should be volunteered or asked between trusted friends. Asking for pronouns can cause all the distress described and more, regardless of gender.

    1. Metadata minion*

      This create a bind, though, because being misgendered also causes distress. For me at least, the awkwardness of coming out as nonbinary is significantly less than having to decide whether I’m going to correct someone who just called me “she” in the middle of a staff meeting.

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        That’s why people who get misgendered need to be supported when they offer their pronouns. There’s no bind in not requiring us to give them.

        1. Metadata minion*

          I agree that it shouldn’t be required, but why is it worse for me to ask someone their pronouns than to potentially use the wrong one?

          1. KHB*

            If someone opts not to state their pronouns, it means that they personally don’t mind the risk that someone might refer to them with a “wrong” pronoun. That needs to be an acceptable choice for individuals to make for themselves.

          2. Tau*

            For me, it feels a lot worse to be forced to actively misgender myself than to have someone else do it to me, especially when I haven’t actually given them the information they’d need not to do so (and especially when I can get through a lot of meetings without ever hearing anyone attach a third-person pronoun to my name). I am all for making it as easy and straightforward for people to share their pronouns as possible, for having a dedicated space where people can give their pronouns, for some cis people going ahead and demonstrating in order to open the space for out trans people to do so too, etc. etc. etc. …but making it mandatory would absolutely put me into an awful situation.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            What about avoiding pronouns until you know someone well enough for the person to volunteer a pronoun? Use a name or a non-gendered role (“the engineers”), and find wordings that avoid the need for gender (“Hello everyone”, “a name” instead of “their name”).

            Informally I do default to cis presentation pronouns, but my emails, introductions, and presentations are pretty much gender-free.

    2. nonbinary writer*

      Strongly disagree; this just puts all the onus back on trans people to out themselves in every social situation if they want to be referred to correctly. Correcting someone who misgenders me is WAY harder and more painful than answering when someone asks “what pronouns do you want me to use for you.”

      1. Hamish the Accountant*

        While I agree that correcting someone who is misgendering me is much more difficult than just volunteering my pronouns when asked… I think the fact that you and SaffyTaffy have very different opinions on this just illustrates that this whole thing is context-dependent, individual-dependent, and that sadly there’s never going to be One Right Way To Do It that makes everyone comfortable.

        1. nonbinary writer*

          Yup absolutely, and it’s why I think pronouns are a bit of a red herring when it comes to trans rights. The more important and much more challenging issue is making sure trans employees and candidates aren’t discriminated against, and making rules or recommendations about pronoun disclosure won’t change that one iota unless there’s broader systemic change.

          1. anonymous whatever*

            Yes. It’s like someone heard “you know, in a truly gender-inclusive office*, people wouldn’t assume they knew everyone’s pronouns” and took away “aha, if we make everyone state their pronouns, we’re allies! Done!”

            *where people will not be fired or left off assignments because of their gender or its relationship to the way they present, where everyone has a suitable bathroom to use, where healthcare benefits are equitable, and other MEANINGFUL WORK that needs to be done continuously

    3. anonymath*

      As with so many questions (“can you write me a letter of recommendation?” “can I pick your brain about…?”) phrasing the question with an easy out can help prevent some awkwardness. Instead of looking someone in the eye and saying, “What are your pronouns?” and forcing them to either answer or obviously deflect, consider “Please share your pronouns if you’d like” or “You’re welcome to share your pronouns; here is how”.

  40. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OK now I’m cishet, so it’s supposedly straightforward for me. However, I don’t particularly like outing myself as female unnecessarily. My first name can be both masculine or feminine (depending on which country you are from) and I have definitely had good email relationships with people in the countries where it’s masculine. So I wouldn’t really want to put my pronouns out there. If I were in your company, I too would be feeling queasy about this, with the additional problem of perhaps being accused of transphobia, which would be horrendous for me since I’m an ally.
    Thing is, OP, specifying your pronouns is supposed to help people
    refer to you the way you want to be referred to. You have a female name and people refer to you as she/her, and it doesn’t seem to bother you. Would it bother you if somebody referred to you as he/him or they/them? If it doesn’t bother you any which way, you can join me in team “thanks but no thanks”.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      No, that’s a good point. Nobody enjoys being forced to admit any characteristic that’s historically used against them.

      1. KHB*

        Exactly. I’m a woman, pretty much everyone has referred to me as she/her all my life, and I have no interest in insisting they do otherwise. But I have a big problem with stating (or just implying) that these pronouns are something I identify with, prefer, or have chosen for myself.

        1. Anon for this*

          Yeah, I feel the same way. I’m perhaps biased on this, because I transitioned as an adolescent and later detransitioned. I chose to detransition because I found it unhelpful, feeling like I was fighting against my body, against other people’s perceptions of it, against my history, all without real effectiveness. No matter what I did to my physical form, I wasn’t ever going to be able to change things like my history and how people had perceived me throughout my life. I use she/her because that’s the words that are generally used by our society to refer to people who are like me, but I don’t really identify with those words. I find it painful when I’m forced to add pronouns to my zoom name or to list them on forms. It’s a complex relationship, for me. (Speaking only for my personal self here. Most people have had a different experience with transitioning.)

          1. KHB*

            Thanks for sharing your story. Your feelings matter, and you shouldn’t have to keep swallowing that pain just to (potentially) make others feel more comfortable.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        ah yes! just remembering a time when I was single, and the landlord put “Miss MouseyHair” on the letterbox. I immediately rang him to ask him to remove the “Miss” because I felt that it was basically an advert: single female lives here. He huffed and puffed that after all I was a single female, so it was the truth, and he wasn’t going to put “Mrs”. I said he could just put “MouseyHair” and delivery people would be able to work it out. Or “Mr Whoever and Miss MouseyHair”, ditto. Never mind that Mr Whoever never actually received any letters.

  41. Stackson*

    I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for writing this. I’ve felt so ambivalent/ambiguous about my gender for a while now but I don’t feel trans, and “non-binary” doesn’t quite encapsulate it either. I don’t have any recommendations for you but it’s just a relief to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Thank you.

  42. Anon this time*

    If it’s encouraged but not required, then don’t do it if you don’t want to.

    So many problems stem from people treating expectations as requirements. Let’s stop doing that.

    1. Liz T*

      Well, a lot of workplaces treat expectations as requirements. It’s not something we all just invented one day.

      1. Anon this time*

        I think we agree on that point. These “requirements” crept in quietly. But by quietly pushing back we can hope to keep additional expectations from becoming requirements.

  43. Total*

    As someone mentioned above, I have no desire to have fraught conversations about gender with my co-workers. It’s none of their business.

    On another note, I’m struck by the idea of handing over to the very structures of gender-conformity (ie, corporations, businesses, organizations) the job of handling inclusivity. We really think that they’re going to do a better job with gender than they always have?

  44. I'm just here for the cats*

    I like Alison’s response but I wish she had said something about the peer pressure to state your pronouns. For example, in my job whenever we have meetings where we are meeting with new people or someone not in our department we introduce ourselves and our encouraged to state our pronouns. There was never an expectation to do this, and I was never told about this. However, I would feel uncomfortable being the only one in the group not stating my pronouns. I would feel like I was trying to not be inclusive. (I am a white, cis female).

    However, I think it would be good for the LW to got to HR or whoever and haver a talk about the concerns. And it sounds like she is going to be promoted so she could foster inclusivity with any new reports.

  45. queerscience*

    OP, I 100% relate! I am in academia and while I totally get and respect the push for including pronouns in email signatures/Zoom names/bios/at the beginning of group meetings, it feels really uncomfortable and fraught every time I need to declare a specific pronoun. I’ve sorta gotten around it by saying “she is fine” in verbal contexts and just ignoring the heck out of when people do written ones, because when I have put “she/they” only the she gets used. I will also say though that I don’t like “he” pronouns (but don’t mind getting mistaken for a teen boy, that’s always hilarious) so the any option doesn’t feel quite right either. I would agree it’s worth pushing back on this being a requirement because obviously people like us who are uncomfortable with this exist! And if you’re put on the spot in an in-person or verbal context, just going with “she is fine” or “my name is great!” or if you are comfortable experimenting, “she/they/him/whatever other pronoun” for today. Best of luck!!!!

  46. NotPuttingMyRegularNameHere*

    It affects cisgendered people as well. I have a hormonal disorder that meant I didn’t go through puberty until my 20’s, and I have noticeable breasts. I was often mistaken for a girl growing up, and even had a few incidents where people made my gender an issue. Either wanting to beat me up for living in the boy’s dorm or just groping me to find out if I was a man. And since I’m cis gendered by most people’s definitions and my own, I often feel pushed out of progressive circles if I try to talk about it.
    I don’t like the idea of being forced to put my pronouns anywhere because it brings up that feeling of body dysmorphia I had growing up. I understand that it helps people, but for me, clarifying that I’m a man right from the start just reminds me of every time I’ve had to clarify that under threatening circumstances. It brings back those feelings of my reflection in the mirror being someone else. It tears down my confidence in my looks. Really it’s just opening a whole psychological can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened at work. People need to be able to opt out without having to explain why, because it’s not always that they’re a transphobic jerk.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Internet hugs if you want them, and yeah, people need to be able to opt out without explanation or pressure.

    2. JSPA*

      Hm, yeah, I remember mixed feelings about being called a boy as an insult. It wasn’t the correct tick box, so that bothered me. It wasn’t meant nicely, so that bothered me. But it also wasn’t a bad thing, but applied to me, apparently it was a bad thing, and that confusion bothered me. And kids even joking about wanting to check? Yeah, that bothered me. Sounds like you got a lot worse for some moobiness than I got for the broad shoulders and square stance. I’m sorry humans are jerks; I’m glad you’re you, in whatever exact format that may be.

  47. Mandi*

    I’m straight and cis, so feel free to discard my advice if it’s not helpful.

    But could you list she/her for now, since that’s how you’ve been identifying and that’s how people know you, then change them later if you come to a different conclusion? Even though they’re bungling this, your company at least sounds highly motivated to be a safe space. So it seems like changing your pronouns later wouldn’t be as big an issue as it might be somewhere else.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      You say this as though it’s not the incredibly obvious solution, and one that OP (and plenty of the rest of us) have rejected. Please have a read through the many incredibly diverse perspectives in these comments about why it’s not that simple.

  48. A Genuine Scientician*

    This is the main reason I don’t put pronouns in my Zoom screen name or in my email signature.

    I teach several 100-level science classes at a university. My students are overwhelmingly 18-22.

    Every single trans adult who I know is trans has told me that they would have been deeply uncomfortable being asked to share pronouns while they were in the closet. And nearly all of them were in the closet at that age.

    I am personally quite happy to call anyone he, she, or they as the individual so chooses*, though it sometimes takes a few weeks to train myself out of an old one if a person changes what they want me to use. I’m gay myself; I get that these things matter. But I have absolutely noticed that everyone who’s gung ho about including pronouns in everything in my workplace is cis, and that the trans individuals I know — here and elsewhere — are much more on the side of not asking people to share them. I’m going to value the perspective of actual trans people I know more than the well-intentioned cis diversity director.

    * I do not like neopronouns (ou, zhe, hir, etc) in general, and am glad I haven’t been asked to use any so far. I suspect I would end up using them because that’s just basic decency, but be annoyed by it.

    1. Metadata minion*

      “* I do not like neopronouns (ou, zhe, hir, etc) in general, and am glad I haven’t been asked to use any so far. I suspect I would end up using them because that’s just basic decency, but be annoyed by it.”

      Was that comment really necessary?

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Gotta make sure those crazy queers don’t get TOO out of line! Always good to know exactly where someone’s “allyship” ends.

      2. lookie loo*

        We’re going to have to grapple with it as a larger society eventually, as neopronouns are *not* common in many circles, and maybe they won’t really catch on everywhere. Interesting data point from this commenter.

          1. JSPA*

            How about, “I don’t see the point of a reference system that’s as individual as the name it’s meant to simplify reference to”?

            Pronouns didn’t emerge as badges of identity, but primarily as a grammatical simplifying convention.

            Remembering two or three neopronouns as well as a first and last name is four to five bits of data for every student in the class. As information dense as being asked to remember their mother’s and father’s name, as well as their own. Dealing with dozens to hundreds of students in a day, that’s potentially quite a lot. Especially when I think of professors who used to call on people as, “you in the third row, with the red shirt.”

            One does what one must to accommodate, of course. But (unlike the singular “they”) fully individualized neopronouns are grammatically nonsensical–they serve a social identifying function, but in the act, they largely negate the original grammatical function. “My name is James, but people call me Jambowamborino for short.” Yes, it’s distinctive, yes I’ll use it, but no, it’s not “for short.”

            1. Littorally*

              Oh yes, and as we all know it’s vital to subsume minority identities in favor of not moving away from established grammar functions! A constantly changing language’s integrity is much more important than some basic respect toward actual human beings!

              Maybe rethink some of your priorities here.

      3. Midwest Teacher*

        “I’ll use your pronouns as long as they’re ones that I like to use”

        Seriously, no one cares if you “like” neopronouns or not. Don’t be a jerk. Someone’s pronouns are not up for debate, and people do not choose their pronouns based on whether or not some random cis person approves.

        1. allathian*

          Probably not. But like I said, the option is always there to use the person’s name instead, even if the sentence gets convoluted. They can’t object to that, since it is their name.

          Also, I’m not sure it’s in people’s best interests to insist on using neopronouns *in the workplace*. It’s going to get a lot of pushback from otherwise progressive people and it’s not going to win them any sympathy, except maybe in queer circles where unusual pronouns may be more mainstream. If you want to be known as the person with the weird pronouns, go right ahead, but given how fraught it is in many places to get people to use they/their, I’m not sure the time is ripe for neopronouns in the workplace, at least not yet.

    2. Hamish the Accountant*

      >* I do not like neopronouns (ou, zhe, hir, etc) in general, and am glad I haven’t been asked to use any so far.

      I’m trans and don’t love neopronouns either, and even then I don’t see what this adds to the conversation. There’s no good reason to volunteer this information out of nowhere.

    3. Mobs are bad, okay?*

      Wow, Scientician, you got piled on. I’m sorry for that. I’ve been there.

  49. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    It’s ok if your pronouns change over time too. One of my favorite friends preferred they/them but was ok with being called he/him . Then they decided they weren’t ok with he/him at all. Several years later they decided she/her was preferred. Its ok it if take a while to discover who you feel you really might be way down deep at your core. Especially since so many trans people had that core hidden very very deep during childhood. Go with what you feel comfortable with now. And if a month or a year down the road that changes, that’s ok. Life is a journey. You aren’t expected to be the same as the traveler at the beginning of it.

  50. Djuna*

    I can relate to this LW so hard. I’m older, and am so used to being sirred or just generally confusing people with a very androgynous presentation that I never really thought about pronouns and if I did, considered the she/her ones I’ve used forever to be fine.
    But lately I’ve been wondering, and the other day I was at a conference where a non-binary speaker talked about being mistaken for a boy when they were younger and how other people reacted strongly but they were just like “they’re not WRONG wrong, though” and for some reason that clicked in my brain.
    I have she/her pronouns listed at work, and it’ll honestly take me 5 mins to change them, and I don’t think it’ll cause a fuss. I know I’m exceptionally lucky to work where I do and be a part of a team with an extremely supportive boss and grandboss and this is not always the case.
    But! Pronouns once set are not set forever, and understanding your gender identity isn’t a single leap, it’s a journey.
    I would advise the LW to do what works for you and you can always change it later to something you feel fits you better. You should never self-define on someone else’s schedule, only ever your own.

  51. Boof*

    Yeah, same boat – always felt vaguely masculine but not necessarily wanting to be a man (I questioned this a lot as a teenager but ultimately mostly wished I could be like a female spotted hyenas ahah) – also pretty heterosexual. Don’t much care about pronouns but also want to be respectful of everyone and try to make a safe space; I admit I just threw she/they up there because eh, whatever, “he” would probably cause a lot of confusion

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      Cause confusion! Sow gender chaos in your wake! Embrace a pronoun that doesn’t “match” your “presentation” because gender is fake and we might as well have fun.

      But only if it’s something that would actually make you happy, don’t do it on my account.

      1. Boof*

        Ha, yes, back in the day I would do that and generally be a bit inordinately pleased with myself if people were confused – but I’m certainly not uncomfortable with any particular pronoun!

  52. Midwest Teacher*

    I’m non-binary, and this is a conversation I’ve had a lot in online spaces with other well-meaning teachers. Listing your pronouns should always be optional. No one should be forced to identify their pronouns when they are not ready/comfortable/safe to do so. Some people are trying so hard to be inclusionary that they’re swinging the opposite way. Requiring pronoun identification can force people to either come out or misgender themselves. Workplaces need to make sure they’re using verbiage that makes it clear to employees that it is not compulsory to add your pronouns to email signatures, introduce yourself using your pronouns, etc.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      In case anybody doesn’t understand what happened here, this person’s handle is an extremely common transphobic dogwhistle. I can pretty much guarantee their comment matched.

  53. M*

    My office is also very progressive on pronouns and similar inclusion efforts. But, thanks to one or a few people taking approach (b), the message from the company has evolved over time in a good way. We went from “pronouns are strongly encouraged” to “you can share them if you want” and similar message changes. It was really well accepted, especially when someone explained why. I hope you’ll consider speaking to someone!

  54. S*

    You can just say that you’d rather not do it right now.
    It sounds like they’re understanding and while they did it like a “mandatory” thing, they didn’t realize it’d be uncomfortable for some people but it seems like it wasn’t bc of bad faith.
    These days some subjects are too delicate and its hard to keep everyone happy, even when you mean good.
    So if the intention was to make everyone more comfortable, i’m sure they will be ok if you say at the moment you don’t want/can/are ready to participate.

  55. Pronoun Peruser*

    No real helpful comments here, only to say I sometimes feel the exact same way – I used she/her and present as such but honestly sometimes don’t feel 100% wedded to just these pronouns, so making a concrete decision either way would feel v uncomfortable before I can figure it out. I hope if you do speak with HR your company handles this well!

  56. GMan*

    Just a general question here, something I’ve noticed several times on this site and others:

    Does anyone else notice that, when talking about identity-related concepts like gender and race, the word “Folk” is used a lot more often than in regular conversation? Does anyone know why this is?

    1. Hamish the Accountant*

      Yes, it definitely is used more in these conversations. For me, and I suspect many others, it’s because I started substituting “folks” for gendered terms like “guys” and then it just entered my vocabulary more generally.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yeah. I actually don’t have an answer, but some folk (lol) take it one step further and use “folx” instead of “folks” or plural “folk.” Maybe they’re looking for an alternative to “people” when they feel they’re using “people” repetitively, or they’re using “folks” as a substitute for “guys.”

    3. JB*

      Because there are a lot of trans people participating in the conversation and that’s a term we use a lot.

      Most of us have large queer and trans friend groups. We don’t use ‘guys’ as a general form of address in these groups, because (regardless of how one feels about whether or not it’s a gender-neutral term) it can be upsetting for AMAB people (or any people) who don’t identify as, well, a guy.

      Right now the common form of casual address is ‘folks’ in many English-speaking queer and trans circles. It’s also more comfortable to say ‘trans folk’/’queer folk’ rather than ‘transgender people’ which sounds like a cis person complaining about us on the news.

      And ultimately – I know a lot of cis people seem to have strong opinions on it, but normalizing vs. not normalizing pronouns is primarily an in-community debate. So a lot of trans folk are going to code-switch and start using the terms they would use when talking to other trans folk when discussing it.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Thank you for acknowledging that this is (or at least should be) an in-community debate. I frankly do not care about cis people’s opinions on pronoun sharing and find it very frustrating when they try to center their discomfort in these conversations.

        1. Littorally*

          +1. I’m sadly not surprised but I am consistently baffled at how free so many cis people feel to tell us that our identities are uncomfy for them.

      2. Eliza*

        I don’t personally love “trans folk” because I think it makes us sound like we’re a species of elf or something, but it does indeed seem to be the term that’s caught on in the community, and I don’t have a better option that doesn’t sound a little bit sterile.

  57. Happy*

    I also feel deeply uncomfortable when encouraged to share my pronouns and wish that companies that want to be inclusive would just have leadership lead by example rather than asking others to do so.

  58. Cendol*

    This is so timely! A friend of mine works at a place where HR is pressuring folks to add not only their pronouns but also their *sexuality* to their email signatures. I.e., Carl, he/him, heterosexual. I am nonbinary and have pronouns to that effect in my signature and was having a hard time articulating the chilling effect this (one hopes) well-meaning rule could have on diversity & inclusion in the workplace.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This is so timely! A friend of mine works at a place where HR is pressuring folks to add not only their pronouns but also their *sexuality* to their email signatures.

      My disgust exceeds my ability to express it. I’m pretty sure that’s a lawsuit bullseye that’s visible from orbit.

    2. Hamish the Accountant*

      Their sexuality?! What the actual F?! What on Earth is the reasoning there, has HR said?

      My mind is blown.

      1. Cendol*

        I don’t know. My friend decided to omit this category from their signature, on the assumption that no one would actually notice or care. So if they get pushback, I guess one of us will be writing in to AAM, lol. My guess is their workplace want to showcase the diversity of their employee pool without thinking through any of the implications/consequences.

    3. NEVER a "they"*

      I seriously hope that that’s genuine lawsuit fodder, seeing as it’ll paint targets for bigots on anyone who doesn’t list “heterosexual”!

      My only guess at the reasoning is that whoever’s pushing it WANTS those targets…

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Nah, I bet you money they’re well meaning and have put zero thought into how this plays out. “Oh, I don’t mind my coworkers knowing I’m straight, and we’re very accepting here, so nobody should have a problem sharing this information” + absolute blindness to how subtle transphobia and homophobia play out in the workplace.

    4. Fellow AFAB Queer*

      That’s horrifying and as a non-binary person I would most definitely enjoy demonstrating how ridiculous it is by making my signature “[Name], Pronouns: Any, Sexuality: Schlongs, mostly” because when you’re don’t identify as either end of the gender binary, it’s a little more complicated than straight and gay so might as well answer the root of the question…

      1. anonymath*

        Heck, even if you’re ~on one end of the gender binary….

        “fall in love with {x}, but rather sleep with {y}, and read lusty stories about {z}”

        “depends on the weather”

        “generally attracted to ppl who look like this person I dated briefly in high school….”

        “always ends up with a person who can’t clean the bathroom and is irresponsible with money but has a lovely singing voice…. trying to change”

        “attracted to trouble”

        Like how specific do they want to get?!

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If your spouse works in a different department, does their name go in that spot?

          We’re probably putting more cognitive effort into this than those who composed the policy did.

      2. Tau*

        I have like five different orientations depending on where on the spectrum between “accurate” and “comprehensible” I want to fall at any given moment (the end result of “so I’m not sexually attracted to anyone but I do get crushes on women and some nonbinary people, but are they romantic? how do you tell the difference between romantic and platonic feelings anyway once sex is out of the picture?” gets a little… complex, terminology-wise. The nonbinariness is just the cherry on top.) For this sort of nonsense I’d be willing to pull out the stuff nobody outside small segments of the ace/aro community will have heard of.

    5. some dude*

      Oh wow. Wow.

      I’m guessing this is a well-meaning but horrifying way to attempt to be inclusive. Also yet another reason why HR gets a bad rap.

    6. Sunny*

      Ooh, yeah, I’m definitely up for having people get weird about potentially sharing space with me (bathrooms, shared accommodations, etc.) once they find out I’m bi and therefore potentially sexually attracted to them. That sounds like a blast.

      Pronouns are useful to know because they’re kind of important in speech. There is absolutely no use my co-workers would get out of knowing my sexuality (or I get out of knowing theirs) in any more detail than “this is my husband/wife/main squeeze”.

  59. Nicole Stamas*

    OP is it feasible to just ask people to refer to you by make in lieu of pronouns? It might be a little clunky but at least it will fit who you are?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I actually kind of love referring to you by make. “I’m human. You don’t need to know the model.” ;-)

    2. Evinrude*

      Having just been through something similar with a child, I have to say that “clunky” is an understatement and I can’t recommend it. It will call waaay more attention to pronouns (or lack thereof) — exactly the opposite of what OP wants.

      “Hey, do you know where Evinrude is?”
      “Evinrude was in Evinrude’s office earlier but might now be at the meeting Evinrude requested with the CFO.”
      “Oh. Will Evinrude’s whole team be there to discuss the project?”
      “No, Evinrude will be making the pitch Evinrude’s self.”

      1. Metadata minion*

        I’ve seen it done well, but it takes a *lot* of practice and you tend to have to significantly change the grammar of your statement (for example, your last sentence would get the same info across more smoothly as “No, Evinrude will be making the pitch solo” or “No, just Evinrude will be there to make the pitch”.).

        1. Evinrude*

          Oh yes, it’s definitely doable, especially in writing, and if someone requests it, it should be done.

          But as you say, it takes a whole lot of practice, and asking the entire office to work on those mental gymnastics in conversation on the fly has them all thinking about pronouns constantly whenever OP is mentioned, which is exactly what OP does NOT want.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It is definitely doable in writing – I sometimes have to write scenarios/case studies and I always include some people of indeterminate gender. Some gymnastics are required to smoothly skip pronouns altogether, but that’s what I get paid for, so. ;-) I’d have a more difficult time doing it on the fly.

      2. Wisteria*

        Remember the Swedish couple who called their kid Pop and didn’t use pronouns bc they were not revealing Pop’s gender? The news stories were awkwardly written.

      3. JSPA*

        “Hey, do you know where Evinrude is?”
        “the office, earlier, but now probably meeting with the CFO.”
        “Oh. Will Evinrude’s whole team be there to discuss the project?”
        “No, a solo pitch, just Evinrude.”

  60. Fellow AFAB Queer*

    Reading this letter and the handful of comments from people saying they have the same issues has been really nice as a fellow AFAB queer with no pronoun preference who is fine with defaulting to she/her for the sake of ease but would be very uncomfortable with stating it as a choice! In my case, I don’t think I will ever have preferred pronouns because even using a neutral they/xie type seems like choosing a side and the fun thing about being non-binary is that I don’t feel the same way every day. I haven’t had to deal with the issue at work because my company’s owners are deeply conservative and have supported some of the dreaded Bathroom Bills so pronouns are definitely not on their radar, but if it was a thing at a future workplace I would go with the “Pronouns: Any” option some commenters suggested above.

    My advice to the LW is to just not add your pronouns. It’s hard enough trying to figure out your identity, and you don’t owe it to anybody to do something that makes you uncomfortable. If someone gets on your case about it you can cross that bridge if you come to it. I do think it’s worth talking to someone about the asking people to say their pronouns out loud at a meeting thing at the very least, because that’s not something you can subtly opt out of and it really puts people on the spot (so somebody in your situation might, under pressure, be forced to make a split-second decision that they end up feeling bad about).

    I know Alison is generally against anonymous notes but I feel like this is a scenario where it might be warranted, because it’s something that really should be flagged for management/HR but it’s not fair to ask you to either out yourself or semi-closet yourself by doing the “other people might find this uncomfortable” thing. Theoretically, knowing that they have at least one queer employee who isn’t comfortable with how they’re doing pronouns should be enough to make them rethink things; they shouldn’t have to know who it is.

  61. mimsel*

    In a very similar situation, and I’ve been using “any/none.” I’m fine with people using she/her, but I want to express that they shouldn’t take that to mean anything about me beyond that I’m comfortable being referred to that way. In other situations I’ve said, “She/her is fine.”

    1. Wisteria*

      I feel like that is a little hard to pull off. I’m not going to argue with your pronouns bc you have the right to use your pronouns. I am thinking about this in light of experiences I have had with jerks who make a joke about pronouns. I see people, always cis binary people, so say things like, my pronouns are “me/mine,” “sir/highness,” “doctor/professor” (got that at work), or the hateful, hurtful, and racist “Apache” (reference is transphobic claim that their gender is attack helicopter). I would not know if a person who put “any/none” in their signature actually was comfortable with any pronouns or none at all or if that person was a jerk who didn’t respect pronouns and was just being a smart ass. So how do you (or one) distinguish between your genuine pronouns being any pronouns and some jerk saying any? I don’t have good answers.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        I mean, if someone says “any” then take them at their word. Use a pronoun that doesn’t seem to match their presentation and see how they react.

      2. AutolycusinExile*

        Well, you don’t. You can’t tell that someone is a transphobe from the pronouns you give, regardless of what words they tell you to use. Self-provided labels are a pretty poor way of identifying jerks – but that really doesn’t matter! Bigot status isn’t the information that’s being communicated, and if that’s the information you’re trying to get then it’s no wonder you’re confused. You’re looking for the wrong thing and missing the point of the conversation the two of you are having. The only information being communicated is grammatical: which pronouns to use. If someone wearing a pride flag gives they/them as their pronouns, you would still have no way of knowing that they are or aren’t transphobic, or racist, or an asshole. Why would it be any different with other pronouns? The answer to your question is that you monitor their behavior and decide whether they are safe from their actions and patterns of behavior, not from their words.

        Besides, when the assholes are being transphobic and giving fake pronouns, you treat them like real pronouns anyway, in case what you’re actually dealing with is an asshole who uses neopronouns. If they are being transphobic it will piss them off to no end, because what they’re trying to do is get you to admit that pronouns aren’t as important as you say they are. If you’re willing to misgender them when they tell you to use X/Y/Z pronouns, then why can’t they misgender someone else who uses A/B/C? You’ll have just demonstrated to them that you think there *are* situations when misgendering people is acceptable, as long as you dislike them enough.

        There was actually a great discussion in the open thread about that exact situation not too long ago!
        And hey, maybe you’re dealing with a racist bigot who is also genderqueer! I guarantee you they exist. Even royal douchebags deserve to have you use the pronouns they asked you to use.

        (And frankly, any/none would be a hell of an unusual fake pronoun since, as your given examples show, giving fake pronouns out of transphobia is something that people do for the shock factor of it. As I mentioned above, they want you to have an outsized emotional reaction that they can use as an excuse to justify their behavior to themselves. Racist shit or ‘his lordship’ are that. ‘I don’t use pronouns’ is very not that. Loads of people are agender or undecided or genderqueer or multi-gender and any/none is a perfectly reasonable way for all of those different people to list their pronouns accurately. Comparing it to racist pronouns is a hell of a leap and it’s worth doing some introspection to see if it might be an indicator of some unconscious disdain for agender or non-traditionally genderqueer people. It’s not the end of the world if it is – recognizing your internal bias there is an important part of changing it!)

  62. L*

    Mood, OP! I’m in my late 30s and have been non-binary longer than I knew a word for it. But for pronouns….. I try to avoid them for myself whenever possible. These days I present more femme (and let’s be real, it’s because I gained weight and my work environment is very……… binary and more conservative) so if I put ‘they/them’ (not right but closest I guess or ‘she/they’ (ok but I still have to see ‘she’ in there??) nothing feels right anyway. Sucks. Can’t I just be an agender amorphous blob, brain only thanks.

    1. L*

      I forgot half of my original point in that explaining in my work environment ‘they’ or ‘none please’ feels way more stressful than hearing ‘she.’ I don’t want attention (for anything other than my good work, thanks).

  63. earl grey*

    Solidarity, OP. My gender feelings are very similar to yours. I went to a very liberal college where there was constant pressure to share pronouns, including from professors who would put students on the spot the first day with a “name, pronouns, fun fact” kind of introduction. It would make me literally ill with anxiety, even though I was (and am) very out as queer, and also meant I had to do a ton of explaining and educating when all I wanted was to show up to class in peace. I wish I could have said “I’m not sure” but I think that would have been even worse than defaulting to “they/them, I guess,” which is what I did. Some of it came from other queer people but most of it came from cis, straight “allies” whose perception of themselves as allies was, I guess, more important than my actual comfort and preferences as a queer person.

    Now I say “any and all pronouns are fine.” If I’m saying it directly to someone as opposed to in an email signature or on a social media profile, I try and keep my tone as cheerful and breezy as possible. Not sure if that’s an option for you but it works okay for me. It’s such a catch-22 because if you speak up about it, it puts you under even more of a microscope. I hope the pronoun pressure dies out quickly, at your job and everywhere else!

  64. friendly viper*

    I wish there was a generally applicable, elegant way to suggest that a company takes a broader view of a politically charged topic like this. I keep finding this in our large company – whether it’s gender or race or sexuality, if we are in the ‘minority’ we are supposed to be happy with these ‘progressive’ edicts from above (which are almost always, in my experience, set by a person who is not a minority). It is extremely uncomfortable when you are in the minority but not happy with this edict, if you genuinely don’t want that to become a ‘thing’ at work. I think many of us in the minority would genuinely prefer if we just focused on work productivity, but often the ‘minority identity’ is hoisted on us in an unwelcome way. Is there a polite way to say ‘keep me out of this please’.

    1. Butch in the Office*

      WOW you put it so well. “if we are in the ‘minority’ we are supposed to be happy with these ‘progressive’ edicts from above (which are almost always, in my experience, set by a person who is not a minority).”

      It takes a lot of built up social capital to say anything about these dynamics, in my experience.

      Often the people from above imposing these things are VIRTUE SIGNALERS whose egos will be bruised if you are real about this.

  65. LabTechNoMore*

    I’m encouraged to see pronoun questions becoming more commonplace, but I also worry that a lot of the same places that ask for pronouns aren’t necessarily going to be safe to disclose for trans and non-binary folk. It can lead to situations like OP describes where clumsy implementation of asking for pronouns pressures trans/NB (and questioning) employees to either explicitly misgender themselves, or otherwise have to deal with the hefty discrimination and explicit misgendering that a transphobic work environment will foster. A lot of these same places tend to ask for pronouns and not do much of anything else in terms of supporting their trans/NB employees.

    OP, if you’re not super comfortable with listing your pronouns just yet, I’m of the camp of just not listing your pronouns. A lot of people don’t list them for all kinds of reasons, and it’s not super common to enforce listing pronouns (in part because of the learning curve a lot of companies are still climbing in this regard). Some non-binary variations I’ve seen include she/they, all, any, they/she, but if you’re not at the point of wanting to out yourself then don’t. These policies are ostensibly to support trans/NB employees, so if the way you feel supported is to not yet disclose your pronouns, then do what feels the most safe for you!

  66. allabee*

    I’m sorry for the position you’ve been put in and appreciate you writing in as it’s given me something to talk about with my management team.

  67. Fellow AFAB Queer*

    On a related note, I wish workplaces (and honestly, the world) would start moving toward policies that actually help trans/non-binary people without shining a spotlight on them, like getting out of the habit of using gendered language in general (i.e., “Hey ladies!”) because it’s always based on an assumption about someone’s identify based on how they present which, closeted or out, is often not accurate. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in some sort of group activity that ended up with people grouped by (perceived) gender and somebody says “Looks like it’s boys vs. girls” and had to either bite my tongue and feel crappy or make a big deal about correcting them and hope they don’t react poorly.

    1. Pikachu*

      I live in Kentucky. The general acceptance of an inclusive “y’all” is its most redeeming quality.

      Maybe bourbon too. But mostly “y’all.”

  68. J.B.*

    I always wondered whether sharing pronouns actually felt supportive or even mattered. This has given great food for thought particularly avoiding name, pronouns kind of round robin introductions.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, I would never ever recommend making pronouns required or an active focus. I work instead to remove them, especially from my business speak. That way, I neither make assumptions nor put people on the spot.

    2. Parakeet*

      I first encountered pronoun-sharing during intros, in 2009, and I felt like it was a big deal then, and made me feel more, not less, supported when I started reconsidering my own pronouns a couple of years later. But I get that it can be a different experience for people doing it at different times (and also, a different experience for different people in general, for a bunch of reasons including that people aren’t a monolith).

      I am also glad that the phenomenon of the one cis person in a group who laughs and says something like “call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late to dinner” (which is very different from a trans/nonbinary person who is fine with any pronoun, and in my experience it’s usually not hard to tell the difference) seems to be gradually fading.

      1. JSPA*

        I say precisely that. And you might well, if you were there, assume I’m cis (and short on style), rather than gender non conforming (and short on gender identity).

        The only time I definitely don’t answer to “sir” is when someone’s aggressively panhandling me (especially if they grab my arm as they do it). But I also don’t answer to much of anything else under that circumstance.

  69. anony*

    OP, I vote for option b, when and if you feel comfortable enough. And until then, whatever’s most comfortable for you.

    Mostly, I don’t share pronouns, and it can sometimes feel uncomfortable to be the only one not sharing. But those are the times when it feels most important — because I am helping to create a space for others who may feel even less comfortable. Sometimes, if I am feeling brave, I will actually say that when my turn comes.

  70. N*

    Thank you for writing this, OP! I’m dealing with this also. My company has started using pronouns which is great but I don’t feel comfortable doing it for myself in such a way. I don’t have any advice, just happy to know that I’m not the only one!

  71. hbc*

    Can you take some of the emotional load off of it if you think of it like someone asking for your name? As in, everyone calls you Jen but you’re fine with Jennifer and might actually prefer it sometimes and have been considering whether you feel more like a Jennifer, but you’re definitely not a Jenny. “I answer to Jen,” “most people call me Jen, I’m fine with Jennifer too,” “Jen or Jennifer, just not Jenny,” or “Jen today, we’ll see about tomorrow”–anything in there that fits with your personality and how much you want to walk the line between feeling like you’re lying that you are eternally Jen versus inviting people into your private Jen/Jennifer thoughts?

    Obviously a nickname isn’t on the same level as gender identity, but this helps me to get to phrasing that feels comfortable without getting thrown by the topic.

  72. Sara M*

    Hey OP! I think I can really help you! You just described me!

    I am pronoun “whatever” in my own mind but that is dismissive-sounding. So I write “she/they/any”. Problem solved! If asked, I say, “I respect everyone’s pronouns! It doesn’t especially matter to me what I’m called, but most people use she as the obvious one. They is also fine.”

    You could just say “she/they” if you don’t like the idea of being called “he”.

    It’s ok! You can do this. The pronouns are YOURS to care about or not. You can even change them next month if you decide to be permanently they or whatever.

    1. Sara M*

      If it helps any, I have been non-binary and known this for twenty years. I appear cis female, queer looking but definitely femme. Inside, I’m always “the only whatever-I-am” in the room. (Thanks, Ani DiFranco!)

      It doesn’t matter what you’ve decided inside. It’s what you feel like doing on the outside. I look and pass so female that I’m more ok with “she” than a non-binary like me might otherwise be. But everyone feels differently.

    2. Single Noun*

      (not OP, similar situation, and wow there are so many of us in the comments!)

      This is what I do in internet spaces, but I am extremely not willing or able to go through Trans 340 (i.e. as distinct from Trans 101) with everyone who notices my signature and then get she’d most of the time anyway. (I have colleagues who go by just ‘they’ and have for years and still get ‘she’ and ‘ladies’ more often than not, sometimes even during a conversation about gender.) So far I’ve been mostly able to get away with letting ‘she’ be an assumption instead of having to state one (or the other, or multiple).

  73. riverbflat*

    I’m in a similar spot, only without the pressuring. Which is good, cause so far I’d be the only “they,” and not only does nobody here know that already, I’m not ready to be the first. Oh well…. Maybe someday

  74. Jules the 3rd*

    E, OP, E. You only need to do what you’re comfortable doing, and that’s where everyone should be.

    You can B: Push back if you feel really comfortable about it, and maybe the script “We should soft pedal this so that people who are unsure of their identity, or uncomfortable coming out, don’t feel pressured” could give you the emotional distance to do so. But it’s not required.

    The comfort and safety of LGBTQx people should be the goal of this kind of initiative, but a lot of cis / straight people aren’t aware of all the permutations and complications, and push performatively. It’s not your job to fix them, your job is to prioritize your health and comfort.

    internet hugs if you want them, and good luck all around.

  75. The Chatty One*

    Last year I put my pronouns (he/him) in my email signature unprompted, to help normalize the practice. Last month, I realized that I’m non-binary/genderfluid. I’m trying on pronouns and an old nickname as a preferred name. But I haven’t changed my email signature since I’m not ready to be out at work.

    You shouldn’t have to declare pronouns until you’re ready. Being questioning is a fundamental part of the LGBTQIA+ experience, and needs to be respected.

    If your company is truly being inclusive, they need to be understanding if you put down she/her and then change it later once you figure out what you prefer. Seriously, though, they should accept without question anyone’s polite refusal to declare pronouns without prying. It’s personal and they need to respect that. Employees need to respect each other’s pronouns, but no one should be required to declare them.

  76. trans and tired*

    I have long since settled on what my gender is and “finished” transition years ago, and I still feel deeply stressed and unhappy when people ask about my pronouns. I was a very obviously gender non conforming child and spent my entire childhood being asked “are you a boy or a girl?” Asking for pronouns is the same damn question. Sure there are more than two options now, and it’s dressed up in nicer-sounding language, but at its core it’s the same question, and I’ve already answered that question enough times for one lifetime.

    I act dismissive when people talk pronouns. This generally means that people assume I’m cisgender and uncaring about inclusion, which hurts a lot. But it hurts less than dredging up those childhood memories, especially in the workplace.

    I recognize that I’m in an easier spot than other trans and gender non conforming people who can’t rely on people to recognize their gender correctly without needing to explain it. I do want to support them and don’t like being in conflict with other members of my community who are trying to find their own way and create a healthier environment for themselves. But I need to take care of my own needs first.

  77. MangoAngel*

    I’ve been wondering: if I’m referring to someone I don’t really know, and therefore have no real way of knowing their preferred pronouns, is it offensive or even precious to default to use “they” when referencing said person? Even before denoted pronouns became a common thing, I generally tended towards that, and I’m not really sure why.

    Like, I meet someone in passing and gave a brief conversation with them. The person looks like a girl, is wearing a name tag with a feminine name. Later, I tell a friend about my day and reference the conversation. “I asked the cashier about that wine, and they said it was one of their favourites, so I’m looking forward to it!”

    Or am I doing what I usually do and reeeeeally putting too much thought into it?

    1. Excel Jedi*

      You’re putting too much thought into it.

      “They” is gender neutral. It shouldn’t come off as offensive to talk about anyone as they unless they’ve explicitly told you their pronouns, because it’s the innocuous default when you don’t know the correct pronoun.

      1. MangoAngel*

        Thank you! I’ve just always lapsed into it, not for any gender reasons, really, but in recent years people have started chiding me for it, kind of accusing me of being precious when I was genuinely just speaking without giving it much thought.

        Thanks for the reply :)

    2. Hamish the Accountant*

      Yeah, you’re overthinking it. :)

      It’s fine to do that. It would also be fine to default to she/her for the person in your example.

      1. MangoAngel*

        Good deal :)

        I do that, too, but sometimes the “they” just happens and it has nothing to do with gender assumption. I think my brain just rebels because my English teachers always yelled at me for using a singular “they” in my stories and now they can’t stop me…LOL!

    3. Dizzy's Pell*

      English speakers have used “they” like that for centuries. It’s completely fine.

      1. MangoAngel*

        That’s what I tried telling my high school teachers, but would they listen? Nooo…

    4. OyHiOh*

      I use gender neutral pronouns in similar situations, to make non-binary pronouns as familiar as male/female pronouns in my brain and in my thinking habits. I know a couple people who are out as non binary, and this is one of the things I’ve done to help avoid slip ups when talking about/to my friends.

  78. learnedthehardway*

    This is exactly the reason why I’ve so far resisted adding pronouns to my email and various documents – it feels very performative to me when people who are cis-gendered are specifying their gendered pronouns. And it puts people who may not want to be open/public about the fact that their gender doesn’t align with their biology right into the spotlight. It may be supportive for some people, but I suspect there are a lot of people like the OP who really would prefer not to have to focus on specifying their gender.

    1. Pikachu*

      This is an interesting perspective. I am a cis woman and I started including mine because I want other individuals to know that I agree that it’s important and they do not have to be worried about judgment from me if they want to disclose their own. Your comment makes me realize just how performative or virtue-signaly that idea might be.

      Then again, I’m certainly coming at this from a place of privilege having never faced this struggle personally. I fully admit that I don’t know shit about it and have no idea how to show allyship, especially in a digital world.

      1. trans and tired*

        Despite the bad rap it’s gotten, virtue signaling isn’t a bad thing. Putting your pronouns in your signature is perfectly fine so long as you’re not pressuring people who are uncomfortable to do the same.

        1. Eliza*

          Yeah, even if it doesn’t translate into anything that tangibly makes my life easier, it’s at least better than people who go out of their way to signal that they’re *not* okay with us. For as much as it can feel like an empty gesture sometimes, I’d rather have an empty gesture of friendship than one of hostility.

  79. Hey Nonny Nonny*

    My company started encouraging pronouns in things like Zoom/Slack/email a few years ago. (The decision had broad agreement but the primary advocates were trans and nonbinary folks, if that matters.)

    Since then, several people have used options like “any pronouns,” or just not sharing pronouns, and it’s an unexceptional choice. Which is pretty much the line between “encouraged” and “enforced,” I suppose.

    OP, I’m sorry it’s a frustrating experience for you. My fingers are crossed that opting out turns out to be a valid option that’s not a big deal.

  80. Ally*

    I’m just wondering, what do your friends and family call you? Do they skip pronouns all together and just use your name? “Taylor and I went to the movies now that movie theaters are open. Taylor loved the film. Taylor got a small popcorn because I prefer to eat candy.” How so other people in this situation handle it? I’m not trying to mock anyone. I’m genuinely curious.

    1. trans and tired*

      From the letter: Friends and family use female pronouns because I’ve never asked them to do otherwise. Letting people default to the pronoun that matches your name and/or gender presentation because you don’t really care or aren’t sure what you’d like to be called instead is different from actively telling them to use that pronoun.

  81. PT*

    What does adding pronouns to emails, etc., do to women who have specifically selected professional pseudonyms or nicknames that are gender-neutral so they can be taken more seriously in written communication? Ex, if Alexandra goes by Alex because she communicates a lot by email and finds she gets better responses when her signature is Alex, not Alexandra.

    If she’s now Alex Smith, she/her, she might as well go back to being Alexandra, then.

    1. pancakes*

      I’m pretty sure there are a few women in these comments who’ve said they appreciate pronouns not being mandatory for precisely that reason.

  82. chilipepper attitude*

    Now I want to say, let’s normalize not knowing your pronouns (or not wanting to share them) by putting “none/no idea yet” in the spot reserved at your place of work for the pronouns.

  83. toast*

    I’m a queer nonbinary person and on the one hand, I don’t really get the angst about being asked for pronouns, because it’s literally like… what words do you want people to say when they talk about you? They’re gonna say some words. You have a chance to have an opinion about it.

    On the other hand I’m a hypocrite because my own pronouns are a big shrug (I feel like, if I were twenty years younger I would be happily using “they” but as it is I mostly associate “they” with anxiety and embarrassment, and the binary pronouns are all equally bad) and I usually don’t volunteer them unless asked (and if asked I usually either put she/he/they or I just say “she is fine” which is what people usually use if not prompted) .

    Anyway, giving people the option to do the pronouns or not is probably good.

  84. WindmillArms*

    I’m a not-really-ever-going-to-fully-“pass” trans man who feels very ambivalent about being asked for pronouns. It’s a nice idea, but when I tell people “he” and I still get a mix of she/he/they, it feels particularly awful. I already get a fairly even split of she/he/they in general life, so someone who thought to ask the question but not listen to the answer really bothers me. It happens a shocking amount.

    1. anonymous whatever*

      Just want to emphasize this for the folks in the comments who are asking what it is to be an ally if it’s not putting pronouns on everything: LISTENING TO THE ANSWER or the intentional non-answer, respecting it, not brooking disrespectful misgendering when your colleagues with “difficult” pronoun situations are out of the room, understanding how to take on some of the labor for your colleagues (are these also the name & pronouns you want used when we call your references? fill out your security clearance? make travel plans? book a hotel for you? — if you can’t imagine why these would be concerns and you’re not sure how to clarify politely, or you’re fastidious about asking trans/nonconforming people CONSTANTLY but you don’t think twice with anyone else, you may have some work to do!).

      As this thread has shown, there is no magic wand that will make all people feel affirmed in their gender all the time! We may never get there. But the status quo is known to be terrible for lots of us, so we keep working and listening together.

  85. MEH Squared*

    I really feel for the letter writer because I’m in the same boat as far as questioning. I don’t work in an office, though, so I don’t have to deal with that aspect, but if I did, I would have a really hard time being forced to choose my pronouns. I’m AFAB and because of my two cultures (American and Taiwanese), I have never felt like a woman. I’ve been explicitly told I didn’t act/think like a woman. After several decades of this, I don’t feel like a she/her, though I will accept it from others. But I also don’t like they/them and I’m definitely not a he/him. I was explaining this to my brother who is not up on these issues at all and he said, “You just want to be called (name here).”

    He was right. It’s the same with many other aspects of my persona. I chose bisexual as a default because I didn’t like the alternatives. I would prefer just saying I’m sexual, but that sounds flippant and emphasizes the wrong thing. I’m not a theist, but I’m also not an atheist, etc.

    I will say that I’m heartened by all the commenters on this post who express similar feelings and struggles. It helps to know I’m not alone in my questioning. I’m sorry I don’t have any practical advice for the letter writer–just a lot of empathy.

  86. Here I am*

    Why would you assume that “It’s easy for cis people to pick their pronouns; gender is straightforward and obvious for them.” This is definitely not the case for all of “us” cis people. Maybe it seems straightforward and obvious to you, but perhaps that’s because you have chosen to put them in an “other” category.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      My answer would be that maybe you’re not as cis as all that? Cisgender means “identifies with the gender adults assigned you, based on your genitals when you were born” – if you don’t identify comfortably with that gender, even if you eventually settled on your assigned-at-birth original pronouns for convenience or comfort or safety, that sounds a whole lot like you could fit under the nonbinary or genderqueer umbrella. If you read through this thread you’ll find plenty of other people who just… don’t identify strongly with any gender, or whose gender is extremely fluid. That counts!

      Alternatively, if you mean that you’re intersex, that’s definitely not cis unless you want it to be, and you’re already in the acronyms – LGBTQQIA (…queer, questioning, intersex, asexual) and/or QUILTBAG (Queer, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, asexual, gay).

      1. JSPA*

        You can have plenty of pain and bad history with literally any aspect of your identity, no matter how hard you identify with it. You can also have a strong distaste for how other people express that shared identity.

        (You wouldn’t suggest that someone who has a complex or painful relationship with part of their heritage, disavow that, I assume!)

        People who are gender nonconforming are not, automatically, “not cis,” for that matter. The gender(s) you fail to conform to may or may not be the one(s*) assigned at birth.

        *Asterisk for my noticed-as-intersex-but-still-assigned-a-presumed-gender-at-or-soon-after-birth friends.

      2. Martin Blackwood*

        This comment sits really weirdly with me, because if you said everyone who ever experimented with their sexuality was gay/bi/etc, you’d get a lot of uncomfortable straight people! Cis people pondering what gender means doesn’t automatically make them genderqueer.

        I’m so pro cis people questioning their genders and what being a man/woman/person actually means. Take the gender society gave you and make it your own! Stick it to Big Gender!

  87. IEanon*

    I have my pronouns in my signature, even though my org does not require it. This is mostly because I wanted to signal awareness and allyship (I’m cisgender, but queer). I also included them because I work with an international population and have found that many of my correspondents assume I’m a man because I have a modicum of authority.

  88. Anon for this*

    I really disagree that gender is simple and straightforward for all/most people who aren’t trans, especially when they’re also LGB or gender non-conforming. I’m a “cis” (I don’t especially love that term) person who detransitioned a few years ago. Gender isn’t a simple thing for me, and I too am uncomfortable with the expectation that I must share pronouns in the workplace.

  89. Despachito*

    Can I ask for a clarification?

    I am from a non-English speaking country, and the pronoun phenomenon seems to be fairly new and I am wondering – what exactly is it meant for?

    I understand and respect if someone who would stereotypically be perceived as a man identifies as a woman and wishes to be addressed as such, and I would respect it the same as I would respect that Michael wants to be addressed as “Mickey” and not “Mike”.

    But several people mentioned that the pronouns can change as “what do you want to be called today”, and this is what baffles me. I have no problem remembering that this coworker is “Mickey”, but if I had to change between “Mickey”, “Mike” and “Mitch” according to how “Michael” is feeling right now, and do the same with more people, I would be afraid that it would take up too much space and mental capacity which should be rather spent on work.

    But I would be glad if someone shed some light in this for me.

    1. anonymous whatever*

      Some non-exhaustive examples, using your coworker… I think people actually do this all the time as they get to know people:

      –This coworker is “Mickey” (they/Mx.) around the office, but when people ask for “Dr. Mouse,” (Ms. ____, using “she”) you should connect them to Mickey, and it would be appropriate to say “Dr. Mouse, do you have a minute?” instead of using Mickey’s more casual name. If someone calls for “Mitch,” (Mr. _____, using “he”) they’re probably Mickey’s mom, and they want to talk to Mickey, and Mickey’s fine with Mom using “Mitch” but that doesn’t mean you can. If you’re in charge of filling out legal documents or doing audits, you may need to know that, to the government, Mickey is “Michael.”

      –A coworker’s e-mail signature uses a formal version of a name (or a binary or common pronoun that saves them grief when contacting strangers), but as you get to know them better, you’re invited to call them by a nickname (or a different pronoun, or a less common neopronoun).

      –When Mickey’s kids come along to work, you’ll need to ask them for “Michael” or “your dad” if you want to get anywhere.

      In my experience, people who are genderfluid or otherwise use different pronouns on different days are pretty upfront about it if it’s important to them at work, whether that’s “if I’m wearing a dress, you should ‘she’ me; otherwise, I’m ‘they'” or “when I’m working with the public, my name is Marge and I’m she/her, but just among us, you can call me Mike and use ‘they'” or “I wear a nametag to work with my pronouns on it, which will change from day to day.”

      1. Despachito*

        Thank you for the explanation.

        However, it still seems to me a looooot of emotional work required from a stranger at work who should be concentrating primarily on work, and I ask myself when it leaves the realm of the reasonable.

        I basically have no problem with calling people whatever they wish to be called but if they are not really close friends I’d rather keep it simple. I have no problem if “Michael” prefers to be called “Mickey” in personal contact, his mother wants to be passed to “Mitch” and professionally he is referred to as “Dr. Mouse”, but having to remember that today I should call him “Mickey”, but in a week “Mike” and in yet another “Mick” would be hard to remember for me, and would feel weird, as we all, as Allison nicely puts it, have only so much social capital to spend, and this would probably soon drain his as far as I am concerned (I’d like to concentrate on work AND made reasonable accommodations for whoever works with me, but I would like to underline the word REASONABLE).
        Perhaps the nametage would work as it would be straightforward about the person’s preferences, but to be honest, I’d find it still rather unusual.

        1. anonymous whatever*

          I guess in my experience, there’s a difference between a hypothetical most complicated case scenario and an actual human person that you’ve come to know (based on what they’ve decided to share at work) and understand.

          1. Despachito*

            Yes, you are probably right.

            As long as the person concerned explains what she/he/they want from me and keeps it simple, I reckon there’s no problem.

        2. JSPA*

          Most people, regardless of gender and pronouns, are not intentionally difficult. You’d be fine.

          People who are drama-fed and intentionally difficult in life…they exist, sure. We’ve all met a few. They are generally on borrowed social capital in any case. Whether or not they use shifting pronouns is almost beside the point, as they’re primed to be offended before you greet or refer to them.

          In a small nonprofit or boutique business where people function at least as much as pals, as they do coworkers, this sort of information is within the bounds of what gets transmitted naturally via banter and chat. The cake decorator is Miss Lavinia / she / her when doing the fancy wedding cakes because it gets her in the mood; but Josh / they / them if it’s their turn to roll in bleary-eyed to feed the sourdough at 2 AM.

          For comparison, consider the old, old traditions of writers using a nom de plume or actors with a stage name.

      2. Butch in the Office*

        If someone told me to “she” them only when they wore a dress, I would just laugh. We left those stereotypes in the 50s. Sorry. Just my perspective.

        1. anonymous whatever*

          Okay! I agree that it can sound like something straight out of heteronormative cotillion life, but here are the kinds of things I’m thinking of:
          –I tend to wear dresses in situations where it’s very important that I be perceived as just another ladyperson. I would really appreciate it if someone who knows I otherwise prefer a “they” would just go along to get along. It’s not my stereotype, but it is sometimes a survival mechanism. It’s also not something I would assume someone would just guess–it’s almost always a situational check-in with a queer friend, or with my partner.
          –I also know people who only wear dresses in spaces where they feel *safe* being perceived as a woman, or as nonbinary, or as a gender-expansive person; the dress isn’t making the gender, but it’s a signal as to what name/pronouns are good to use. Again, there’s a preexisting relationship here, and it makes sense to me.

          1. Eliza*

            I also know genderfluid people who present according to what’s socially expected of the gender they currently feel closest to because, well, how else are you supposed to get the public at large to see you as you see yourself if not by making use of widely understood social cues?

            1. Eliza*

              (And yes, making use of widely understood social cues sometimes means playing into stereotypes, and yes, that’s frustrating, but sometimes it’s the only thing that people understand.)

        2. JSPA*

          Maybe visualize Conchita Wurst / Thomas Neuwirth here? A clearly femme alter-ego–more subtle than campy, old-style drag.

          Which isn’t to say one can’t be butch in a dress. Or male in a dress (I believe Billy Porter uses he/him, regardless, but am open to being corrected).

          But if someone in their own life chooses to go bimodal (wearing pants in male and masc. mode, wearing a dress in female and femme mode) it’s pretty simple to let people know that.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. I admit that I’d have a far easier time switching pronouns back and forth for someone who takes the guesswork out of it. I bet I’d learn to do it without thinking very quickly.

          2. Butch in the Office*

            Happy to use someone’s pronouns but no, I’m not going to do it based on how you dress. That is harmful sex stereotyping that doesn’t just impact the person demanding it. (And what a demand to make of others!) Wear a pronoun pin if it’s that important to you.

            1. rototiller*

              This conversation seems pretty specifically about social interactions among non-binary or genderfluid people and those they trust, so I don’t think the opinions of someone with an anti-trans ideology are super relevant. You’re unlikely to be in this situation for obvious reasons!

  90. fantomina*

    As a practice, I’ve started saying to students, etc., “please let me know if there are particular pronouns you’d like me to use.” Several people in my department have “Pronouns in use:…” in their email signatures, and it’s spreading across campus– I really like that formulation because it recognizes that pronouns are not static and might change. (Also, the student information system has “pronouns: [write in field]” so students aren’t constrained to the more common options, AND it’s not a required question, so students can abstain from naming their pronouns for whatever reason. I love it.

    1. Despachito*

      But how do you keep track of the “pronouns in use” if they keep changing? Do you use the e-mail signatures as a reference?

      1. Fire Ferret*

        Yes, but also they aren’t talking about people changing their pronouns week to week. I’m trans-nonbinary and use they/he pronouns. Originally I used they/them when I came out, but decided that wasn’t quite right. It can take a long time to figure out what gender identity and pronouns you are most comfortable with when they don’t match what was assumed about you at birth. Also, gender identity and a person’s relationship to it can change over time. Pronouns in use recognizes this and prevents people from feeling like they have to make a decision that is written in stone when they may not be ready to do that.

      2. Fire Ferret*

        Also, I see that you have asked versions of this question on several threads and making spurious counter arguments to the responses you get. I’m all for cis people asking questions in good faith to better understand, but playing devil’s advocate and asking supposed good faith questions as a way to express your negative feelings about trans people is not cool.

        1. Despachito*

          Wait, are you sure it was me?

          I do not keep track whether/how many questions I asked on that topic, so I cannot argue that I didn’t, but I most definitely do not have negative feelings about trans people, and to be honest, I feel a bit miffed that you insinuate this.

          What IS true, I suppose, is that I do not know any trans-person in person, so everything I ask is just theory, (and I agree with what people said, that it is much easier to figure it out when the person in question is a real coworker).

          I confess though that I very likely echo certain prejudices related to someone wanting special treatment most of which is up to the audience to figure out, and I feel explanations are helpful in this case.

          I must also confess that it costs me a bit to wrap my head around “gender-fluidity”, as this concept is relatively new to me, but I am trying.

          So I am not going to pretend I am completely prejudice-less, but I think I am willing to learn, hope I am not being (unintentionally) mean, and I find the answers very kind and helpful.

          1. allathian*

            I’m in the same boat as you are, in that I don’t know anyone who’s out as trans. There might be closeted trans folks among my acquaintances and coworkers, but if so, they pass as the gender that matches their name so that I’m unaware of it.

            My main working language is Finnish, which doesn’t have any gendered pronouns, so I don’t even need to know someone’s gender to talk about them in the third person.

            1. Despachito*

              Oh, interesting, I did not know Finnish does not have gendered pronouns!

              Perhaps I am terribly wrong (and if so, I’d willingly stand corrected), but shouldn’t workplace (of course, in an ideal word) be just the place where IT IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT whether you are male/female either by birth or by choice (I know that this is not accurate as I understand it is not really a choice you can willingly change), just as for example your religion (which is your personal business and should be respected but rarely is something you should emphasize at work).

              I understand that, unlike the religion, you have to have some way to address your coworkers so that you cannot completely cut out this aspect from your work life, but it is by no means an important aspect of it. The ideal world for me would be that in WORK environment everybody is treated as a PERSON – respectfully and completely devoid from any gendered prejudices/sexually laden jokes.

              But then again, I come from a point where I do not know any transgender /fluid person, and I am still learning.

              1. Tara*

                In a sense, you’re right, but think about it from a similar perspective to where people say ‘your race doesn’t matter to me, I don’t see colour!’, it can invalidate marginalised identities. Gender non-conforming/trans people are under attack right now, and although gender identity in all senses shouldn’t really matter in the workplace, it matters in society, and work is a facet of that society. It’s about making the culture inclusive, rather than just relying on pre-existing diversity. But if people are pushing inclusivity too far, it can go past a boundary and stop being that – which is the issue LW is facing. Does that make sense?

                1. Despachito*

                  Partly, yes, but I am still struggling with some aspects.

                  The “I don’t see colour” thing – I always thought it to be positive (as in “I treat all people with the same respect irrespective of their colour”) but it seems it isn’t?

                  But shouldn’t this be an ultimate target, just not let any stereotypes play into how we perceive/treat that person?

                  The only thing that comes to my mind is that for many people this utterance is more of a lip service than a real stance, and despite claiming “I do not see colour “, they still treat people different based on that?

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This is taking us far off-topic so I’ll ask that you read about that question and why it’s so problematic (there’s lots if you google), and let’s leave this here. Thank you.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      No, but depending on the team you might be spoken of in your presence. Either of these things are quite plausible: we’re in a standup meeting and my peer says to our boss “Mad Harry Crewe offered to help with this problem we’ve been seeing, so I’m meeting with him later” or post on a team message board “Shoutout to Mad Harry Crewe, he was super helpful on X Project.” They’re not speaking to me, they’re speaking of me in a public forum, where I am reasonably likely to see it.

      Also, there are a plethora of other gendered terms that are used directly to someone’s face – miss or mister, ladies/gentlemen (addressing a group of people perceived to have a shared gender). It can be intended as a casual/fun/friendly manner of address (“thank you, ladies, I appreciate your help today”) or as a way of deliberately misgendering someone.

        1. nona*

          I mean – you could still do all those examples without gendering anyone
          “Mad Harry Crewe offered to help with this problem we’ve been seeing; we’re (or MHC and I are) meeting later to discuss”
          “Shoutout to MHC, who was super helpful on Project”

          As for the honorifics – you can just drop them. These can be a little harder to adjust to in the moment, as they are muscle memory/ filler words for a lot of people, but it’s just as easy to say “Welcome, everyone” as it is to say “Welcome ladies and gentlemen”

          For casual – I definitely supporting the adoption of you all/y’all/all y’all.

          1. nona*

            but I take the point that it’s not the primary way people may think when dashing out a note.

          2. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Oh for sure! All of these are really good constructions that avoid accidentally misgendering everybody, but, for example, my last boss was a friendly, gossipy, extremely cishet dude about my age, and he clearly thought he was building camaraderie by casually referring to myself and my two fellow team leads as “ladies” as in “thanks for your time, ladies” or “what can I do for you ladies today?” and it was not worth it to me to raise that, either in workplace capital, gossip, or straining the relationship. If he was my friend? Sure, absolutely. Honestly we just wouldn’t be friends, no hard feelings. Other colleagues in other work settings? Maybe, depends on the overall workplace culture. But that boss, who is that specific guy, in that specific work environment (I don’t think I would have been fired, but I’m confident I would never have been promoted again if I was out genderqueer)? No thanks. I’ll live with it.

            Or, same job, a perfectly pleasant, somewhat useless, older guy who was only in the role because he was friends the CEO. Any time I answered a question, it was “thank you, miss.” Not going to change him today or any day, it’s not worth my time or energy or torpedoing myself at work.

            The question wasn’t “how do we avoid gendered language where possible,” it was “why is knowing your pronouns important when you’re never going to encounter them” and the answer is “one, I might, and two, it’s a flag for other gendered language as well.”

            Now, obviously, I made the choice not to come out to either of those two people, in large part because of the company culture. But even in a very progressive company where I might have felt safer coming out, you can still wind up with people who have speech habits and patterns that include lots of gendered language. Your suggestion is correct but aimed at the wrong party – it needs to go to people who speak of/to me so they can speak more correctly.

  91. Mad Harry Crewe*

    This thread makes me feel an enormous amount of community and I really appreciate everyone giving their thoughts here. It’s very nice to know I’m not alone in this bind, and to see so many perspectives on how people deal with it, whether it’s something close to my own decisions or quite different.

    1. Hamish the Accountant*

      I think one of the things that makes me happiest about it, although I’m not surprised given the quality of AAM’s commentariat generally, is how many people seem to be taking the opportunity to thoughtfully discuss and educate themselves. Only one or two people who seem to be “debating” in bad faith, lots of good conversations happening. Very cool and nice to see.

  92. OutQTPOConthejob*

    Nonbinary trans person here. Cis people don’t have any understanding of the emotional magnitude of needing to define oneself in a static way, at all, let alone in a professional context. I empathize with your situation and hope you are getting lots of support outside of this work dynamic… this is a really hard place to be in. I have been pronoun-ambivalent at times, and have really needed my colleagues to use my pronouns at other times (and currently). Just wanted to say that this is a realllllly common experience among gender nonconforming folks, and you are not alone. I have asked to be called by “name only/no pronouns” during those times when I didn’t want my assumed pronouns and didn’t embody the gender-neutral pronouns which now feel like home. That was really helpful for me, more so than asking for “all/any” pronouns, which I’ve also done, and felt really disphoric when 100% of colleagues would default to one set of pronouns, and didn’t see that in asking for all/any pronouns, I wanted to hear more than one set.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      > 100% of colleagues would default to one set of pronouns, and didn’t see that in asking for all/any pronouns, I wanted to hear more than one set.

      So much this.

  93. cy*

    I’ve never commented here before, but I wanted to say that I am a person who uses they/them at work but not necessarily outside of it. I have a neutral relationship to gender; it is not a descriptor I’ve ever used in thinking about myself, and I’d prefer other people not think about it either (with respect to me). They/them is not necessarily neutral, but it’s the closest we have. It doesn’t bother me to get gendered pronouns in person, because I look how I look, but I like that people I communicate with electronically don’t get to know.

  94. Fire Ferret*

    I feel this deeply.

    I was AFAB and have always had a complicated relationship with gender and did a great job of ignoring the constant nagging in the back of my mind. Two years ago I started grad school in a progressive liberal arts department and in my first class the professor had us go around the table and give our pronouns. My heart stopped. No one had asked me that directly before and suddenly having to declare my gender released a lot of pent up anxiety and questions. I said she/her when put on the spot even though it made me uncomfortable, but now two years later I have come out as trans-masculine and have changed my name and now use they/he pronouns. All this is to say that my heart is with you and while my program continues to be a generally accepting place I have seen first hand how wrong well meaning people can go (from being asked if I was planning to have surgery when I told a professor my preferred gender-neutral name not even mentioning I was trans, an admin assistant who questioned whether she could change my name on the department’s website if I hadn’t legally changed it yet, and much much more).

    I will say that I felt very hung up at first about whether I was being “honest” by saying she/her, both while figuring out my feelings around gender and until I got comfortable sharing my pronouns. Eventually I realized that I didn’t owe anyone my pronouns and you should do whatever makes you comfortable at any given moment.

    Also, know that what people call you in no way negates who you are. While my school has been very good with my name and pronouns, much of my family has flatly refused to use them. This is obviously hurtful and unpleasant, but I’ve had to remind myself that my gender expression is valid regardless. If you continue to use she/her pronouns at work for simplicities sake even if it doesn’t feel quite “right” that does not define you.

    My thoughts are with you and I hope you can continue to explore your gender identity on your own terms and not because you feel pressure from work to figure it out.

      1. Fire Ferret*

        Thank you! It’s wonderful to hear from so many trans/nonbinary people on here. It can be hard to find community and I love seeing how other people in my situation handle tricky issues.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          Yeah, I’m not usually very active in the comments here but I read this whole thread and there’s a lot of warm fuzzy feelings (and not just because of the heat wave). I’m feeling much less alone in my choices and that’s real nice.

  95. spike*

    I’m so glad this has come up. I’m a cis woman who identifies and is read as female, however I really don’t like sharing my pronouns because it foregrounds my gender in a way I don’t feel is relevant to my work. Sharing pronouns continues to become more and more common, and I just… don’t want to do it.

    Also, my field is male dominated, and it’s really not helpful to highlight to everyone I email that I’m a woman. I have been continuing to simply not add it to my signature even though my company has encouraged us to do so. I intend to continue not adding it, I doubt it will ever be made an issue.

    I had a direct report a couple of years ago before this was as mainstream who used “them” and I spent a lot of time reminding local management to stop misgendering them, which was mostly unsuccessful, sadly. Now we have firmwide pushes to add pronouns to our email signatures. We have a lot of cis people sharing their pronouns, which is nice to normalize it, but I’m not excited about participating myself. I completely support anyone who wants to share, but I don’t think it should be a default or requirement since it seems like there are ton of really diverse reasons people wouldn’t want to publicly declare their pronouns.

      1. Despachito*

        “I don’t want anyone thinking about my gender at work. It’s work.”

        This is exactly how I feel, too.

        (and I would ideally transfer this to most situations outside of work, too. In most social interactions it is – or should be – in fact irrelevant, like if I go buy a loaf of bread / go to the cinema, nobody cares whether I am/identify as a man or a woman.)

  96. Rachel Greep*

    I have seen an awesome commercial on TV recently for some sort of job/resume website that depicted an interview. The interviewer shared his pronouns and then ASKED the interviewee if they were comfortable sharing theirs.

    1. KHB*

      I don’t understand why gendered pronouns should be relevant in an interview setting at all. Assuming that these are one-on-one interviews, how often do you refer to someone you’re directly talking to in the third person? (I know it’s not literally impossible, but it also seems like it’d be pretty easy to avoid, if the idea was to avoid potential misgendering.) And just like questions about religion, family status, etc., it seems like it would just open the door to claims of discrimination after the fact.

      1. KHB*

        “Hi, I’m Dorian, and I’m Catholic. Are you comfortable sharing your religion?”
        “Hi, I’m Dorian, and I’m straight. Are you comfortable sharing your sexuality?”
        “Hi, I’m Dorian, and I have a wife and three kids. Are you comfortable sharing your family situation?”

        How does this make any more sense?

      2. Hamish the Accountant*

        The admin calling back to let you know the person is here for their interview… introducing them to potential colleagues… talking about their resume and interview with your colleagues after the fact…

        1. KHB*

          And how do you weigh those brief interactions (which can be navigated without any pronouns if you really want to) against the possibility that the very reason Dorian is asking is so that he can screen out all the candidates whose pronouns he doesn’t like?

          The commercial portrays the exchange as being all warm and fuzzy, because it doesn’t have to consider all the other ways that it could have gone. Not to mention that Dorian’s actual phrasing – “Are you comfortable sharing how you’d like to be addressed?” – is so convoluted it’s baffling. “Um…please refer to me as ‘you,’ if that’s all right.”

          1. KHB*

            …and I have to say, a bit part of my instinctive discomfort with pronoun practices comes from the abundance of euphemisms like this. Your pronouns are neither “how you’d like to be addressed” nor are they the pronouns you “use” – rather, they’re the pronouns you want everyone else to use when they talk about you to one another. And that’s fine – but the fact that people need to dress that up in all kinds of indirect language, rather than just coming right out and saying so, pings a lot of my same buttons that get pinged when someone’s trying to manipulate me.

          2. Hamish the Accountant*

            I didn’t like the commercial either, frankly. It made both myself and my partner (both trans) roll our eyes. Just felt like pandering/rainbow-washing.

            But when I’ve actually been in situations like the one depicted in the commercial, I’ve felt much happier and more comfortable than I have in other interviews. It seems extremely unlikely to me that an interviewer would ask for someone’s pronouns in order to discriminate more effectively.

  97. Crusty Old Man*

    I don’t even know what I’d say if I was asked for my pronouns, and would resist being mandated to provide them in any context. If someone wants to, thats great for them, but I don’t understand what that has to do with me at all.

  98. HasQuestions*

    I am a cisgender heterosexual female but I couldn’t care less if someone used they/them pronouns when referring to me. My office is also requesting us to add and I can’t decide if it is more appropriate to use the traditional she/hers or demonstrate my openness and alliance with my peers by using she/them. I think as I’m single, some might speculate on my orientation if I use she/them, but don’t care to interact with people who do. But I also don’t want to co-opt an identity that I don’t truly internalize and take away from those who do have stronger feelings. Thoughts?

    1. HasQuestions*

      And I do realize that pronouns have nothing to do with orientation but sadly, all do not.

    2. Hamish the Accountant*

      If you identify as a cisgender woman and would only be adding “them” to demonstrate openness, I would say not to do it please.

    3. anonymous whatever*

      You should put whatever pronouns you want people to use when they are speaking or writing about you. What do you want to see in reports or hear when you’re introduced? If you want to “demonstrate your openness and alliance,” you should do work toward measurable improvements in your workplace for queer people and others who are marginalized. See the many comments above about how “share your pronouns!” has become perceived as some kind of magical “now we’re trans-friendly!” indicator when, in fact, it can create a real burden in workplaces that aren’t already doing other work.

      1. anonymous whatever*

        Or, shorter:
        –if you want people to call you “they,” include “they” in your pronouns. There’s no Depth Of Feeling test you have to pass.
        –if you want people to think you’re an ally, show up and do meaningful work, even when it’s hard
        –if you want people to see “they” and know that you’re an ally, you’re barking up the wrong tree

  99. Sam*

    I have never commented before and don’t have much to add other than that I have fully been where LW is. And I therefore have always been uncomfortable about asking people to state their pronouns as part of introducing themselves. I wrote this I 2016, which I share only because the feelings I described are so similar to the feelings LW has described and maybe adding another voice will help someone:

  100. Bookworm*

    Sorry you’re going through that, OP. But thank you for answering this question. It’s made me uncomfortable for reasons that include yours: maybe some people aren’t ready because they’re still figuring it out or they just don’t want to share it with work for whatever reason.

    My personal angle is that there are perfectly legit safety reasons not to share–not every workspace is safe as we all know and asking for or even requiring pronoun in email signatures, etc. seems like a potential way for someone to be harmed or targeted. Again, happy to use whatever your pronouns are, but I also think something like this can be abused or misguided in implementation.

    I hope it works out for the best for you, in however you decide to proceed.

  101. HasQuestions*

    It not about ‘signaling’ my openness, but rather normalizing options within my organization, which really doesn’t get it. I like adding ‘Current pronouns’, which is not what they have in the official email template.

    1. Hamish the Accountant*

      Please do not use “they” pronouns at work purely to normalize it when you are cisgender.

      1. Despachito*

        Non-English native speaker here, but I thought that “they” is fairly neutral and can be used for anyone (I mean in singular) even without asking?

        1. Hamish the Accountant*

          Yes, referring to someone as “they” when you don’t know their pronouns is fine and good.

          However, that’s different than a cis person giving their pronouns as “she/they” purely to “demonstrate their openness” is different and not great.

          You may want to scroll up a couple of comments to see HasQuestions’ original question. Their reply here was not nested correctly.

          1. Despachito*

            So do you mean that if a person says that their preferred pronouns are “she/they” it is sort of “coming out” as being binary, and she should not do that if she does not truly feel that way (like you should not kneel in church if you are an atheist because it would be sort of mocking the religion)?

            1. Hamish the Accountant*

              Kind of. Yes to this part: “she should not do that if she does not truly feel that way.” There are a lot of reasons not to do that, it’s a little difficult to articulate.

              Some thoughts on why I don’t like the idea of someone doing this…
              -Deciding on a pronoun change and communicating it to others is often a really difficult, scary thing for people who who are doing it for internal identity reasons. (As we see with OP!) Someone who is cis deciding to use “they” pronouns for reasons that aren’t actually internal feels like a weirdly insulting, kind of flippant display of privilege. From what she said in her first question, she does understand this might be the case, which is good. :)
              -Cis-het people who identify themselves as “allies” often want to be included in queer spaces, for reasons I don’t understand, and it makes it even harder for people who are queer to have our own spaces. Considering using “them” pronouns for reasons not internal to herself, and pushing back when a couple of us discouraged it, is giving me those vibes.
              -If I was at an organization that wasn’t very good on queer stuff, and I saw that someone had put “them” pronouns on their email, I would be happy about finding out that there was someone else there who at the very least had Big Feelings about their gender! I would see her as a member of my community… and then it would turn out that she was just trying to help me in a way I would’ve preferred not to be helped.
              -There are already enough bigots who think that gender-neutral pronouns are fads, something people do as political statements or to seem cool. If someone at HasQuestions’ company who is skeptical of NB people saw her using “them” pronouns and thought she was NB, then found out that actually it was just kind of a statement… she has just become a bigot’s anecdote in support of their position.

              I wouldn’t call it mocking at all. I’m 100% sure the thought comes from a good place. But there are better ways to be supportive, and a couple of us have discouraged doing it this way.

              If she did it anyway, in my opinion it would be pretty clear that the important thing to her is her own feelings, not the feelings of the community she’s supposedly trying to help. You see?

              (HasQuestions, I’m not assuming any particular outcome here or decision on your part, just trying to explain to Despachito.)

              1. Despachito*

                Thank you, Hamish, for your kind answer, this and your previous comments really help me to see your perspective, and the thing with “allies” seems now very logical.

                1. Hamish the Accountant*

                  You’re very welcome! It’s great that you’re thinking about these things and seeking to understand it more deeply.

      2. oh lord, don't let me be*

        I’m cis and comfortable with other people calling me “they.” They is completely appropriate for a cis person because somebody shouldn’t have to identify me by gender every time they talk about me without using my name. It doesn’t make sense that we can only talk about people without a clear gender in a gender neutral way. “They” is for everybody. This is consistent with its historical use, when it was used because it was necessary to de-center gender (e.g., because you didn’t know the gender). We’ve grown enough that now we can choose to de-center gender. Cis people are definitely allowed to de-center their own gender and cis people are can allow others to talk about them in a gender neutral way.

        But I do agree you shouldn’t use “they” JUST to normalize its use.

        1. Hamish the Accountant*

          Yes… I’m talking about a cis person giving “they” as their pronoun just to normalize it’s use. Not saying that cis people aren’t allowed to want their gender de-centered etc. You may want to scroll up a couple of comments to see HasQuestions’ original question. Their reply here was not nested correctly.

          Giving neutral pronouns for ‘political’, “demonstrate my alliance” type reasons as opposed to actual reasons of preference and identity is… squicky. It’s the kind of thing that makes me skeptical of people who say “I’m an ally!” (There’s a thread about self-identifying as an ally further up the page.)

  102. rosaz*

    I am so glad for this letter and the solidarity in the comments!

    Several months ago my office set out new email signature guidelines that include pronouns, and I was pretty stressed about what to put. I probably come off as a cis-woman on the surface, but to steal from someone’s wording above, I’m a “female by convenience and history, not deep identity.” I definitely don’t feel any sort of internal gender at all, but non-binary doesn’t really fit either. (Perhaps this is my ignorance talking, but my impression is that non-binary is sort of the gender equivalent of bisexual – that is, pulled in both directions/sitting in the middle? So in that analogy I would be similar to asexual/aromantic… I’m just not on the spectrum at all.)

    For me, people using “she” had just been a reference to my sex which is… kind of weird when I think about it, I guess? But not something that required me to label my innermost self. Whereas being asked to choose my gender pronouns feels like I’m making a statement about my identity, my soul. Like the difference between saying, “My birthday is November 1st” vs. “I identify as a Scorpio”.

    I notice a lot of the people making similar comments are “female by history”, presumably because adding sexist BS to the underlying a-gendered-ness turns this from a “meh” question to an angsty one. Putting down “she” if that had always been treated as a neutral thing would probably feel less loaded, but after how many years of men making (insulting) assumptions about me because of my sex, having to put “I guess I have that woman-brain after all” – when I don’t! not even in the non-sexist way! – right after my name in every single email feels not just inauthentic but quite deeply repugnant.

    In the end I decided to ignore the signature conventions altogether (i.e., not just the pronouns, but the logo, etc., too) so that anyone noticing the omission would hopefully think I was just being lazy/ornery in general, not that I was trying to make any kind of exclusionary statement, which I certainly don’t want to do. Fortunately, while the change was set out as a policy, there’s been no attempt at enforcement. Compliance is around 50%, which hopefully is enough for our trans and non-binary colleagues to not feel stranded, but without any attempts to impose it on the reluctant ones like me. Which seems like a good place to be.

    1. KHB*

      Like the difference between saying, “My birthday is November 1st” vs. “I identify as a Scorpio”.

      I like this a lot and may end up stealing it, if you don’t mind.

    2. Eliza*

      > Perhaps this is my ignorance talking, but my impression is that non-binary is sort of the gender equivalent of bisexual – that is, pulled in both directions/sitting in the middle?

      I’d say that this depends a lot on the individual; “non-binary” can refer to pretty much any gender identity that isn’t 100% solidly “male” or “female”. The analogy I use personally to describe my own gender situation is if men are in New York and women are in Seattle, I’m in Los Angeles – closer to women than men but not in a way that puts me in between the two.

  103. Blarg*

    As a transperson, this has long been a very fraught issue for me, because I don’t want to be put on the spot and told to explain my gender identity. I don’t want to be obligated to be out or be dishonest. I get how for a lot of transpeople, asking pronouns is genuinely helpful and affirming, and I don’t think this is an either/or issue. One can ask a question, but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to an answer. I don’t have a problem with you asking my pronouns, but I’m going to dodge the question and not provide an answer, and if you press for an answer, now it’s a problem. If people want to share their pronouns in bios and open up a dialog about pronouns, that isn’t a bad thing, but anyone must have the right to not answer or not share, and not be assumed to be transphobic or not a team player for making that choice.

  104. Alanna*

    Ugh I could have written this letter. I recently added she/they to my profile after the millionth ask by my progressive org, but I feel really uneasy about it

  105. Hunter*

    I’m AFAB, genderqueer, and think of myself as butch (which should also out me as “old” to those in the know). I have had the same issue with pronouns, in particular since I have a public facing job in social work so I am working with clients who come to me from all over the place and with lots of different feelings and perspectives about gender and gender identity. I don’t want to tell everyone to use she/her for me because even though I don’t mind if people do it passively, it feels like I’m betraying myself to *tell* people to use those pronouns with me. I also don’t want to use they/them or any other nonbinary pronoun at work because I feel like it would be distracting to clients or members of the public who need my services but may be homophobic/transphobic. It could make it harder for them to get the things they need from me, as well as lead to a more hostile working environment for myself. I also worry that it might be confusing or off putting to those with limited English proficiency or limited literacy, which is a significant portion of the population that I serve. So I don’t have pronouns in my signature, and I don’t share them during introductions, and I try to participate in these introductions confidently and make some kind of joke about my name or where I’m from or something, so that people laugh and forget I left out the pronouns. Once in a while someone will say, “Pronouns!” and I will say, “That’s not something I can share here,” and let me tell you, no one asks any follow up questions when you drop that one.

    I have expressed my concerns to managers privately who have been supportive and shielded me from policies that require pronouns. I think making management aware that this could actually create a more harmful environment for the very people they are trying to protect will stop a lot of these less flexible policies from happening in the first place. For the first time ever a colleague in my position has put “she/they” in her signature, and I am waiting to see how that is received. If it goes over well I might reconsider my previous stance.

    On the other hand, I remember one time I had a nonbinary client who was in the process of coming out and dealing with their very shitty family, and we had a really sweet moment when I disclosed that I don’t use she/her pronouns outside of work either. They had only ever met nonbinary and genderqueer people on the internet before and it made a big difference to them to know that we’re actually out there in meatspace too. I think a lot about that person and all the other queer and trans people I have encountered who aren’t out yet or don’t know it’s possible. At some point concerns about my safety and reputation at work might seem less important than showing those folks that another way is possible. It’s all a part of the journey I guess.

    I think if you work somewhere that is considering a policy like this, or a “strong recommendation,” and you have always felt pretty confident about your pronouns, it’s important to make sure that there is a way for people to communicate about the actual impact of these policies on their working conditions. One time I was at a conference and the organizers had worked really hard on making sure that about 50% of attendees had pronouns on their nametags. The reason they went for 50% is that that portion of the population included both cis and trans people, but was big enough so that it wasn’t only trans people, and the reason they didn’t aim higher than 50% is so that trans people who didn’t feel comfortable sharing pronouns didn’t feel that they needed to. They communicated about this frequently during the conference, and it was very easy to get a new nametag with different pronouns or no pronouns at all whenever you wanted to. This solution is a little cumbersome, and it’s less black and white than “everyone does this thing,” but it resulted in the first experience I had ever had where other people were sharing their pronouns and I didn’t feel pressured to if I wasn’t ready yet. That’s what we’re really going for here.

  106. Nursey*

    Personally, I don’t care whether people refer to me as she/he/they or anything else as long as it’s clean! But, I have a transgender child who has been outed at school on occasion bt teachers not bothering to read the roll properly and it really hurts when my child comes home and tells me that the wrong (dead) name was used or the wrong pronouns were used.

    LW – if you are happy being referred to any she/he/whatever AND you feel uncomfortable with putting pronouns down, then you should discuss this with the bright spark that had this idea and also explain that gender is a) a spectrum and b) fluid. Explain that you’re uncomfortable being pigeon holed as first and foremost you’re a human person, and thus you define yourself as such. People can use your name (and personally I dislike she – she is the cats mother!)

  107. Tara*

    Could you send this article to HR and say ‘this is something I saw online that I don’t think we’ve considered with the pronoun roll out, it seems like a lot of people relate so probably worth considering?’. Then you’re getting the message across, without it necessarily outing you before you’re ready.

  108. The Mansplainer*

    I think there is also yet another option. If you feel that none of the many yet existing pronouns/boxes/categories do you justice just create/pick a new unique one. When you are sure what you want to come out as, that chosen pronoun/word will describe exactly what you are.

  109. Eyes Opened Some*

    As a cis woman in my mid-60s, I would like to give sincere thanks to everyone who has responded here. I now understand how difficult pronouns can be for people. My company has started some performative activities and I am trying to find a way to pass this on to the appropriate management. It seems our corporation is mandating activities without thinking about how they affect staff. Announcing pronouns and other personal information is only part of this. Thank you for sharing stories here to show that making this mandatory – or “voluntary” to the point of making some feel like not choosing is not an option – is not necessarily a good idea.

  110. Coming out, or coming OUT out*

    Just wanted to say thank-you for this. The company I work for has just added optional E&D monitoring questions to our regular colleague survey, and as I do some internal comms work I’m helping write our COO’s blog explaining why, how important a diverse workplace is to us, etc etc. (We might also give people the option of adding pronouns to their email signatures soon, so I’m laying groundwork for that in the blog too.) Having read this letter I’m now adding a paragraph into that blog making it absolutely clear that no-one has to share their sexuality or gender identity with us at work if they don’t want to. I’m really glad we didn’t send the blog out without that clarity, so thanks again.

  111. JustUseMyName*

    I work for a govt agency and on the civil service forms they’ve added many different pronoun options AND they include an option that’s “Just use my name”!

    I was so excited by this option as somebody who’s also figuring it out (this week she/they feels right?) and am considering replacing my pronouns in my signature with that for now. I present female but have a gender neutral name that skews male and until people meet me they regularly refer to me as sir/mr. in email.

  112. kris*

    I use she/they in my work email signature. I just this morning did a presentation to our diversity committee about pronouns and gender. I explained my personal experience too. That I was AFAB and while that feels right (ish) to me physically, society’s idea of the female gender nor the male gender entirely match who I am; I’m non-binary. I’m okay with the “she” pronoun and will often still default to it myself. And though I prefer “they”, I’m so used to using “she” that it doesn’t feel *wrong*. Maybe that would be different if I were born 20 years later, I don’t know.

    A big part of the presentation was about making an effort to learn and change and how to own up to mistakes, apologize, move on, and do better next time. Personally, I don’t expect perfection. I expect people to be respectful by making genuine efforts.

    I had a classmate last summer who said that they weren’t sure about their pronouns she vs. they and that pronouns just weren’t a priority for them at the moment. This person was a little older than me. It might sound silly but it had such an impact on me to hear that other people have similar experiences to mine, that it’s OK to not be sure, etc. I should really reach out to them at some point because I’d like for them to know how their honesty and openness meant a lot to me.

  113. K in Boston*

    Thank you for writing in, OP, and thank you for posting/answering, Alison. I am a Well-Meaning But Sometimes Mark-Missing Cisgender Heterosexual, so I appreciated reading about this perspective so I can do better and be more thoughtful about this kind of thing in the future.

  114. Transanon*

    I hate all the push to share pronouncs recently. As a transwoman nothing makes me feel more validated than having strangers asume my gender and adress me with female pronouns without having to ask them to. Being asked for my pronouns adds to my anxiety and makes me question wheter people read me as female.

    I also remember a time when I was not yet out (in fact there are still a few family members I’m not out to). It felt horrible to have to go out every day and pretend to be something that I wasn’t. I hated being asked for and having to give out my deadname, it felt like the emotional equivalent of self-harm. Fortunatley that was before it became popular to ask people for their pronouns, because I’m sure that would have felt just as horrible. Normalizing stating your pronouns can be helpful to some transpeople, but normalizing it to such an extent that not doing it seems unusual is actually harmful to a lot of transpeople. Being able to openly and easily state your pronoun as if it’s no big deal is the height of cis privlege!

  115. jazzhands*

    I have my pronouns in my sig and elsewhere at work and people still constantly misgender me. It’s to the point where instead of just saying “they/them” I say “they/him” because I just don’t want femme pronouns anywhere near me.

    Buy-in from cis folks on adding pronouns is great… to a point. It should be encouraged, but it also shouldn’t be forcing people to choose or out themselves. If there are no other options and you *have* to have something, you could ask for your name to be used instead of pronouns.

    1. J*

      Another benefit of listing pronouns in email signatures: the educational piece! I have learned about gender-neutral pronouns in various languages thanks to people who have shared, as well as alternatives to listing a pronoun: “none”, “any”, “ask me!”, “please refer to me by name”.

  116. However comma*

    Could someone weight in on whether I might be unknowingly offensive? I added “she/her/hers or they/them/theirs” to my email signature. I identify “she/her/hers” but wish we would all just go to “they/them/theirs” and be done with it. But if I should stick with “she/her/hers” please let me know.
    I also wish we could get rid of Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, etc. etc., but one thing at a time.

    1. Hamish the Accountant*

      I’m inclined to say that you should probably take “they/them/theirs” off if you identify as she/her/hers. Suggesting gender neutral pronouns for oneself for reasons that aren’t actually about your internal experience of gender isn’t great. We’ve had some discussions up the page about why that is. (You could Ctrl+F on my name to find at least one of those conversations.) That said, I know it’s certainly possible to be comfortable in your female identity but uncomfortable with having your gender centered/focused for various reasons.

      So I guess I would say: would people using they/them pronouns for you actually make you feel more comfortable? Then great, keep them! But if it doesn’t actually make a difference to how you feel, and is just about an intellectual debate/your theory of how gender universally works, I’d remove them from your signature.

      A note on wishing we would all go to they/them/theirs and be done with it… There are people for whom our binary gender identity is important to us. I’m a trans man and really, really dislike it when people use “they” for me despite knowing that I use “he/him”. I would be pretty mad if someone told me that I should use gender-neutral pronouns because they don’t like the concept of gender or something.

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