should we require “they/them” pronouns as the default for everyone at our meetings?

A reader writes:

I just stumbled across your 2021 post “my office wants my pronouns — but I’m still figuring it out.“ I was so grateful to the letter writer and commenters who described the turmoil I feel when asked for my pronouns in a work context. The best parallel I can imagine is an icebreaker where meeting participants are asked to describe their relationship with their mother in two words: I don’t know how to answer the question, and even if I did, I don’t want to share it with a group of professional contacts before we turn to a work topic.

I manage HR at a small nonprofit, and I’m thinking about proposing an organizational standard that for external meetings/events, we ask folks to refer to each other as “they” unless they know the person prefers a given pronoun (from prior knowledge, inclusion in their Zoom participant name, etc). When we ask for pronouns, what we really want is to keep from misgendering each other in the course of our work — but why do we put the onus on individuals to come out rather than removing the gender default from our language in the first place?

I wondered if you’d be willing to ask your readers for feedback on this idea? It’s hard to find communities of other professionals with diverse gender identities to run this by. I’d love to hear any implications of this idea that I’m not considering! I’m picturing a script along the lines of:

“Before we do introductions, I want to acknowledge how much we don’t know about each other just by looking. There’s likely a spectrum of racial/ethnic and gender identities in this meeting, as well as neurodiversity, an array of areas of expertise, and more. So we’re asking all participants to challenge yourself to not make any assumptions about others in how you talk to or about each other. In particular, please refer to other people by their name or the gender-neutral pronouns ‘they’ or ‘them’ unless you happen to know someone prefers another pronoun (he, she, xe, etc.). And if you are someone who wants specific pronouns used for you, you can mention that in your intro or add them to your Zoom name. Any questions?”

Are people ahead doing this anywhere? In addition to the distress caused to me and apparently others by asking everyone to disclose something personal at the top of the meeting, practically speaking, no one remembers all the names from intros, much less each individual’s pronouns. Plus, beyond my own identity, I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.

What I’m curious to hear from you and readers is, can we put the affirmation that comes from using people’s individual pronouns back on an individual level? This proposal would make me feel more able to participate in a meeting. Would it do the same for others?

To make sure readers are following: the idea would be to request that everyone use “they/them” as the default when referring to other people, unless someone names different pronouns for themselves.

I’m interested to hear feedback from others, but I don’t think it’s practical. Getting people to reprogram their language for an entire group for a single meeting is not a small request (look at how much trouble people have getting individual people’s pronouns correct when they change, even when they’re genuinely trying). And you’re expecting them to remember who introduced themselves with specific pronouns and who didn’t — when, as you point out, people don’t even remember everyone’s names.

Moreover, how do you plan to enforce it? And are your meetings going to be regularly derailed by people apologizing for getting it wrong?

You mentioned that part of your motivation is to avoid hearing a slew of she/her pronouns when people introduce themselves. But your script specifically invites people to name any specific pronouns they want used for themselves, so most likely you’ll still get lots of people saying “I use she/her” during introductions. And the solution definitely isn’t to remove the invitation to offer those — because lots of people feel strongly about their gender identities and want their correct pronouns used. That’s much of the point, really.

In fact, that’s the other issue with this plan — you can misgender people with “they/them” just like with anything else.

So by all means, encourage people to share their pronouns if they want to (as long as you don’t require it). But trying to impose “they” for everyone as a default unless they request an exception is likely to draw a ton of attention away from what you’re there to do and ultimately not have the effect you want.

{ 734 comments… read them below }

  1. NotThey*

    I am a fairly butch lesbian who really *really* hates being “they’d” by well meaning strangers. It’s not logical, and I recognize that they’re trying to be inclusive, but it’s still misgendering me and grates in a way that getting a “sir, oh uh sorry, ma’am” doesn’t.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Yep. This is what I was going to say. Using they/them as default is misgendering, even if the intent is to be inclusive. It is not.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I disagree that using they/them as a default is misgendering. Those are appropriate pronouns to use when speaking about someone whose gender is unknown to the speaker, since they/them doesn’t have any gender attached whatsoever. We don’t really have a better alternative in the English language.

        However, I agree with you that it’s not inclusive to avoid asking people’s pronouns in favor of using gender neutral ones. People should get a chance to say what they want to be called – that applies just as much to femme-presenting people who want to be called “she” as it does to people with other genders or presentations. And continuing to use they/them for someone once they’ve made their gender or pronouns clear IS misgendering, since at that point their gender is no longer unknown and failing to use the appropriate language is denying their identity.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          How I think it could turn into misgendering is that I think a lot of people wouldn’t remember who identified themselves with a particular pronoun and might, for simplicity’s sake, just call everybody “they,” even those who identified differently. Not intending to misgender but just because it’s hard to remember all the permutations and a lot of people don’t know much about gender identity and wouldn’t consider that anybody might feel misgendered by the use of “they.”

          1. Reality.Bites*

            I do that when commenting on letters to advice columns. By the time I get around to writing, I’ve long since forgotten a LW’s references to their own and other people’s genders unless they’re a very pertinent part of the letter.

          2. starfox*

            Yeah… there’s no way I would be able to remember who had come out with their pronouns and who hadn’t. I’d be calling everyone “they” … forever.

            (also, I don’t like being called “they” because it makes me feel like I’m not feminine-presenting enough, although I think that’s probably my own personal issue).

            1. CoveredinBees*

              That’s definitely not just a you issue. I can imagine a number of trans people would find it hurtful. Heck, I’m a cis woman who sometimes presents a bit masculine, not least because of hirsutism from a medical condition.

        2. Savvy*

          It might be helpful to remember that they/them isn’t some be-all end-all inclusive pronoun solution, it’s a set of pronouns like he/him, she/her, etc., and defaulting to any one set of pronouns for a group can be misgendering for some folks in it.

          1. Erin*

            +1 to this. How about just calling people by name?

            I don’t want to be called they/them. I am a woman, and if anyone is unsure how I would like to be addressed or referred to, just use my name.

        3. katkat*

          As a non-native speaker, I have called everybody “they/them” since forever, if I didn’t know their gender. This might be “natural instinct” since we don’t have gendered they in my language, it’s just one word.

          But nowadays I’m trying to break the habit, since, at least in my social-circles, the language and meanings are changing. Istill use a lot of they/them, since, you know, a habit, but I do pay more attention to the cues around me. And especially if I’m corrected, I make a point to get it right the next time.

          1. Sasha*

            It’s actually very common in dialects of English as well – I’m from Yorkshire in the UK, and it is totally normal to talk about “they”, meaning pretty much “random person who isn’t here right now and whose gender isn’t really relevant to the story”.

            So “I was on the phone to the bank and they said my account was overdrawn!” meaning the clerk, whose gender I obviously know as I spoke to them. Or “will you be seeing someone from accounts today? Give this to them”.

            “Standard” English would default to “him”, or perhaps “him or her”. Most people I know would use “them” though. Yorkshire still uses “thee/thou” though, so “them” probably rolls off the tongue more easily.

            1. CoveredinBees*

              I do this in American English as well. Not least because that person is basically a stand-in for the bank. However, if I was talking to my friend Phebes about my friend Chandler, I wouldn’t use “they” even if Phebes doesn’t know Chandler and his gender is irrelevant.

            2. Snowy*

              Midwestern American here. I use “they” the same way. “I talked to the clerk, and they told me I had to go to the other office and talk to them”.

              (Thee/thou only in specific theatrical or medieval type contexts, though, haha)

        4. Yorick*

          But the majority of people’s gender is known to people speaking to them. I definitely appreciate the need to be more inclusive to people who identify as non-binary or something else that isn’t apparent from looking at them! I don’t want to make people feel out of place by getting their pronouns wrong. But let’s not forget that’s still a small minority of people. In some (many? most?) meetings, there may be nobody present who doesn’t identify as cis and whose gender isn’t easy to tell. Using “they/them” as the default is switching to misgendering almost everyone in almost every meeting.

          1. TechWorker*

            I’m just.. not sure this is true? I don’t have any hard stats on the proportion of people who want to avoid he/she but assuming these people are obvious and you can tell who they are by looking or being vaguely acquainted is.. part of the problem.

            Plus I work with a whole bunch of people with names from a different culture, where the majority of communication is over email or IM and I often *don’t* know their gender. A few years ago I tended to use ‘he’ as default (~80% at least being male) and every now and again my colleague from the same background would be like ‘nope, she!’
            I now default to ‘they’ – no assumptions made.

            1. Lizzo*

              I, too, work with a lot of people via email only, and have defaulted to “they” because 99% of the time I don’t know their gender/preferred pronouns (and it’s not relevant to the task at hand, typically). It’s also been one technique for resetting my very binary brain so that I don’t make assumptions about others’ preferences based on how they present, or their name.

              So…what I’m hearing here is that that they/them is not a sufficient gender-neutral default?
              Should we return to using he/him as the default?
              Does gender have to be made explicit by everyone, in all situations, so that nobody is potentially misgendered?

              1. Katy*

                No, I think what people are saying is that they/them still works as a default in the way it’s always been used: to mean a person you know nothing about or a gender-neutral subject like an organization / a help line, etc. If you use it to refer to someone you’ve met and know by name – e.g. “Bob said they can’t make it to the picnic” – people are going to assume it’s their preferred pronoun, which means you are potentially misgendering them.

      2. Coelura*

        I completely agree that it’s misgendering. It would at least be greatly frustrate if not flat out anger me. I understand the need to be inclusive but that doesn’t me you eliminate the diversity.

    2. Witch*

      Absolutely!!! WOMEN WHO WANT TO BE IDENTIFIED AS SHE/HER SHOULD BE IDENTIFIED AS SHE/HER.
      Even if it’s a “celebration of the gender binary” (which lol???), who tf cares. It’s who they are, and who they want to known as. Don’t overthink it. Don’t make it weird.

      1. Presea*

        I say this, very very gently, as a nonbinary person who is usually read as a woman and would feel much the same way as the OP in this situation: If you’re feeling alienated by the presence of a lot of she/hers in a given context, the solution to that cannot be to just default to misgendering all of those people so that you don’t have to feel potentially misgendered. I’m not saying that your feelings are invalid, but the solution to this has to be something else.

          1. kj*

            I agree increased gender diversity is good, but it is difficult to do quickly. Also, plenty of trans folks don’t use “they” so you still might get many binary folks if you did increase your gender diversity. My office has a fair number of nonbinary and trans folks and still, she/her is the most common pronoun used overall, followed by they/them. We ask, though.

            1. not here to be your trans educator*

              As an AFAB non-binary person who gets misgendered all the time, I respectfully disagree.

          2. Warrior Princess Xena*

            I have to ask – why? Because if you’ve got increasing gender diversity as a result of removing discriminatory hiring practices and creating safe spaces in your workplace where people feel comfortable expressing themselves, that’s awesome. That should be the end goal. But deliberately hiring people for gender diversity just for the sake of them being gender diverse does not seem to be a good workplace solution.

            1. Siege*

              My workplace hires for racial diversity in exactly that way. Astonishingly, it doesn’t work out well! Equally astonishingly, we’re still doing it.

            2. QuickerBooks*

              But deliberately hiring people for gender diversity just for the sake of them being gender diverse does not seem to be a good workplace solution.

              This might be true in some circumstances. It also might not be true. The benefit of going beyond simply “removing barriers” and instead actively seeking to diversify the workplace is that time after time, a diversity of viewpoints and experiences among the employee base has been shown to lead to higher productivity and more competitiveness in the marketplace. These are outcomes that most companies want.

              In light of this, many company can and should actively pursue diverse employees for the exact same reason you would pursue more high-skill workers or more people with more experience in the industry. Not because every single person will knock every single pitch out of the park, but because having a more diverse pool increases your chances of doing so.

            3. Librarian1*

              Yes, I was talking about the former. I don’t know what field OP is in, but there is plenty of hiring discrimination and uninclusive workplaces that could change their practices.

        1. kj*

          This is a really good point. I feel for the OP, but the solution to the OP feeling alienated shouldn’t be to low-key discourage people who are binary (trans and cis) from identifying as such.

        2. Theo*

          Yeah I said “Ooooof” out loud when I got to this “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be”.

          I’m also nonbinary and often misread by strangers (though not always the same way!), but you CANNOT try to implement this kind of thing because you don’t like that people are…. using their own pronouns? This whole post feels very deeply rooted in some complex, painful feelings being experienced by the writer, which are valid, but you using your personal pain as impetus to essentially misgender people unless they tell you otherwise in the way that you personally prefer just isn’t appropriate.

          Gently, OP, you should also remember that she/her doesn’t mean woman, doesn’t mean cis, and doesn’t mean binary. It just means that person uses she/her.

          1. starfox*

            Okay, yes, that phrase rubbed me the wrong way… I was wondering if I was just… unknowingly transphobic, as a cis woman.

            The initial part of the phrase didn’t bother me…. I can see that it might be intimidating to be the first person to say you want to use “they/them” pronouns in a crowd of people choosing pronouns that appear to “match” (for lack of a better term, I’m sorry) their appearance. I get that, and there is probably a better way of finding out preferred pronouns than have everyone announce them in a meeting.

            But… the second part of the comment really irritated me. Existing as a woman and identifying as female is not “a public celebration of the gender binary,” as though it’s somehow a conservative position to identify as a gender. It honestly sounds like LW thinks that non-binary people are just more evolved than people who identify as a certain gender. It’s not bad to identify as female (or male). People can identify as female, and lean into stereotypically male traits/clothing/etc. (and vice versa) and push back against the gender binary.

            1. starfox*

              Okay, I’m realizing now why this comment rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t feel as though I am “celebrating the gender binary” by identifying as a woman.

              I was thinking about the word “wife.” “Wife” is such a loaded term. Historically, it means you’re the one taking on the household duties and childcare. I push against that. In fact, I would prefer to be called a “spouse” rather than a “wife” (I’m not married, so this is all theoretical). Not because “wife” is feminine, but because there are all kinds of stereotypes wrapped up in what it means to be a “wife.”

              I’m trying to be really careful when I say this, because people identify as non-binary because they don’t identify with other genders, and I think that’s 100% valid. But TO ME, being called “they/them” and no longer identifying as a woman would feel like I’m giving up on women…. Like I’m agreeing with all the historical stereotypes…. like I’m saying femininity is bad, so I will no longer identify as female. (again, I’m not saying non-binary people are doing this, but I do feel like a woman, and the times I think “I don’t want to be a woman” are ALWAYS due to sexism and stereotypes, not due to femininity itself).

              That’s why I’m saying you can push back against the gender binary and still identify as a certain gender.

              1. Koalafied*

                I used to be fairly involved in my local pagan community and there was a similar issue to the one you mention with “wife,” for when someone’s patron god was actually a goddess.

                While the noun “patroness” has a long history of common use, it hasn’t historically been used as an adjective. “Patroness goddess” feels redundant and a bit awkward, “patron goddess” sounds like a bit of a contradiction, and “matron” carries decidedly more social meaning than simply “patron who is female or feminine.” Nobody was ever 100% happy with whatever they ended up settling on.

          2. Aitch Arr*

            “Gently, OP, you should also remember that she/her doesn’t mean woman, doesn’t mean cis, and doesn’t mean binary. It just means that person uses she/her.”

            Yes, thank you.

          3. Moon*

            This is a really good way to put this, thank you.

            She/her doesn’t mean uber-femme or strict traditional gender presentation either. It just means someone uses she/her.

            (Personally, it would take heavy stage makeup and a really amazing binder to make me not present as femme. That doesn’t mean I don’t have androgynous leanings or am not ace, it’s just my curvy body.)

      2. Hills to Die on*

        This. Why do you have to change how I identify and/or be put off because I identify as female? And derail every meeting from here on in order to do so? If that is causing you distress then respectfully, that is a ‘you’ thing. I am not alienating you – nor is anyone else – because I happen to be a woman.

        and this:
        “beyond my own identity, I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating,”
        So your solution is that….more people should use they /them even if it isn’t a fit? That’s like asking you to change your pronouns so nobody else has to have that conversation. It’s not appropriate.

    3. socks*

      Another butch here, and I came here to say the same thing! In theory, maybe defaulting to “they” until proven otherwise makes sense. In practice, I’m mysteriously the only person in the room who gets “they” by default (or even after I tell people I specifically do NOT go by they/them, which is fun).

      1. Cj*

        If the goal is to not misgender people, then statistically defaulting to a persons stereotypical gender presentation unless they tell you otherwise is going to misgender way fewer people in them defaulting to they.

        1. Cj*

          By stereotypical gender presentation, I mean using her for a butch lesbian, too. I didn’t mean to imply presentation based on dress and haircut, although I’m sure that’s the way it reads. I’m not really sure how to describe it other than people can still tell you are a woman.

          If you appear to be woman, I want to be called they or him, that’s probably something you are going to need to tell people.

          1. Cj*

            God, it seems like the more I try to explain the more I stick my foot in it.

            What I was trying to point out statistically there are a lot more hes and shes than theys, and they should not be the default.

            1. Leilah*

              I feel like that logic doesn’t hold true a lot places in society though – heck, the whole disability rights movement is essentially based on getting rid of the idea that just because something is uncommon the default should be to ignore it’s existence.

              1. N.J.*

                I agree with Leilah. Statistically speaking, the U.S. is cishet, white, neurotypical, doesn’t discuss disabilities, Christian, patriarchal etc. Basing any decision on just going with the statically default is kinda why inequality is baked into every aspect of our society. Hell, I think using they as the default isn’t the greatest idea but replacing that with binary pronouns as the default is othering. The whole point of every rights movement we have ever had is as Leilah said-to stop treating people outside our comfort zone as other or non-existent.

              2. TechWorker*

                Yeah – and it’s not just a
                count of ‘how many people are misgendered’ – it’s also the effect of that. Someone who uses they/them but constantly gets read as ‘he’ is likely more affected by that misgendering than I, a cis woman am by being sometimes called ‘they’. (Of course it’s possible I am unusually far into the camp of ‘don’t give a shit’ – and I do understand that being the only one who gets ‘they’ is alienating in a different way – but that’s not actually what the poster suggested either).

                I don’t think it’s practical for meetings but ‘they/them’ as a default for people you’ve never met and who haven’t specified… just doesn’t feel that controversial to me.

            2. Ebbe*

              I feel like what you’re going for is “assume most people are binary and use the pronoun that corresponds to their gender presentation, and assume they are cis if they are presenting somewhat androgynously”. That may or may not be offensive, but it’s also going to get you the correct answer 99% of the time, and honesty that’s what pretty much everyone does, if not in so many words.

      2. The Bean*

        This.

        Also binary trans women and trans men often report getting “they’d” and feeling misgendered. Whereas cishet people rarely get they’d and also don’t have the background of being misgendered to hurt them.

        If you truly don’t know someone’s pronouns, you can use that person’s name. “Jen’s pen” “Have you spoken with Jen?” and check the email signature or ask someone else.

        1. TheAce*

          I am a cis ace woman and I didn’t actually realize how much I would react to being misgendered until it actually happened and someone used “they” for me and my brain suddenly went “oh nonono, I am DEFINITELY a she/her.”

          I’d had an intellectual understanding of misgendering prior to that and would use people’s correct pronouns (as defined by themselves) but it was my first glimpse of deeper understanding.

          1. Bee*

            Hilary Mantel wrote something recently about an award she won where the announcements indiscriminately referred to everyone as “they,” and how much she hated it, because yes, cis people hate being misgendered too! And the people who referred to everyone as “they” were in fact misgendering most of them! It was just very unfortunate that her conclusion was “it is the children who are wrong” instead of “ah, this is why it’s important to get pronouns right for people even when it feels a little weird to me, because it feels MUCH worse to them.”

            1. TheAce*

              It was just very unfortunate that her conclusion was “it is the children who are wrong” instead of “ah, this is why it’s important to get pronouns right for people even when it feels a little weird to me, because it feels MUCH worse to them.

              Ughhhhhhhhhhhh *bangs head against wall*

            2. Lizzo*

              I brought this up in a thread further up, but didn’t we as a society for many many many years use he/him as the default in a multitude of situations?

              I (cishet woman) always assumed that defaulting to they/them *in situations where preferred pronouns/gender was not known* was much more inclusive compared to he/him…?

              1. CoveredinBees*

                This is what I was thinking about. I speak a couple languages that are deeply gendered and the default for people or a group of people is male, even if it is 1,000 females and the possibility of a male person. This has always really bothered me and what OP is suggesting feels similar, and possibly worse.

                Worse because in those languages, the gendered language can be entirely divorced from human gender identity. Inanimate objects, verbs, adjectives, etc get gendered. Even things that are often associated with specific genders within gender binary (e.g. breasts and beards) aren’t gendered in the way you’d expect.

                1. 'nother prof*

                  Just to complicate matters further, at least one of the languages I speak is highly gendered where people are concerned, but what we might call the negative effects of that gendering are *not* concentrated on pronouns. To simplify it a lot, the most oppressive gendering relates to little sounds/phrases that get added to or inserted between words and the usage of different levels of politeness (i.e. you use “polite verb” for certain people and “subordinate/less-polite verb” for others). This language also has a raft of really clearly gendered names *and* nicknames, which people do use to signal their pronoun preferences.

              2. AcademiaNut*

                The issue is that the meaning of “they/them” has changed over the past few years. It used to be both the plural of he/she, and used as a general/indefinite pronoun when talking about an abstract or unknown person. Now it’s also a distinct gender, for people who do not identify as he or she. So 20 years ago, you’d have been totally correct, but 20 years ago someone saying that their pronouns were they/them would have been looked at in genuine bafflement.

                Grammatically, what English needs at the moment is four or five pronouns – male, female, unknown/abstract, and either one for non-binary, or two, one for someone who identifies as both male and female, and one for someone who identifies as neither (plus a distinct plural one for mixed groups). They is currently being used for all except he and she.

          2. Demi-Auti*

            I am Autistic, AFAB, and I identify as:

            -demi-female: I don’t fully identify as female socially or mentally.
            -autigender: because I see things differently as an Autistic person, I can’t separate my gender identity from my Autistic identity. The arbitrary aspects of gender (e.g. women change their names upon marrying) particularly play in there for me.

            I still use she/her pronouns, however, as I’m a pretty private person in general and the world isn’t comfortable enough with Autistic folks for me to safely be “out”.

            Pronouns absolutely matter and I try hard to wire whatever people use in my brain… But changing pronouns isn’t a condition of identifying as a gender minority, either.

            1. Bethany*

              I appreciate what you’re saying, but one small pickup.
              I’m not changing my name when I get married, and that doesn’t make me any less of a woman.

          3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            I hear this; I am ace and agender but use she/her primarily out of laziness and because I don’t really care (it’s just a label, it doesn’t define me), but for whatever reason being called “they” would probably not feel right to me.

            1. AlienAnthropologist*

              I’m in the same boat as you, including accepting she/her, mostly because I am almost certain to be read as a woman (because these hips do lie. Prominently and loudly. I would be read mistaken for a woman in a potato sack).

              What’s fascinating to me is seeing cisfolks here who hate being misgendered – I spent a long time trying to be a woman and one reason I used to convince myself was that I have absolutely no fuzzy feelings towards any pronouns, and assumed this was a cis thing (I am obviously wrong).

              I like when strangers use they/he/anything-but-she only because it means I’m -not- being mistaken for a woman, but in general terms all pronouns are equally “Ugh. I guess it’s not the worst” to me (I fully understand that pronouns are incredibly important to others and I will -always- use the correct ones once I’m told).

      3. Trans employee*

        I’m a trans person who used them/them and appears relatively gender confirming to my assigned gender at birth (not for lack of trying, but my reality at the moment) and was joking with a trans friend who is visually trans and uses she her about how the same people who can’t figure out they/them while talking about me seems to magically figure it when it comes to avoiding calling her she/her pronouns…it’s almost as pronouns aren’t the thing making people uncomfortable

      4. starfox*

        If I’m not sure, I default to not using any pronouns for that person until I know for sure.

    4. ellla*

      as another sort-of-butch lesbian who gets
      “thoughtfully” misgendered all the time, hard agree! I even get friends and family using they/them out of nowhere, even though my pronouns have always been she/her and have never changed. it got a lot worse when I was dating a trans woman too, which makes me even angrier, bc the implications of that are…not good.

    5. Stitch*

      Strongly agree, you aren’t the only one. I’m a cis bisexual woman who is generally pretty feminine but also experienced being deliberately de-gendered as a slur when I was dating another woman. We are not the only ones, there is strong history of people deliberately de-gendering or misgendering LGBT or non gender conforming people.

      I understand the motivation here, but it is not a good solution.

    6. Legal Rugby*

      Seconded. I’m also a very masculine presenting lesbian (We played a game when I was pregnant of saying “we” were expecting, and the only person who immediately assumed it wasn’t my wife was my boss, who knew I had been out and was using hormones.) I don’t want to be they/them’ed, despite dressing on the mens side of express, and going to a barbershop for hair care. However, I think its more important to start using it in your documents, forms, and external texts. I cannot tell you the number of documents I’ve found in my new job that unnecessarily say “he or she” or default to the men. If you want to be gender inclusive, start there.

      I imagine for someone who is playing around with their pronouns, this might be a very intimidating way of announcing that, and way less matter of factly.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        YESSSSS. Remove the gendered language from places where it’s discussing an unknown person. I write contracts and the first thing I do when I get a new scope of work is go through and change every “his/her” and “he/she” to “their” and “they.” Its inclusive plus it just is more straightforward!

        1. DogTrainer*

          Thank you! I tried to get our legal department to do this and they outright refused because it would “cause legal issues if we weren’t specific enough in the agreements.” I was like, specific enough about what – you don’t even know what my actual pronouns are and are just assuming I’m “she/her”!

          1. Moira Rose*

            I’m assuming it’s a question of number, i.e. the legal language must hold up to scrutiny if challenged on the basis of thinking it applied to multiple people or somesuch. In which case I’m afraid the thing they should do is use “one” as a pronoun, which is stilted in everyday speech but totally fine in a legal document.

            1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

              That’s easily drafted around with a definition of “they.”

        2. Irish girl*

          This is a big thing now in contracts as some states are allowing non-binary as a gender and that calls into question all the gender specific terms of husband/wife, son/daughter, and brother/sister. I am working to make changes now because of NY wanting all the gender specific terms out of insurance policies. simple sollution is just spouse, child and sibling.

        3. The Witch in the Woods*

          I’m a cis woman and just started using they/them as my pronouns because I don’t want my gender to be a *thing* people think about me. However I wouldn’t want that to be the default in the workplace either. Pronouns and gender identity are very personal and pushing people to declare them is bound to put marginalized identities in an uncomfortable position. It’s much more comfortable for a cis, gender conforming person to confirm the pronouns that are already assumed than for a person who has not always had a clear relationship with their gender to out themselves to coworkers.

    7. cloudy.days*

      I occasionally catch heat for this, but I’m a trans woman who has gone to great lengths to get to a point in my life where people accurately use “she/her” in reference to me. I get frustrated by the push towards defaulting to they/them for everybody for this reason – I get for this person that it’s affirming/more comfortable for people NOT to assume their pronouns, but I get a little frustrated that then my ~comfort or whatever needs to be sidelined in service to them. Maybe kind of selfish – I don’t know.

      1. Coenobita*

        For what it’s worth, my wife is a trans woman and feels 100% the same way (and is ok with me saying that on the internet)!

      2. a tester, not a developer*

        I think I remember Contrapoints saying something similar. It makes sense to me!

      3. Autumnheart*

        I’m a cishet woman who has been misgendered repeatedly throughout my life (just not very womanly-looking, I guess) and frankly it grates on me too. I don’t necessarily want to be all Arya Stark about it (“I’m a GIRL!”) but I’ve spent enough time having to insist that no, really, I’m female and also not a lesbian (to people who seemed to think they knew better than I did, and that I just needed to figure it out and admit it). Yes, on a certain level it’s none of anybody’s business, but regardless, I am the authority on me, not someone else who wants to tell me once again that I’m actually a they, or some other identity than who I am. I will tell YOU who I am, you are not the one who tells me. I can’t imagine this is any less irritating for queer or trans people, invalidating too.

    8. Bongofury*

      I agree with you. I’m not sure how this shift happened but did “They/Them” start to become neutral? There is no neutral in pronouns (at least in English) that I know of.
      Assuming everyone is an enby is just as offense as assuming everyone is binary.

      1. metadata minion*

        It’s been neutral for centuries when used for an unknown or hypothetical person.

      2. Leilah*

        I’m pretty sure it always has been the neutral pronoun choice? Like if you find a pen on the ground and don’t know who dropped it, you say, “Oh, someone dropped their pen!” I’m nonbinary and actually dislike they/them and strongly prefer neopronouns because they/the is neutral and my gender is not neutral, it is not man or woman. However at work I ask for she/they because I have little hope of getting anything but weirdness for requesting neopronouns,

        1. Divergent*

          Are you me?

          I have a gender. “They” is what folks get as a neutral you-don’t-know-my-gender pronoun since I don’t think they can handle my actual pronouns. I keep “she” in my back pocket too because it’s so much less work.

      3. Wisteria*

        “I’m not sure how this shift happened but did “They/Them” start to become neutral?”

        Shakespeare and Jane Austen both used gender-neutral, singular they. It has been around for literally centuries.

      4. Ace in the Hole*

        This is not a new usage. Singular “they” has been used as a gender neutral pronoun for centuries. It sounds so natural in use you probably use it all the time without noticing.

        For example: “I found an umbrella on the sidewalk, if the owner wants it back I hope they check with the service desk.” What is the gender of the umbrella’s owner? Unknown, so I used the neutral pronoun they. You can find plenty of documentation of this use going back as far as middle english.

      5. Cj*

        They/them is neutral, and always has been well you are referring to someone whose gender is not known. Someone dropped their pen, an example somebody else gave.

        But my gender is not neutral, it is female, and you would be misgendering me if you they instead of she.

        It would definitely annoy me if they was used for everyone. But I can see where it would be even more upsetting to the butch lesbians who have commented here who have people use they specifically because they are butch lesbians.

      6. londonedit*

        I only started to hear all this kerfuffle about ‘they’ NEVER being a singular pronoun in the last few years. Maybe the teaching of English is/has been different in the UK, but I’m 40 and I was never taught that ‘they’ should only be used for plurals. It is and pretty much always has been perfectly acceptable to say ‘I need to speak to the accountant and see what they think’ or ‘Someone’s left their bag behind; I hope they come back for it’. Using ‘they’ as a pronoun for an individual, if that’s the pronoun they use for themselves, is linguistically absolutely no different. ‘Oh, Alex left their bag behind; I hope they come back for it’. Clumsy constructions like ‘he/she’ have been on their way out for decades (I work in book publishing and we’ve never used them in any company I’ve worked for in my nearly 20 years in the industry) so I can only conclude that this ‘We were taught NEVER to use they!!!’ is more about people being uncomfortable with the idea of anyone daring to use a pronoun that isn’t he or she.

        1. Adereterial*

          I’m 42, also in the UK and I was absolutely taught that they/them/their was primarily plural and should only be used to refer to refer to a singular person when that person was ‘unknown.’ ‘Someone’ gets a ‘they/them/their’ pronoun in the context of a bag being discovered because the owner hadn’t been identified and thus could be male or female – although my English teacher would have said if the bag is obviously a feminine one, to use the appropriate pronoun based on that. That learning was reinforced at home, quite specifically. Along with making sure I pronounced the t and d at the end of words ;)

          It’s not something I agree with but it’s incredibly hard for me to break what are now unconscious connections between they/them/their with a group of people when it’s being used to refer to an individual and it takes a while for my brain to catch up sometimes.

        2. Becca*

          I’m in the US and a second grade teacher corrected my story’s use of they as a singular pronoun for a person of unknown gender in the late 90s. I’m still kind of salty about it. Pushback against singular they is pretty well established here.

      7. Arthenonyma*

        It’s the other way around. My experience is that it’s made a very rapid shift in recent years from meaning “he or she or any other gender identity” (I.e. neutral) to “specifically NOT he or she” (ie an identity in its own right). Which kind of feels like we now need another pronoun for the neutral position!

      8. BabyElephantWalk*

        Saying there are no neutral pronouns in English is incorrect. They/them have been used that way for centuries, including by Shakespeare.

      9. Asenath*

        The early usage of a singular “they” in English invariably refers to an unknown person; generally, someone who is a member of a group. So it doesn’t necessarily indicate gender. That doesn’t mean it’s neutral, just that it can be used for someone absolutely nothing is known about – “Someone dented my car! Did anyone see them?” – or someone you know a bit about – “One of the girls leaving that school dropped this. Would you give this to them?” It wasn’t traditionally used to speak of or address an individual you know. That, of course, has changed, but not to the point that everyone is or should be addressed as “they”. The usage is not neuter, in a grammatical sense, and it’s not neutral, in the sense of being a generic usage that applies to everyone.

        I think it’s a terrible idea to start off by addressing every individual in a group as “they”, even if they (plural) are all allowed to opt out if they wish. The possibilities for confusion during the meeting, assuming everyone tries to comply (or argues about it), plus the certainty that some of these people are not going to want to be addressed inappropriately are too great.

      10. Yorick*

        We do have a neutral pronoun in English: it. However, that’s been used to insult people for a long time and so it’s not an acceptable personal pronoun. Somewhere in the multiverse, everyone might refer to non-binary people as “it” in a totally respectful way instead of using “they.”

        Language is so interesting.

    9. Sam I Am*

      Thank you, I’ve been using they/ them for everyone lately, until I know what they would like to be called.
      I searched around the internet quickly and found that it’s misgendering to continue using it once someone states what they want, which follows my general practice of calling people what they want to be called.
      My question is if I’m reading this correctly? Your opinion is we should guess what singular pronoun to use until told otherwise? My experience as a cis woman being misgendered as a sir was hurtful, and I would have preferred to be called them, but perhaps I’m in the minority.

      1. NotThey*

        I get called “sir” probably more often than “ma’am” which is almost inevitably followed by an awkward apology and a “ma’am.” I genuinely do not mind this and find it pretty funny. I can’t articulate why I prefer that interaction to “they” but I can certainly understand why a femme presenting woman would be hurt by getting a “sir” since insulting a woman’s femininity has been a go-to insult forever.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        There are different school of thought about this, including:

        – everyone is they/them until they correct you, then you use the correct pronoun
        – ask everyone for their pronouns so you always use the correct pronoun
        – use whichever pronoun looks “right” to you until they correct you, then use the correct pronoun

        There’s no one way to do it that will please everyone, unfortunately.

        1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

          ^ Seconded.

          From a nonbinary trans person who finds “they” just as misgendering as “he” or “she,” OP, please don’t just swap one standard (that suits some people and not others) for another just as arbitrary (that serves different people and still not others) and call it more inclusive.

      3. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

        I am also a ciswoman who would prefer being misgendered as “them” to misgendered as “him”. And I freely admit part of it comes down to the fact that I have an androgynous name that some groups routinely assume is wholly male. These same people (who assume I am a man and use he/him) have a tendency to make a big, public to-do when corrected that I am a woman and use she/her pronouns.

        When people don’t know, I would rather they default to using they/them and then use she/her when corrected. I think this is pretty standard. I wouldn’t feel comfortable assuming someone’s use of she, he, or neopronouns, but the neutral “they” until given the necessary information feels more human and inclusive to me.

        1. cloudy.days*

          I guess where it gets muddy is that when people use they/them in reference to me and I correct them to she, they also make a big public, scraping to-do about it because I’m trans and they feel that they’ve offended me lol

        2. Snowy*

          This, exactly, my name is very uncommon and can also be androgynous, and I really, really would rather people would default to “they” instead of “he” if they don’t know. (In my case, it’s because I really hate the societal issues that come with “default is male”. I also get the thing with strangers defaulting to male and then making it a huge deal when they find out I’m female, or people suddenly becoming belligerent when they realize they’re talking to a woman.) But I also use “she/her” so purposely continuing to use “they” wouldn’t be correct either.

          “Default they” when you don’t know, then switching to the right pronouns when corrected seems like the best option overall.

      4. Talia*

        I think the problem is that today, they/them is not a neutral/unknown position, it’s a gender identity in its own right, which means you are already guessing someone’s pronouns using it.

    10. kittymommy*

      So I have a question for anyone to answer: I have used they/them for individuals since I was younger (like high school age). I’m not sure where I picked up the habit or why, it certainly wasn’t due to being around an environment where pronouns were thought of as a preference (late 80’s/early 90’s in a smallish environment in the southern US) but at this point I do it automatically and I don’t use this verbiage exclusively as I also use he/him and she/her (or others if indicated) as well. I guess I’m wondering is this horrible? Obviously if a preference is indicated I change it, but does it matter that at this point in my 40’s it’s engrained in my vernacular until otherwise indicated? (Does my question even make sense??!!)

      1. cloudy.days*

        short answer is you won’t find an answer that will satisfy everyone – as ~a trans person~, I actually find it alienating when someone refers to me as they/them because it seems like they’re signalling to me that it’s obviously apparent that I’m gender non-conforming and they’re using that language to accommodate me, even if it’s the case that they just do so for everyone like you do. Other trans people will state that you’re in the right, and that speaking the way you do is in service to the greater trans community. Shrug (lol)

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        There’s no one right answer that will be good 100% of the time. As a general rule, it’s not wrong to use they/them as your general default so long as you switch to other pronouns when someone tells you what they go by or indicates their gender to you.

        Basically, you have to either guess, ask, or use neutral language. Some people really don’t like being asked (or it’s hard to find an opportunity). Some people really don’t like being guessed wrong. Some people really don’t like being referred to with gender-neutral language. Since you can’t avoid ever stepping on someone’s toes the best you can do is be respectful of what people tell you about themselves, take corrections with grace, and respond with compassion if someone is hurt by what you say – even if you didn’t do anything objectively wrong.

      3. Mid*

        It is absolutely not a horrible thing to do! As long as you use someone’s pronouns when they specify, using they as the default is wonderful and should absolutely be the standard.

      4. Beth*

        Using it as a default to refer to a hypothetical individual is good, I think–way less clunky than typing out ‘him/her’ the way my high school english teacher tried to make me do!

        There’s more nuance when it comes to actual, specific individuals. I’m hearing that you default to ‘they/them’ for some people but to ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her’ for others. I’m also hearing that you’ll change it later if they ask–which suggests that your initial choice isn’t based on asking them for their preference. It might be worth thinking about what triggers you to default to ‘they/them’ for someone! There’s nothing inherently wrong with it as a default (some people prefer it, some will hate it, but as other commenters have pointed out, that would be true of any option you might choose). But if you dig in and find that, say, you only default to they/them pronouns when you perceive someone as somehow not conforming to your idea of how a man/woman should look, then you might want to interrogate that underlying idea of what a man/woman should look like. You might find some ingrained assumptions there that you didn’t realize you had.

    11. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      There was a letter like this where one person insisted another person should be they/them because that person identified as they/them. It became an attack on the second person, “you don’t understand. you’re part of the problem” type of thing.

      One blanket answer is not an option here.

    12. Paul Pearson*

      I second this – I mean I don’t hate being “they’d” but as a gay man I have repeatedly had my gender questioned. invalidated or mocked with various implications that I am not a real/true/complete/proper man. And there are binary trans people who have had the same – a transman who people refuse to acknowledge as masculine for example. “they” can be a backdoor to another form of invalidation and attack

      There are levels of nuance and highly different personal journeys here that I don’t think any single blanket rule will work. Better to simply be clear that you will refer to people by the pronoun of their choice, that you will push to champion that, protect that and avoid misgendering people and challeging those who do – and make space for people to reveal their pronouns as and when they want to.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        “I have repeatedly had my gender questioned. invalidated or mocked with various implications that I am not a real/true/complete/proper man.”
        Thank you for sharing this. It was a really enlightening/powerful statement for me to read.

    13. HufferWare*

      I think it’s logical to be peeved. Someone is making an assumption about you instead of just asking while you’re standing right in front them.

    14. PerplexedPigeon*

      I’m just here to uplift all the butch lesbians I see in this thread. I see you, love you, and think you’re amazing!

      1. anyjennywaynest*

        Thank you for this! Your comment made my whole day (maybe even my year).

    15. Rory*

      I’m a nonbinary trans individual and use they/them pronouns for myself. I’m not interested in debates on how long the singular “they” has been in use, so will not respond to any comments in regards to that.

      In response to the OP, I think that just normalizing asking people what their pronouns are should be the company standard. There should be somewhere on applications to state what your pronouns are, and if someone is still closeted for whatever reason and they don’t feel safe to be out at work, then they would have their preferred pronouns to use at work. We all have to decide what we are comfortable with and what we need to do in order to keep us safe at work, even if we should never ever have to feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work.

      There are settings in which I must use she/her because sometimes, for me, it’s just not worth the emotional labor or time to try to educate on pronouns (nor should I be expected to be an ambassador for all trans people) at every single interaction ever.

      Ideally all workspaces would be trans friendly and safe and people wouldn’t have to worry about being misgendered or discrimination, but unfortunately we don’t live in that world yet.

      1. Rory*

        But also, OP, you cannot ask everyone else to default to they/them just because you are uncomfortable with other people being called she/her. I understand that it can be hard to see people that you know don’t use those pronouns to be misgendered, but unless you know for sure that they aren’t cis women then I’m not sure why it is upsetting to see women or femmes being referred to as “she”.

        Perhaps that can be clarified?

    16. Lady Luck*

      I am a cis woman who uses she/her, and I hate being referred to as they/them. Because I’m not a member of the trans community, I don’t feel like I have much standing to correct people on it, so I doubt I’d actually say anything against it. I don’t like it though.

      1. SW*

        Nah, all people deserve to have the pronouns they want used for them, cis or trans. Including you. I’m sorry people have been doing this to you.

    17. Wheelie very butch*

      I came here to say the same thing, I’m a butch lesbian and while I understand why people often default to using they/them for me, it feels very uncomfortable, especially when people continue to use it after I actually tell them my pronouns. It also feels something hard to correct because I assume they’re doing it to try make me feel more comfortable. I don’t know what the solution is but I feel like imposing this sort of rule on a conference will have a negative reaction from both queer and cishet people.

    18. ecnaseener*

      Yep. I’ve heard this thinking before, “I’m sure nobody at [progressive uni] would mind being called ‘they'” – read: “I, a cis gender-conforming person who’s never been misgendered in my life, wouldn’t mind being called ‘they,’ so I’m assuming nobody else would either.”

    19. Free Meerkats*

      The last sentence made me laugh at my desk. Not at you, but because I’m currently listening to “A Feast for Crows” while driving and I immediately flashed to Podrick Payne talking to Briene of Tarth.

    20. fish*

      Another not-they butch. Hello fellow not-theys, thanks for putting it out there on this thread!

    21. Beth*

      I hear you on this, but I think there’s a big difference in being they’d-by-default (as in, this is what is actually being used for everyone unless otherwise specified, this is the true norm, it’s being used for people who present very gender-conforming as well as people who look different) and they’d-because-trying-and-failing-to-be-inclusive (aka, they looked at you and made some assumptions about your gender and called you ‘they’, but they’re still calling other women ‘she’ by default, so now you’re being othered and treated differently than everyone else because they internally misgendered you).

      It sounds to me like OP is trying to create the first scenario here–make use of they pronouns a true default in this space, so the language being used never others anyone more than anyone else. The problem is that this scenario basically never happens in practice. Those who look like feminine cis women will be called ‘she’ without asking first, those who look like masculine cis men will be assumed to be ‘he’s’ without checking with them, and it’s really *really* hard to get people to stop making those assumptions when they’re usually right. So it ends up just being people whose appearances don’t meet gender performance expectations that get ‘they’d’, which (as you point out) is often well meaning but can still be really unpleasant and othering.

      TL;DR: OP’s intentions are good but 1. I don’t think this is going to work and 2. they’re likely to end up othering the people they most wanted to include.

    22. Alsonotthey*

      I’m a butch lesbian, I disagree that it’s misgendering. They is meant to be for everyone. But it does make me uncomfortable when I get they’d. Because that person 99.9% of the time will default to she or him with straight passing people. Being singled out sucks…

    23. LizzyB*

      “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns”

      I am sure that you do not mean it Lin this manner, but that comes across as “I am uncomfortable with other people expressing their gender identity, and I am going to use the fact that I am HR to stop them.”

  2. Spouse of a trans person*

    There are many binary trans people for whom “they/them” is as strong a misgendering as the incorrect binary pronoun would be. Starting with “they/them” as default also means you’d be misgendering people, so that doesn’t solve anything.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      A much more practical way would be to get some “my pronouns are_____” stickers/pins and encourage (but not require) people to use them during the meeting. Can also work to normalize people’s zoom names including pronouns.

      1. Legal Rugby*

        This is a great way to do it. Also, including a pronoun line in all signature blocks.

      2. Smitty*

        I had the same thought. Even having paper name placards with a space underneath for pronouns. People can then choose to write in pronouns or not.

      3. they're not having pronouns AT you*

        Yeah, I was going to suggest that nametags / pronoun tags seem like the best solution here, especially if these are meetings where people are routinely not remembering each other’s names as well. I have gone to cons where people routinely add pronouns to their name, and this tends to work well.

        I’d also add — LW, I respect that pronouns and gender identity may feel extra fraught to you, but please try to consider that others’ preferences for their own gendered pronouns are not an attack on you!

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Username checks out.

          LW, you mention that hearing a slew of femme-presenting women stating they are she/her feels like a celebration of the gender binary. It is not. Speaking as a cis woman, I have just as much choice in my gender identity as a trans or nonbinary person – none whatsoever. Mine just happens to be aligned with my genitals.

          I fully understand and applaud what you’re trying to achieve with disrupting thinking in that binary, but simply stating my pronouns when asked is not me trying to undermine that effort.

          1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            I totally agree. I won’t compare the challenges of cis women to trans/NB individuals, but I am highly uncomfortable drawing attention to my (unchosen) gender in the context of a workplace. I will share my pronouns in an effort to make the workplace more inclusive and safe to everyone, but there’s no celebration there.

            1. Seanchaigirl*

              Yeah, I’m also a cis woman who uses she/her and I felt weird about putting my pronouns out there because I didn’t feel like it was my issue to weigh in on. But a trans friend has said that she thinks it helps normalize the idea of chosen pronouns (whatever they may be) and makes some people feel safer to be open about how they would like to be referred to. Once she shared that, it was like – oh, of course! It’s not about me or my gender or my pronouns – it’s making sure the spaces I’m in are a teeny bit safer for everyone to be themselves and feel recognized and respected.

          2. a good mouse*

            Yeah that struck me as uncomfortable as well. Saying you’re frustrated or hurt by “a slew of femme-presenting women” stating their pronouns as she/her makes it sound like you’re also just mad to be working with a lot of women. I will happily use any pronoun people request I use (verbally or through their zoom name or through a sticker), but I’m also still going to be put off if someone says they don’t like the fact that I’m a ‘femme-presenting’ woman or that I use she/her.

            (Not to mention, working with mostly women isn’t the case everywhere. As a woman in an engineering field I’m regularly the only non-male person in the room, so to have my pronouns ignored in favor of ‘they’ would feel even more marginalizing.)

          3. starfox*

            Yes, I think you can push against the gender binary while identifying as a gender. I’m a cis-woman, but I lean into stereotypically masculine traits/clothing/etc. at times. There have been times I didn’t want to be female… and 100% of those times was in response to sexism and misogyny.

            I loathe the gendered expectations that are put on women, and I push back against those. You can disrupt the gender binary without identifying as nonbinary.

            1. ButchyWoman*

              Yes! Thank you! I am a butch-ish lesbian who wears clothes designed for men and my hair short but am not mistaken for a man because of body shape. I have been pushing against gender stereotypes all my life and do so as a woman.

        2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I recently went to a conference that had those fabric banners to attach to the plastic name tags, so attendees could choose to display their pronouns, or not. I thought it was a great solution, especially because there were several other banners (like “newcomer” and “speaker”) so it was just another thing people could choose to share about themselves.

      4. curly sue*

        Yes, please – this would be fantastic. My organization leans heavily toward listing pronouns in emails and zoom / Teams names, and it’s turned out to be a curb cut of sorts – folks with non-Western names have found that it’s eliminated a lot of the awkwardness around people trying to guess their gender from unfamiliar signifiers.

      5. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Also, it’s trivially easy on a Zoom call to add pronouns to the display name. And it’s pretty common to see people listed as, e.g., “L.H. Puttgrass (he/him).”

        Yet another area where online meetings are sometimes easier than in person (says the introvert).

      6. Jenna Webster*

        I believe that gender is a concept that is always harmful to women and often harmful to men, so being asked to identify my gender is very problematic for me. Still, I would simply not use the stickers/pins.

        1. Beebee*

          See I find that to be a bit of a weird take. Are there problems with the gender binary, toxic masculinity, and the way women are treated? Absolutely, but I like being a woman. I would feel very weird if people had to insist I was genderless or non-binary because… I’m not.

          1. Olive Hornby*

            I’ve heard critiques that highlighting a person’s gender and/or pronouns can subconsciously cue gender stereotypes, in interlocutors but also in the person self-defining–that they’ll make a person seen primarily “as a woman” rather than “as a capable engineer.” There’s a slate of studies suggesting that answering demographic questions before taking a test can influence performance on that test–think of a girl identifying her gender on a math test and performing less well because she was subconsciously reminded of stereotypes about girls being bad at math, and these stereotypes influenced her performance in some way (perhaps by requiring additional brainpower to suppress doubts.) This is why many tests/surveys now save demographic questions for the end, rather than the beginning.

            The research isn’t at all bulletproof, and in general social science research is pretty behind on including trans people in studies on gender. And there are also arguments to be made for highlighting gender as a way to combat the stereotypes that lead to stereotype threat in the first place: if you regularly work with excellent engineers who identify as women, perhaps you will be less inclined to believe that women are less capable as engineers.

            Personally, I’m a queer woman and do identify pretty strongly with my gender as both a political and social/cultural/aesthetic category. As a cis person, I also think it’s important not just ethically but in terms of theorizing gender to listen to the experiences of binary trans people who experience their binary gender as liberating rather than oppressive. But there has been a long history of feminist critique of gender itself as oppressive that exists and is worth grappling with, and I imagine that’s what Jenna is referencing. I also think it’s very reasonable for someone in that position, in addition to someone who doesn’t want to share pronouns, to decline to do so–but in that case, I’d default to using the person’s name (e.g. “I agree with Jenna that this question should really be handled by Jenna’s team”) rather than they/them pronouns. Wondering if that’s a potential solution for OP as well?

            1. Beebee*

              Maybe I’m just misinterpreting Jenna’s comment but to me it read as “gender is a negative thing” when it is very intrinsic to a lot of people’s identities, cis/trans/nonbinary alike. There are absolutely negative associations and stereotypes that come with it regardless of how one identifies but the way the comment was written read to me as having gender is a negative and we’d all be better off if no one identified with one at all. Which isn’t accurate nor realistic!

              1. Batgirl*

                Jenna’s take is very different to mine (which is closer to yours, BeeBee, I have a strong and innate gender identity), but I think that’s okay? We’ve all experienced the downside of being (or not being) a particular gender and unless you do have that strong internal tie to your identity, of feeling that the tie is an essential good which outweighs the bad, then gender probably is going to feel very negative. We are all different, not only in how we gender identify, but in whether we gender identify at all.

            2. Cedrus Libani*

              I took Jenna’s position on gender for a long time. From a practical perspective, I wish I still did; it’s a whole lot easier to feminist when you can cheerfully assert that gender isn’t real and is merely a tool of oppression. I’m still working out how to be vocal about gender stereotypes being wrong, harmful, and stupid, while also leaving space for the [many!] people who need to be gendered correctly in order to feel seen. Nuance. Sigh.

            3. starfox*

              So… I’m wrestling with this, lol. Gender is defined as “the social constructed characteristics of men and women.” What if I was born a female, identify as a female but don’t identify with the “social construct” of womanhood? I don’t think that makes me non-binary.

              I think women who don’t want to fit the mold of the socially constructed female get accused of being TERFs because we’re saying we don’t personally identify with gender as a collection of traits, but rather as something we were born with. But I’m only talking for myself, and no one else. I’m not saying an AMAB person can’t identify as female.

              And with this conception of gender, I’ll admit… I don’t understand how someone would identify as a different gender, because I don’t think my gender says anything special about me. But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I think it’s wrong to identify as a different gender.

        2. Gan Ainm*

          Yeah I’m quite clearly female, and I’d be pretty annoyed if I was forced to state my pronouns, but if the alternative is to be called they/them that’s worse and you’re going to force me to specify, so this plan would aggravate me right off the bat and not accomplish what OP wants. Sounds like OP thinks women are being women AT them, which is not the case.

          The reason it would aggravate me to be forced to specify because I work in a male dominated industry and the last thing I need is to intrusively call more attention to being a female. Everyone can see I’m a woman, I get all the drawbacks that come with that, and it’s not something I can opt out of by just choosing different pronouns.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Your claim that anyone can see that you’re a woman is the problem though – based purely on visual assessment, it isn’t possible to identify someone’s gender. Appearance-based assumptions are working well for you so it’s comfortable but it does not work well for LW which is why they are looking for an alternative.

            To be clear, I don’t think the proposed solution is a good one, but your comment illustrates exactly why it’s an issue for LW in the first place.

            1. Gan Ainm*

              For the vast majority of folks it is possible though. Statistically speaking most people identify as the sex they are born, which has both physical and societal indicators that go along with it that allow other people to identify at a glance who/“what” they are.
              And for all those people, they get the good and bad baggage that comes along with it. I’m female, and I’m seen as less competent than my male peers, my decisions are questioned, I get more subtle and not-so-subtle pushback than my male counterparts, I’m “aggressive” even when I phrase things in the nicest, most polite and collaborative way possible at work, while my male peers are actually aggressive, yet for them it’s seen as competence and decisiveness, the list goes on and on.

              I can’t opt out of this by just saying “I’d like receive male office treatment package please, where do I sign up?” You can’t will away sexism by saying “but how could anyone *possibly* know you’re a woman?” They know. The same way we always know who the women are when legislators went to make restrictive laws about certain peoples body’s but not others, or pay some people less than others, etc.

          2. Oryx*

            Except there is no such thing as “quite clearly female.” That’s the crux of this entire conversation. You know you’re a woman, but I know plenty of femme nonbinary people. Just because they “look” to be a woman doesn’t mean that they are.

          3. Beth*

            One of the things that asking about pronouns as a default is trying to get at is, there is no universal way to be ‘quite clearly female’. Or ‘quite clearly male’ or ‘quite clearly nonbinary,’ for that matter. The entire idea that you can guess someone’s gender identity based on their appearance is part of what’s being deconstructed here.

            I suspect you’re safe from pronoun requests, though. Sexist spaces that can’t even manage to treat cis women equally are not generally the ones championing broader gender inclusivity.

          4. starfox*

            I understand your hesitation, because I also don’t want to draw attention to my femaleness. If someone assumes I’m male over email, all the better because maybe people will be more respectful, so I’m not comfortable putting my pronouns in my email signature.

            But on the other hand, I know AFAB people who wear makeup and dresses but are nonbinary, so you can’t tell someone’s pronouns just by looking at them.

            I don’t know what the solution is.

        3. starfox*

          This is a good point. I’m a woman, and I love being a woman. I do feminine things sometimes like wear dresses and paint my nails, and I have fun doing it.

          But the definition of gender is “the characteristics of men and women that are socially constructed.” I do not identify with the social construct of “woman.” You can push back against the social construct of gender without being nonbinary.

          I am 100% pro-trans rights. If an AMAB person identifies as female, she is a woman. I have no problem calling her a woman. I never had to wrestle with my gender identity, so I don’t know what it feels like to identify as something other than the sex you were born with.

          But to me, being a woman isn’t a collection of traits. I’m personally a woman because I was born one, not because I identify as society’s view of a woman.

          1. AGD*

            I think what’s causing the problem here is the equating of ‘social construct’ with ‘stereotypes’, which isn’t what’s intended (as I understand it). The categories and the boundaries around them are a social construct, like money or Tuesdays. That doesn’t mean there’s no way of fitting into them without desperately clinging to stereotypical gender roles.

            Gender can’t be assumed, because it’s something that comes from your consciousness (where do you think you fit and what feels right to you?) and no one else can see that directly.

    2. Stitch*

      Yes, I have a friend who is trans who is very clear their male identity is extremely essential to them and wants that to be the focus, not that he is trans.

    3. friendly neighborhood stealth guy*

      Seconding this! I’m a binary trans man (he/him) and I’m stealth at work. Calling me they/them would be misgendering, and I’d find it awkward to correct without outing myself or worrying about being read as transphobic.

      I’m all for folks sharing their pronouns at work where they’re comfortable to do so (I have mine in my email signature, which is fairly common for my workplace), but blanket they/them doesn’t work, imo.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    Don’t take away your employees’ choice in how they describe themselves, please.

    Work asks enough of people as it is; let them have their own pronouns.

    1. What's in a name?*

      This doesn’t remove people’s ability to have their own pronouns. They still have the option of putting it in their introduction, zoom name, and email signature.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        . . . but it apparently removes the option of being addressed with them in general interactions.

        1. BeckyinDuluth*

          No it doesn’t; if people share their pronouns, those pronouns would be used. This is just saying that until you know those pronouns, you use they/them. Which will clearly be upsetting to some folks (especially if it’s only done to some as the self-described butch lesbians above have pointed out). But guessing at binary pronouns is also upsetting to some.

          Personally, I think this is a thing where you shouldn’t make everyone else do it for the reasons Alison listed, but you can make your choice to do it for yourself (and working on the language on forms and websites as suggested elsewhere). But you have to know that whatever you choose, you will eventually misgender someone, and what happens at that point is important. I don’t believe the “you can’t win so you shouldn’t even bother!” nonsense, but I do think expecting a solution that never offends anyone is unrealistic, so people should do the best they can and not get bent out of shape when eventually someone calls out that you misgendered them. Your good intentions don’t invalidate their experience, so you correct yourself and move on.

          1. starfox*

            I would never remember who had officially “come out” with their pronouns and who hadn’t, so I’d have to they/them everyone forever.

  4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    The pronoun that people are most likely to use in face-to-face meetings is the second-person (“you”), which is already gender neutral.

    1. Vess DeRogna*

      Seconding this. If I’m in a meeting and people insist on referring to me in the third person, as if I’m not in the room, it’s the height of rudeness.

      1. metadata minion*

        Interesting; I use third-person pronouns in meetings all the time. Usually in contexts like “I agree with Bob; I’d like to try his idea for alternate unicorn feed next quarter” or “Jane was a huge help on this project”. Usually it’s short enough statements that I usually end up just using people’s names, but having to use he/she/they doesn’t seem either rude or deeply unusual to me.

        1. JMR*

          That’s a good point, though – You can use the name, rather than the pronoun, which is an inclusive solution to the problem of not knowing someone’s pronouns. And depending on the context, “I agree with him” actually could sound more rude than “I agree with Bob” (even if pronouns aren’t the issue, and it is well known that Bob is a he/him). So using peoples’ names and avoiding pronouns whenever possible might be a more inclusive solution than to use the pronouns anyway.

          1. Nynaeve*

            Definitely, a conscious swap to “I agree with Bob. *pause, deliberately look at Bob* I’d like to try your idea for alternate unicorn feed next quarter.” is more inclusive socially, and makes the target feel included in the business process.

            The original wording would make me feel talked over, like the speaker’s confirmation of my idea is more important than the original idea itself and it’s owner. Being spoken to, rather than about, when you’re *right there* is empowering.

            1. Loulou*

              This is what I do anyway, for reasons that have nothing to do with gender…but having this in any way mandated or even explicitly recommended would feel wildly patronizing and an overreach to me. There are things that need to be rules and then there are things that gradually become part of the culture as more people do them. Referring to colleagues in the third vs second person during meetings is absolutely in the latter category.

            2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              My wording would be similar, “I agree with Bob. Bob, why don’t you tell everyone about your idea for alternate unicorn feed next quarter?”

              1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

                And also

                “Bob, you bring up a good point about Karen’s teapot audit. Why don’t the two of you work out some other statistical models and present them at next month’s meeting?”

          2. starfox*

            A lot of trans people consider it transphobic to refer to them only by name rather than pronoun, because it’s obvious you’re going out of your way not to use their preferred pronouns.

        2. ThatGirl*

          I never thought about how often I use third-person pronouns in meetings until one of my coworkers came out as nonbinary; I am a strong advocate of theirs but my brain does sometimes glitch a bit, when describing work we’ve done together. I always correct myself but I hate that my brain is still fixing itself!

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      Yes, it seems quite rude to use a third person pronoun for a person to their face so it probably wouldn’t come up much. I think you would always say ‘as Lucinda suggested’ rather than ‘as she suggested’.

      1. Aww, coffee, no*

        My Mum very much dislikes being referred to as ‘she’ when she’s part of the conversation and her go-to (at least within family, don’t know about elsewhere) is “Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” said in an irritated tone of voice.

        1. Batgirl*

          My nan used to object to “she” with the very same “Who? The cat’s mother?” phrase; she thought it was the height of rudeness. Years after she had died, a party guest of mother’s was trying to badmouth her, without naming her: “SHE says I have to behave, SHE can’t tell me what to do.” So she grabbed him and unceremoniously chucked him out. When she came back inside I said to her “I’ve never seen a cat’s mother do that.”

    3. Potato*

      This was my thought — in my experience, people don’t often use third-person pronouns in meetings. If I’m agreeing with/building upon what someone said, I’ll say “I love Alex’s idea about X, and I think we can implement it in Y way…” no pronoun needed.

      (In general, people should be using just names or gender-neutral pronouns if they don’t know someone’s pronouns, of course! Not disagreeing with that, LW)

    4. HelloHello*

      I was told growing up that you really shouldn’t use the 3rd person pronoun in a conversation with that person. Its kinda the thought that you’d be talking ABOUT that person in front of them, rather than talking to them, which would be rude. It grates on me when I hear it used in social conversations, but with work I do lean towards using the pronouns.

      Either way, I don’t think they as a default isnt a good idea. I know several people who would feel misgendered with that, I’ve been in meeting where it was called out. They works great if it’s someone’s chosen pronoun or if the person is unknown, but to override as a default feels like you’d at least get detailed with a lot of stopping and correcting, since it doesn’t sound like the majority of the folks at the company are using they/them pronouns. I think allowing people to offer it in intro, on name tags, on the zoom name section is the best option. If folks are meeting on the regular, they’ll learn the pronouns over time.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        Yeah statistically speaking something like 95% or more or people probably use he/she pronouns in a way that’s easy to sssyne and get correct, so if you default to misgendering them you’re going to lose a lot of time in corrections.

        Also this whole approach might fly in the kind of environment OP works in, but in many/most large corporate environments people are going to feel like wasting time and attention to something not work related that really isn’t appropriate. My business charges our time by the 6 minute increment, we would never permit losing 15 or 20 minutes every meeting to something that should be a non-issue.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is an important point, and part of why “Let’s open by having everyone give their pronouns, in case you want to talk about someone later” lands as such a clunky and time-dragging opening.

      On Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist, Mo was introduced in episode 1, and Mo’s preferred pronouns were discussed midseason. When two characters who knew Mo–who wasn’t there–discussed his role in upcoming plans, and the one who knew Mo less well checked that he had the pronouns right. It was so organic, compared to “This is my friend Mo, let me tell you the pronouns you should use if we talk about Mo later.”

      1. Jennie*

        YES I loved that moment! Such a lovely illustration of the way to be respectful while always centering the person rather than the idea of getting things just right

  5. Elise*

    I agree with Alison. I think the intentions are fantastic but the practice will be hard. In my institution, each meeting starts with a land acknowledgement (as we are on unceded Algonquin territory). I think if you are sending out a precursor to your meeting, part of it could be to ask your participants to modify their Zoom name to include their preferred pronouns. But if someone doesn’t, that’s okay – you can just refer to them by name instead.

    1. soontoberetired*

      A lot of people in my company have done this on their own – have their name and he/him she/her they/them underneath it. but a simple solution when talking about an individual is to use their name.

    2. Shorty Spice*

      As others have already pointed out, assigning they/them as a default is similarly misgendering folks, though I do understand and commend the LW for their desire to disrupt the automatic default to she/he.

      I agree with this approach: make the sharing of pronouns the norm rather than dictating a negative option default.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I understand this and it also bothers me. The singular they is both nonbinary AND gender neutral. I don’t want to label someone nonbinary who isn’t, obviously. I’m also a big fan of gender neutral because my gender is CIS-female and it shouldn’t matter in most of my interactions (and probably none of my work interactions). I also think the default “he” is damaging to everyone but CIS-men in a way the default “they” is not. Calling someone “they” as NB is misgendering if they’re not NB, calling someone “they” as in “that human over there” is not.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        The LW is being influenced by their own point of view. It sure sounds like they prefer they/them pronouns but had a hard time coming to that place so if they/them were the default it would be great for them. It’s not great for those people who do identify on a side of the binary, though.

        And it seem like it would do nothing to prevent a “slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.” I know that there’s people still closeted, unaware, or who haven’t considered their pronouns yet, but I still believe the majority of humans will fall somewhere on one side or the other of the binary so have a preference for one of the binary pronouns.

        1. Siege*

          Having “a slew of … she/her pronouns” is a non-profit problem, not a gender binary problem.

    3. Anna*

      Can I just say that I hate land acknowledgments? I realize the intention is good, but if you’re going to acknowledge that you’re on stolen land, you should give the land back. Otherwise, it’s basically like opening every meeting by saying, “I’d like to acknowledge that there’s an ongoing crime that will persist throughout this meeting.”

  6. Excel Jedi*

    Nonbinary person here (she/they).

    This feels aspirational but also exhausting to ask for all the time.

    It feels more fruitful to have an organizational conversation about gender, or a series of them, where you suggest defaulting to ‘they’ as one strategy to be inclusive. Let people opt into it, and don’t police those who do or don’t. It may organically grow through culture and your modelling of the behavior, which would be optimal.

    1. introverted af*

      Yeah this sounds more like a big picture initiative to make sure people understand the org’s position on gender inclusivity, to provide education, and to encourage people to challenge their biases. Some people might naturally do this because of that, but trying to propose/enforce it for all attendees of any given meeting seems counterproductive.

    2. Beebee*

      That’s a really good idea. Just providing gentle suggestions for people and letting them take the lead on implementing.

    3. anonymouse*

      I agree with this. I think there is no consensus among trans/NB/GNC communities about the best way to handle pronouns because of many of the issues OP and other commenters have already brought up – forcing people to “out” themselves, using “they” can be misgendering as well, etc. – but I do think the more important piece here is getting people to think about the pronouns they’re using and to avoid assuming when possible. I think trainings/conversations will ultimately be more helpful in achieving what you’re looking for vs making the statement you suggested.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I have to ask too: how much of the discomfort OP is experiencing is relevant to the workplace, and how much is relevant to their own history with their gender?
      From my perspective, the goal of gender discussions in the workplace are to create a workplace where people are not harassed or held back by how they identify themselves, that their coworkers respectfully use the proper set of pronouns/names to refer to them, and that they have equal access to appropriate facilities. Equal pay, equal opportunities, support against harassment.
      I can’t tell from how OP is describing their workplace if their discomfort is because the workplace is not supportive, or if OP is feeling turmoil because of their own personal challenges and path in reaching their identity. Because if it’s the second option, that’s really not something that a workplace can help with beyond having solid counselling available as part of an EA program or benefits package. In my experience people ask for pronouns because they don’t want to hurt others by misgendering them, and asking for pronouns before assuming or checking email signatures/Zoom tags/personal bios has been the wide-spread message for a while now.
      This reminds me of the letter a few months back about the employee who refused to take any name at all. Yes, we can sympathize with the pain that can lie behind these personal challenges. We are happy to make reasonable accommodations. But having a company-wide policy of assuming a they/them gender seems like it’s going to cause a lot more invalidation than it supports and does not strike me as a reasonable accommodation. It should not be the job of the workplace to prevent every possible uncomfortable human interaction.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        1000%. If I weee coaching the letter writer I would be exploring the balance between gaining comfort with discomfort and trying to influence the world around them. There is a lot of work to be done to challenge gender biases (I am she/they, out as a queer person since 1987, I know!) but this feels more like “I personally want the solution that fits me” — the “slew of she/her” comment is what dings a red flag for me. I would be working on comfort in your own identity in a world that does largely follow binaries, rather than trying to over-control others. Losing battle !! See: mask mandates!

  7. L-squared*

    For what its worth, I’m a cis guy. And I don’t think this is practical, nor does it accomplish what you want. You want others to default to they/them, but I don’t really think that is neutral either. If I want to go by he, I don’t want it defaulted to “they” then having to correct it, and you kind of sound like you want to avoid that. That just seems like it will make things far more difficult for people. Especially if they don’t know each other.

    This is one of those, I believe you mean well, I just don’t think its the best idea. I think it would make more sense just to try to get people to refer to each other by name or something.

    1. Mid*

      Honestly, I think we need a lot less cis gendered voices on this thread, because everyone is very aware of the general opinions of the cis community at large. And, people have likely referred to you as they before they knew your pronouns. We use they in the singular all the time in general conversation.

      1. L-squared*

        I mean, I’d disagree, as this is something that would affect all the employees, not just the non binary/gender non conforming people. And the letter writer specifically asked for opinions from a lot of people, not just non cis people

  8. anon784343*

    “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.”

    So…I’m sorry it rubs you the wrong way to have a lot of women in the room. But they are not doing anything wrong here. They are not trying to “celebrate the gender binary,” they are asking to be called “she” because they identify as women, which is their right.

    If you ask people for their pronouns, you’re gonna get a lot of “she/her” and “he/his.” That’s inevitable given that most people are cis. The only way to avoid it is to stop asking people for pronouns.

    1. Witch*

      > The only way to avoid it is to stop asking people for pronouns.

      Which is also wrong. Ask people for their pronouns and use them; no matter what those pronouns are. It’s really that simple.

      1. Tussy*

        That’s not what they are saying – they are saying that the only way to avoid hearing a slew of “she/her” or “he/his” pronouns is to not ask for pronouns because binary pronouns are still the majority of what people prefer to be referred to as. They aren’t saying that people should actually stop asking for them.

    2. UFO*

      Yeah this strikes me as so odd. You can’t ask for pronouns and then be upset what peoples pronouns are.

      1. Librarian1*

        Yes, this is extremely weird. Maybe they need more gender diversity in the spaces they’re in.

    3. Keziah*

      Yep, I’m getting a strong whiff of misogyny from this post.
      No mention is made of masculine-presenting people in this post.

      1. Annony*

        I don’t think it is misogyny. My guess is that the writer is often misgendered as she/her and therefore it feels more jarring to hear others request those pronouns than when male presenting people ask for he/him. That doesn’t make it a reasonable request for people to not ask for their correct pronouns but it isn’t misogynistic.

        1. Keziah*

          I respectfully disagree. Women have fought long and hard to be visible and and respected in the workplace. This struggle continues to this day in workplaces all over the globe.

          Misgendering women deliberately is not courteous, is not decent and is not professional.

          1. Paris Geller*

            +1. Agreed. I don’t think the LW meant for it to be misogynistic, but there’s definitely an undercurrent there. As a cis woman, if I’m asked my pronouns and I respond with “she/her”, I’m not “celebrating the gender binary” I’m just. . . stating my pronouns.

          2. Cassandra*

            So, so much yes to this. I work in a heavily male dominated industry and I fought really hard to be there. Obviously I’m not a TERF and don’t have an “erasing women” ideology, but I’m sorry, we are still at a point in our country where we need to celebrate women working in a lot of fields, not default everyone to they because hearing a lot of she/her makes the LW uncomfortable.

            As other people have said: “they” for an unknown or hypothetical person is gender neutral. They for a known person is non-binary Calling a woman non binary because women make you uncomfortable is ABSOLUTELY misogynistic, even though it’s not intentional.

            1. Gan Ainm*

              Agree, with all of this, and I’m in the same position in a male dominated industry.

              PSA everyone’s awareness though, please stop using TERF, it’s a misogynistic slur against women- notice there is no equivalent for men, just like with “Karen”, only women are called to task for behavior both sexes participate in. Just say you support trans people or whatever it is you actually mean.

              1. HelloHello*

                TERF is not a misogynistic slur. Please do not spread this misinformation around. TERFS are a deeply hurtful group of people who have actively identified as being trans exclusionary, and labelling them as such is simply stating a truth. If someone doesn’t wish to be called a terf, then the answer is to not be trans exclusionary.

              2. BubbleTea*

                No, TERF isn’t a slur against women. It’s perfectly possible for a man to be a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (radical feminist being a self-applied term, trans-exclusionary being factual).

              3. Olivia*

                I’m a little afraid of derailing the comments here, but just no. TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. It refers to people who are “feminists” but whose version of feminism comes with a nice helping of transphobia. If people don’t want to be called transphobic, they can try not actually being transphobic. Karen refers to white women abusing the relative privilege that comes from white womanhood to cause harm to someone else, often a person of color, who in the situation has less power than them. That as women they themselves experience oppression is a notable part of the dynamic where they use what power they do have against people who have less than them, and it’s not like the people saying Karen aren’t also railing against racist white men. Having language to describe things is powerful, and it’s classic DARVO behavior for people who behave badly to pretend that the word is the problem instead of the behavior it describes.

              4. AllyPally*

                TERF is not a slur, they chose that name for themselves then tried to ditch it when it got associated with the transphobia they espouse. It’s also not misogynistic, men like Graham Lineham are TERFS too.

            2. Other Claire*

              Exactly – I exist and my existence in the workplace with she/her pronouns doesn’t need to be mitigated.

            3. a good mouse*

              “As other people have said: “they” for an unknown or hypothetical person is gender neutral. They for a known person is non-binary. Calling a woman non binary because women make you uncomfortable is ABSOLUTELY misogynistic, even though it’s not intentional.”

              This is well said and captures what I felt was off-putting about the original letter. I think it’s an interesting conversation to have, but this specific question comes from a place of discomfort with women. Describing your coworkers as “a slew of femme-presenting women” makes it seem like the issue isn’t truly about pronouns.

      2. ferrina*

        This may be more a reflection of who LW works with- I’ve worked in industries that are predominantly female, to the point where there are only one or two masculine-presenting/identifying people per call

        1. Stitch*

          Although I do find there’s a societal expectation for women particularly to just go along with these things. Women are in some way expected to be less rigid about their gender than men. Now that plays into some ideas of rigid masculinity and the problems it causes. But we should question whether we’d be expecting the same from a room full of cis men.

          1. Keziah*

            This was my take. Women are routinely asked to accept diminish themselves and take on extra labour for the golden ideal of ‘niceness’ and ‘not rocking the boat’.
            ‘But I call everyone under fifty ‘girl’
            ‘But you have neater handwriting so it makes sense for you to take the notes’
            ‘He’s harmless’ ‘They call everyone honey’ ‘Not wanting to use womens preferred pronouns isnt really aexism!’

            1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

              It also hits a little too close to the idea that anything feminine is silly, unserious, or unprofessional. I sympathize with the OP but I do have a hard time picturing a mirror image letter, where an OP would take issue with a room full of folks identifying as he/him and wanting to gender neutralize them.

      3. Just another queer reader*

        I’m guessing the letter writer works in a field that’s mostly women.

    4. SpaceySteph*

      Yeah this is a really interesting statement, seems to show there’s more to OP’s insistence here than meets the eye. Why does she/her bother more than he/him or other pronouns? My speculation is that OP is femme presenting but doesn’t want to be pigeonholed to she/her, which is ABSOLUTELY FINE… but its not fine to take away others’ identities in the process. The opposite of gender binary isn’t a single neutral gender, its many genders.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Yes, as a nonbinary person who pretty much conforms to my birth gender appearance-wise I suspect it’s just kind of a feeling of “every single other person who looks like me is using she/her pronouns and it can come across as really jarring when I pipe up and say I use they/them pronouns”.

        1. Rory*

          I think it probably also comes from a place of nobinary people being assumed to be androgynous or presenting in ways that don’t align with what people typically assume are specific to a certain gender (like dressing “masculine” or “feminine” so any cis woman who dresses in masc clothing or cis men who wear skirts or dresses), so nonbinary people are often invalidated or accused of “faking” or “being trendy” for living outside the binary, and maybe that’s what bothers the OP is the default assumption that they’re a cis woman simply because of the way they’re dressed.

          And really we just have to normalize not assuming gender, period. Just ask “hey what are your pronouns so I can make sure I’m referring to you correctly?” Normalize doing that.

          1. AnotherLibrarian*

            Absolutely. I recently buzzed my head to deal with a medical procedure. As a result, suddenly, people I’ve known for years are calling me “they/them” and I politely correct them. I’m still a “she/her”. I’ve just got a buzz cut now. It’s been a fascinating experience, but yeah- just ask. It’s going to make things easier on everyone.

          2. DogTrainer*

            Rory, I feel exactly like what you’ve described, and honestly I find it really confusing and am trying to work it out. I appear very female, but I just don’t understand what makes me “female” vs “male” versus anything else.

            Am I nonbinary? I don’t think so? But am I just female? I don’t think so. What is female anyways? I just feel like… me. If that makes sense?

            Anyways, it’s all very confusing. So I secretly want to answer “all pronouns” when asked but am too socially concerned to do it in most situations and just try not to answer at all.

        2. Mid*

          Same. I honestly completely empathize with OP, because I get it. I can’t get medical care that I want because I don’t want surgery (I’m working on finding better doctors but waitlists plus crappy insurance mean it’s a multi-year process), so I’m stuck looking feminine because that’s what my body does. And it sucks to have to constantly correct people. And honestly, I’ve noticed that people are more willing to use they for more masculine presenting and AMAB people, and seem to really struggle with AFAB people being they. I’ve been told I’m “just butch” and “a tomboy” so many times by so many people who are otherwise amazing about LGBTQ+ things, including binary trans people.

          Doesn’t mean that making everyone use they is the correct response. But I completely understand the urge. It’s exhausting to have to “come out” every single day, and correct people every time, because if I let them use the wrong pronouns once, I clearly don’t “mean it” or clearly “she” is an okay pronoun for me because I didn’t notice it that one time.

          I don’t know what point I’m trying to make honestly. I just empathize so much and it’s tough, and I wish there was a way to not force GNC people to come out all the time without misgendering everyone.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah…I’m sorry it makes the LW uncomfortable that my gender identity isn’t non-binary I guess? I’m very puzzled by that.

    6. Salsa Verde*

      This was kind of confusing to me – why would hearing femme-presenting people asking to be called she/her be alienating? I felt like I was missing something here?

      1. S*

        OP wishes more of these femme-presenting people identified as nonbinary, essentially. Which is fine to wish for, but not fine to try to enforce.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          Is that it? That’s…weird? Like Anne Elliot says, they are not being femme/women *at* the LW. I guess that’s why I was confused, it doesn’t make sense.

          1. Mockingdragon*

            I don’t think it’s that weird to wish that you weren’t the only one in your situation in the room. That’s all it boils down to, I suspect, it’s just phrased oddly because there’s a lot else going on in the post.

            1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

              I think that’s a wonderfully compassionate take on it. It really sucks for the OP that they are struggling, but I think their choices are to make peace with the demographics of the room, or find a different room to be in (which includes working to change the demographics of their current workplace through inclusive hiring practices). What they can’t choose, however, is to enforce or police how others in the room express their gender just to make the OP more comfortable.

            2. AnotherLibrarian*

              I think it’s normal to wish that more people shared your identity and that’s a super hard feeling to wrestle with. However, you can’t allow that discomfort to push you to regulate how others chose to express and identify with their gender. If gender is anything it’s super personal.

      2. Shallow Sky*

        Honestly, as a trans guy, it feels… kind of redundant? Like, your name is Sarah and you’re wearing a dress/Jared and you’re wearing a suit, do we really need to spend ten minutes at the start of the meeting going around while everyone other than me says “yes, I use the binary pronouns you’d expect from looking at me”? And then I get to be the only one who’s not using the assumed-from-looks pronouns.

        Of course, this isn’t anyone’s fault; cis gender-normative people are not being cis and gender-normative at me. But it can be kind of frustrating dealing with it over and over.

        1. Milx*

          I wish there was a cut and dry solution to this. Like, I’m cis and look cis. I’m happy to skip giving my pronouns and let people assume, because they’ll assume correctly. I’m also happy to give my pronouns proactively, as a show of support for others whose gender identity isnt as straightforward as mine. But no matter which side I pick, there’s downsides and people that don’t like it and are unhappy. :( it sucks that everyone can do their absolute best and we still hurt each other!

    7. Anne Elliot*

      Yeah, what exactly do you want people to do here? I am a cishet female and I identify as a woman. I consistently use “she/her” pronouns. I’m not being female “at” you, I’m just female. So it really seems unreasonable to ask me (and others) what we prefer and then find our honest answers “alienating” or “celebratory of the binary.”

      I think it is an appropriate acknowledgement of diversity to ask people their preferred pronouns; it centers the reality that not everyone is cishet and/or singular gender, and that’s important. But if their answers don’t reflect diversity (because the group you’re dealing with is not, in fact, diverse), that’s not an indictment of diversity or inclusion, it’s the reality of your group. In that case, perhaps more energy could be spend on diversity recruitment, so that your work group isn’t majority (for example) white, cishet, female. But if that’s what they are — that’s what they are, and their gender and choices are as deserving of respect as anyone else’s.

      If I were in a group that defaulted as a policy matter to “they/them” pronouns, it would not offend or bother me in any way. But I would take the first opportunity to register that my personal pronouns are “she/her,” because they are.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This.

        Same, and I don’t know what I can do about it that isn’t dishonest. I don’t think the LW wants me appropriating pronouns that don’t describe me? That seems hugely disrespectful of people to whom they really do apply.

        1. Siege*

          Honestly, I think they do. They’re bothered by the number of people using she/her but they work at a non-profit, which skews heavily female. My suspicion is that OP wants to use they/them but doesn’t want to come out for some reason, and therefore just not objecting to the default if they/them is set as that is fine. And they can claim “it’s for diversity!” rather than acknowledge that this is an OP need, not a need other people in this space appear to have.

      2. Double A*

        All the discussion of gender recently has made me realize that at that moment, I’m not super attached to my gender, but I also am not something other than female. A pronoun is a shortcut so we don’t have to repeat nouns all the time. It doesn’t reflect all the nuances of your truest inner self.

        The reality is with pronouns, we have three choices: female, neutral, and male. (Well, and object, “it,” but frankly I would be extremely uncomfortable using that pronoun for a person even if they told me they wanted me to). So you have to decide which feels more right than the others. I’d say I’m like…. 85% she, 15% they. She/her pretty much covers it, and I would not like to dicuss the matter further with people at work!

        1. Balloon Frenzy*

          Same. I’m a woman, but I don’t identify with woman as a “gender,” since the definition of gender is the social construct of what it means to be a woman.

          So I guess… I would technically be non-binary? Because I don’t identify with the female gender role in society? But I don’t want to be called they/them, she “she” is fine.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Trans-women might also identify as she/her, so the assumption that all shes and hers are cis is kind of icky

        1. they're not having pronouns AT you*

          This, and likewise not all people who are cis are also heterosexual.

          1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

            Mmmhmm, cis and queer here! Part of accepting that gender and sexuality is not a binary is accepting that there are still people who will fall at either end of the spectrum. They/them pronouns or any non-binary pronouns are JUST as valid as she/her or he/him…but they aren’t MORE valid…

            1. Mid*

              While you’re correct, the point I think OP is trying to make is that constantly assuming everyone is binary puts the onus on non-binary people to constantly come out, and I think a lot of cis people underestimate how draining that can be. Because it is draining.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                But isn’t this likely to be the case so long as most people (cis and trans) identify as one of the gender binary?

              2. Curiouser and Curiouser*

                I definitely get that too, and I need to check my privilege at times. I think what we need to work on in general is making sure we recognize that ALL genders are valid, whether cis, trans, or non-binary, which we as a society don’t do a great job at. I think there’s a benefit to defaulting to they/them for an unknown gender (i.e. the doctor example some have mentioned downthread) – but that also comes with the need to identify our genders (whether she/her, he/him, they/them, or other) so that we aren’t misgendered in the future. It’s the second part that OP seems to be bristling at that doesn’t seem entirely ok. Their desire to be identified by their preferred pronouns really isn’t different than my desire to be identified to mine, mine just happen to be on the binary.

              3. Dust Bunny*

                It’s also draining for neurodiverse people to constantly be assumed to be neurotypical because we work so hard at masking it, and a lot of other things, but LW isn’t asking for all those other situations to be assumed. Those are all also forms of diversity.

                I think most of my coworkers just put their pronouns on their email signatures (my workplace does most communiction by email), although it mostly doesn’t come up because if I need to ask for someone I just use their name, anyway.

                1. Mid*

                  I mean, I’m also neurodiverse, but that’s not really part of this conversation. It should be discussed more, and inclusive workplaces need to address all aspects of inclusion.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I believe trans people most often identify as one of the two binary options. I haven’t seen a poll on it, but my impression is it’s usually “I was born male but realized I was female” or vv, with the nonbinary a smaller group. And as noted elsewhere in thread, telling someone “you seem trans, or like a butch lesbian, or like a femme gay guy, so you’re ‘they'” often lands poorly.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            This. I’ve known a few people who use she/her but are nonbinary. Or use different pronouns for different contexts (i.e., the pronouns they use at work aren’t the same as what they use in their personal life).

    8. anon lawyer*

      I would just add that many (most?) trans people don’t use gender-neutral pronouns, so it’s not just cis people who are likely to say she/her or he/his.

      1. ThatGirl*

        yes, I thought this too – it’s not just cisgender people who strongly want to be called he or she.

      2. Stitch*

        Agreed, trans and non binary are not the same thing at all and it’s bad to default calling those who are trans “they”.

        1. Blue Space*

          They’re not one to one, no, but non binary falls under the trans umbrella. Not all trans people are non binary but non binary people are trans.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I just mentioned that above. I am not trans, but I would suspect that being misgendered as they would be extremely alienating. Trans women are women and are “she/her”

    9. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah the solution here is to hire a more gender diverse staff, not misgender a bunch of people so you get to feel inclusive. (Im nonbinary and use they/he pronouns fwiw.)

      1. Siege*

        And to pay enough that people aren’t relying on a partner to have a living income. That’s just absolutely endemic to non-profits.

    10. Dust Bunny*

      I thought I was reading this wrong but maybe I wasn’t: I thought it was weird that it sounded . . . almost more rooted in a personal annoyance?

      I mean, if the room is full of [self-identified] women, yeah, there are likely to be a lot of she-ing and her-ing. But they’re [probably] not she-ing and her-ing at you–it’s who they are. It’s literally no different than asking for they/them or another set of pronouns for yourself.

    11. K*

      Yes, it seems like this discomfort comes because it emphasizes that these spaces are filled with mostly cis woman, but if that bothers LW (maybe they wish there were more trans/nb people, that’s fair) the solution is to work to attract more non-cis workers to that company/industry/etc, not to just implement different pronoun rules to camouflage the current reality.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        But OP really has no way of knowing whether these are all cis women, or transwomen who identify as she/her! Otherwise I completely agree with you.

    12. bee*

      I do think that in some spaces it can come across as “look at us! we are doing something helpful for trans people!” while also serving to make anyone who uses they/them pronouns especially feel Very Highlighted As The Only Trans Person In The Room. Which is yucky and I do get why the OP doesn’t like it! But I don’t think that this is the solution or really that there *is* a solution at all? No one thing is going to make 100% of people feel comfortable all of the time, and we do our best with imperfect methods.

      1. anonymous lurker*

        This feels the most accurate, honestly. This is a situation where it’s impossible to please everyone/offend no one without being a mind reader. As a cis woman who often is misgendered simply for being tall and having short hair, in a place where (conservative) strangers will get really mad at you for not defaulting to sir or ma’am (and surrounded by a large community of butch lesbians and nonbinary folks), I long ago accepted that mistakes are inevitable and it’s how you handle them that’s important. Equally, everyone I know here who’s not cisgender and/or straight tends to feel the same way – because nobody can read minds. We just do the best we can and try to be gracious and supportive.

      2. iliketoknit*

        I agree with this – there are times where enthusiastically proclaiming yourself a cis woman (which I also am, by the way) can feel a bit like taking over a movement that you didn’t actually need. Kind of in the same vein as white women co-opting various movements initially created by women of color. While I agree with the commenters pointing out that being a woman in certain workplaces is still unusual and a difficult row to hoe, I think part of the issue is that, in general, declaring that your pronouns are she/her isn’t dangerous for cis women in the way that it can still be dangerous for trans women or other gender-non-conforming women/people. (And if your workplace is hostile to a cis-woman using she/her pronouns, it’s probably not any more welcoming to trans women or men, NB people, or otherwise non-gender-conforming people.) Femme-presenting she/hers probably aren’t putting themselves at any real risk with their pronouns, so the “support” of identifying their pronouns doesn’t really grapple with issues that other people face. So I have a little sympathy for what I think the LW might have been getting at. That said, I also agree that if you want to foster a culture that supports people’s pronoun choices, there’s nothing you can (or should) do about the slew of femme-presenting “she/her”s, and that asking people to default to “they” won’t stop that.

        It sounds like the LW is in a position where they’re not comfortable answering a question about what pronouns they use, in that they don’t quite know or want to share what the answer is for themselves at this point (which is totally understandable!), but they would also rather that others default to “they” rather than have to affirmatively choose an answer (at least right now). I can see that being an unpleasant position to be in, but I agree that their proposed solution isn’t very practical at this point. In part, this goes back to the points people have made above – “they” is now both gender neutral (“someone dropped their umbrella”) and nonbinary (an affirmative third not-male-not-female identity), and so it’s difficult to use “they/them” for everyone by default in its neutral sense (not making assumptions about gender) without essentially making an assumption about gender (that person affirmatively identifies as something other than male or female). Unfortunately English isn’t very equipped for this.

        1. Other Claire*

          Wouldn’t that leave an org waiting for an employee who uses they/them pronouns at work (since commenters have mentioned before that they might use they/them in their personal life but not professionally) to start up the practice? That doesn’t seem ideal either.

        2. AnotherLibrarian*

          I think this is a really well thought out comment, iliketoknit. I don’t think there’s a way to ask people to share pronouns and then be upset when people do.

    13. anon for this (she/her)*

      Hi! I am a relatively femme-presenting bisexual cisgender lady in my late 30s who is tall enough (and has big enough feet) to wear some men’s clothing and accessories. It’s been a challenging journey for me to feel happy, comfortable, and proud identifying as she/her. I am so, so skeptical of the gender binary and do what I can do dismantle it in my work and personal life, including how I raise my kids. I’ve considered she/they as solidarity, but really she/her *feels right* for me. Especially as a queer person, I HATE getting the stinkeye after I identify as she/her in a room full of folks with a variety of gender identities. The last thing I want to do is drag anyone back onto the binary, especially after half a lifetime of wrestling with it myself.

      If the whole point of “they/them”-ing everyone is to relieve people from the weight of assumptions, please take that weight off of us she/her folks as well.

      1. ferrina*

        Thank you for this! The whole point of inclusivity is so people know that their identity is welcomed and accepted. If your identity happens to be she/her, great! If your identity happens to be they/them, also great! No matter what your gender identity is, you should be able to be that without fear of judgement due to your gender identity.
        The broader society will have undeniable gender bias and some people will experience more discrimination and microaggressions than others due to this. But the answer isn’t to make inclusivity exclusive. The key is awareness, proactive welcoming and celebrating of diversity, and rexamination and evolution of norms to become more supportive for everyone (particularly historically marginalized groups)

      2. Temperance*

        It’s misogyny, frankly. I’m proud to be a woman and proud to be raising my daughter, too.

        I guarantee those same folks don’t give the death glare to men when they share their pronouns.

    14. aebhel*

      Honestly as someone who uses both she/her and they/them depending on context, this part of the letter *really* rubs me the wrong way. People who use she/her (or he/him, not that LW seems bothered by that, somehow) are not ‘celebrating the gender binary’, they are using the pronouns that apply to them. Those pronouns don’t stop applying just because you force a different default.

    15. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      “So…I’m sorry it rubs you the wrong way to have a lot of women in the room. But they are not doing anything wrong here. They are not trying to “celebrate the gender binary,” they are asking to be called “she” because they identify as women, which is their right.”

      Yes, this. This letter makes me think of the framing that Captain Awkward introduced me to – when I (a cis woman) use she or her as my pronoun, I’m not being she/her *at you*. To say that using the pronouns I identify with with aren’t okay in a group setting because they make other individuals uncomfortable seems a bit like going backwards, not forwards.

    16. Some Dude*

      The vast majority of people’s genders are binary. The vast majority of people are cisgender. This isn’t to dismiss or deny trans or non-binary identities, but, unless you are in very select circles, the non-binary folks are going to be the minority. Also, women have had to put up with mountains of excrement and have fought very hard for the rights they have, rights that are actively under attack. We need to be able to make space for gender diversity without erasing women.

    17. Reasonableist*

      Right? Women are already disadvantaged enough in many workplaces (lack of lactation spaces, mat leave, pay ceilings, etc.) To the OP: Consider that it’s harmful and marginalizing to insist on “de-gendering” an already oppressed class of people, just because you are annoyed by them existing in their own, sexed/gendered bodies. I would really encourage some reflection here; please do better.

    18. HannahS*

      Yeah. The OP really needs to think about why they’re so uncomfortable with women stating their pronouns. I get that if the OP is often misgendered as female, then it could be jarring, but that’s an OP-problem, not a women-problem. Being uncomfortable with the existence of women in the workplace (or its cousin “I’m fine with women, but only if they don’t rub their woman-ness in my face”) is misogyny, regardless of the gender-identity of the person believing and creating policies about it. As the HR manager, the OP needs to be very careful that their own uncomfortable feelings about women don’t result in further marginalization of women at work, because I’m sure that that’s not their goal.

    19. Olivia*

      I think this is a really uncharitable read of the OP, as are other comments in this thread labeling it as misogyny. (FWIW I’m a cishet woman.) It’s not hard to guess what’s probably happening here: People tend to assume that OP is a woman and that they go by she/her. But they don’t. And while having everyone go around saying their pronouns might seem like an inclusive practice on the surface, it’s kind of tone-deaf because it puts people on the spot, and some of the very people it aims to make feel more comfortable, are made uncomfortable.

      A side effect of this practice is that OP sees person after person who are femme-presenting say their pronouns are she/her, and that can trigger feelings and internalized doubts about if there is something wrong with them. The problem is that in their proposed solution, other people get misgendered, including trans folks who have spent a long time just wanting to be recognized as their true gender and don’t want to be called “them” (and for whom that might trigger the same kind of pain that OP feels when they see the line of she/her femmes go by). That the OP doesn’t mention masculine-presenting people doesn’t mean they have something against women–it’s that masculine-presenting people saying their pronouns are he/him doesn’t invoke their own personal baggage around the subject. Because of all the stuff this stirs up in them, it may have been harder to see how their suggestion could actually be hurtful to other LGBTQ folks.

      Ultimately if people did what OP is suggesting, they would still end up hearing femme-presenting folks pointing out that they go by she/her, although perhaps not as many or all at once. Also, their plan would do the same kind of harm to others as they are wishing to avoid for themselves. Also also, I really doubt you could get a lot of people to go along with it. But I think they have a really good point that trying to get everyone to introduce themselves with their pronouns does the opposite of it’s intended goal–it puts gender minorities on the spot and can make them uncomfortable; it demands an inappropriate level of vulnerability from people for whom it may not actually be safe to do so; and in fact the only people for whom it is definitely safe and who it probably won’t make uncomfortable is cishet folks.

      Having a culture where people feel free to put their pronouns in their profiles or signatures is great. Requiring them to disclose their pronouns is not. But calling everyone “they” is also misgendering to other people, including other LGBTQ people, and it might not be that practical anyway. But it’s really ungenerous to turn this into some kind of “what do you have against women” thing. And honestly some of these comments sound a little TERFy.

        1. Olivia*

          My letter got answered *and* I get this positive feedback on another post? Alison, you are just making my day today. :)

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Thank you — the claims that this is misogyny were sending off my TERF alarms as well. Many people who use they/them pronouns experience misogyny themselves — I know I sure do.

        1. a good mouse*

          To be fair, I think there are two aspects to this letter. The one Olivia articulates so well above is that while the intention of having everyone introduce their pronouns at the beginning of a meeting is to be inclusive it often has the opposite effect of having people feel put on the spot or forced to ‘come out.’ I think this is a valid and interesting discussion, where there isn’t an easy solution to both give people the opportunity to state their preferred pronouns before being misgendered but also have the opportunity to opt out or not to feel like a spotlight has been put on them.

          The other part comes from this: “Plus, beyond my own identity, I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.”
          Personally I find it raises my hackles some to be called “a slew” of something. It’s a weirdly dismissive way to describe your coworkers. It makes it seem like what makes them upset or uncomfortable is being in a meeting with a lot of women, and specifically femme-presenting women. I don’t think it’s TERF-y to point that out, it doesn’t mean the women who say that framing made them uncomfortable are rejecting the LW for being non-binary or non-cisgendered, it’s a response to the LW seemingly rejecting femme-presenting women as being invalid or problematic to a level beyond just feeling alienated by cisgendered people confirming their pronouns.

      2. Jadey*

        Completely agree with Olivia’s point about this achieving the opposite of its intended goal. Great explanation!

        However, when the OP says “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating…” This is explicitly saying the OP doesn’t want women to be too loudly “woman-y” in the workplace. This is absolutely misogynistic regardless of whom it’s coming from (a man, a woman, NB person, etc). As we all know, minorities can also have biases (including gender minorities). We need to listen to women who call out misogyny within our own communities, rather than knee-jerking to call them TERFs for advocating for themselves. ALL of us can do better here.

    20. fish*

      Another perspective: I’m a butch lesbian among many cis women. I am also a cis woman but their appearances are much more easily read as conventionally female.

      When we do pronouns at work, it is a long string of these woman saying she/her. And then we get to me…and all the heads swivel towards me…wondering what I’m going to say. I hate this inevitable moment so much.

      And yes, some of these well-meaning women come off as a touch self-congratulatory for doing something that surprises no one and has no risk for them. I interpret the original comment as something like this, not saying OP hates women.

    21. starfox*

      This line bothered me so much. I’m not celebrating the gender binary… I’m just existing.

      I mean, women have been in the workplace for such a relatively short time… if anything, aren’t working women already disrupting the gender binary?

  9. Firm Believer*

    If someone identifies as a woman or a man and they are referred to as they, that’s really misgendering. It’s really just as simple as that. I might have missed something but why are they specifically worried about she/her identities?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      You didn’t miss anything, there’s very little context for the “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in)” line in the letter.

      Two possible explanations I can think of:

      (1) “the spaces I’ve been in” are largely female-dominated, so when people are introducing themselves it’s a lot of “I’m [Alice/Sally/traditionally-feminine name] and I use she/her pronouns.
      (2) “the spaces I’ve been in” are fairly gender-balanced, but the men tend to introduce themselves as “My name is Mark” and the women tend to introduce themselves as “My name is Alice and I use she/her pronouns.”

      Maybe the OP is referring to something else, those are just the two scenarios I envisioned when I read that line.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I think there can be an issue where companies think they’re being inclusive/welcoming by requiring everyone to put their pronouns in their email signatures, and then what happens is all the cis people jump on it immediately, so you get a ton of signatures that say ‘Emily Jones (she/her)’ and ‘Anthony Smith (he/him)’, which then means that the one or two people who do use they/them feel even less confident about ‘declaring’ pronouns that don’t match the norm. I assume the OP is referring to something like that – the fact that if the meeting starts with 10 people saying ‘Hello, I’m Sally/Jane/Amelia and my pronouns are she/her’, the person who then says ‘Hello, I’m Jo and my pronouns are they/them’ is going to stand out like a sore thumb and it’ll seem like more of A Thing than it would do otherwise.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          But we are all being encouraged to include our pronouns just so including pronouns *doesn’t* seem weird – right? If everyone does it, it doesn’t stick out if only one person does it? IDK.
          And as someone who works in an international organization, I do find it really helpful for me with names that I am more unfamiliar with – I know I shouldn’t be guessing gender based on names anyway, and now I don’t have to!

        2. cloudy.days*

          I guess I don’t really understand a different workaround here though – like the OP wants their pronouns to be tacitly acknowledged without asking but no one else’s. They’re still going to stick out if everybody in the room has to go around and say “actually my pronouns are [x]” and they’re the only one who doesn’t

          1. londonedit*

            Yes – I was just trying to explain issues I’ve seen/heard coming up around this. Personally I do have my pronouns in my signature, even though they’re she/her, because I seem to have a name that can cause confusion (to me, it reads immediately as female, but I’ve had a handful of instances where I’ve spoken to someone on the phone and they’ve clearly been a little taken aback by a female voice, or they’ve done the ‘So…how *do* you pronounce your name?’ thing, as if they had a completely different impression in their mind before they met me). And I agree that the idea of asking people to include their pronouns in things like email signatures is to signify that it’s safe for everyone to do it – and I agree that ‘I want people to use the correct pronouns for me but I don’t want to put them in an email sig/declare them at the start of a meeting’ is problematic. But I can also understand the fact that not everyone will be comfortable with being the one person to specify ‘they/them’, when everyone else is ‘she/her’.

      2. Julia*

        Yeah, these two scenarios feel likely to me. The other possibility is OP themself is female-presenting and often misgendered as she/her, and when OP hears a slew of she/hers from people who look like them, it makes them feel alienated.

        The reason I hypothesize that is that this letter-writer in general seems to be taking a lot of their own preferences around gender and projecting them on others in a really unthinking way. It’s not hard to see why defaulting to they/them unless otherwise specifies
        would be disastrous for lots of people. It’s pretty obvious that lots of binary-gendered people feel offended when they’re misgendered, particularly binary trans people who may have a history of being “theyed” when they really wanted to be perceived as men or women. The fact that LW didn’t see that makes me think they are not putting a ton of thought into how people besides themself experience gender and pronouns.

    2. civil rights worker*

      It sounds like the LW works with a lot of women, basically, and might be wishing that there were more gender diversity in the workplace and/or sector? But… LW works with a lot of women. Trying to have people who identify with a binary gender identity not disclose that identity isn’t going to change the lack of gender diversity in LW’s workplace.

    3. marvin*

      Hmm, I think it depends on how you see “they” as a pronoun (and nonbinary identities generally). For me, “they” doesn’t denote some kind of “third” gender, it’s just a pronoun with the gender component stripped out. When I use it, I don’t mean to suggest anything about the gender of the person I’m referring to. That’s kind of the point.

      However I recognize that in the actual world we live in people will often reserve “they” for people whose gender identity feels weird to them, so that kind of ruins it for the rest of us.

      1. iliketoknit*

        I think, too, that “they” has come to mean a kind of third gender for many people, so it’s not just that “they” is neutral, it’s that it has an affirmative meaning that is different from “he/she.” (The Native American tradition of “two-spirit” people is in this vein, I think.) I totally get that plenty of people, like you, use “they” in the classic neutral sense, but I think it’s moved far enough away from “unknown” to “actual third gender” that for many, it does suggest something about the gender of the person you’re referring to.

        1. marvin*

          Yeah, as a nonbinary person I just find this tendency pretty frustrating! I think it often tends to be imposed on us from others (not to discount anyone who does identify this way, but it certainly doesn’t apply to all of us).

  10. London Stacy*

    I don’t understand…why would you want to avoid women and femme presenting people using their preferred pronouns?

    1. What's in a name?*

      My guess is that it might come across as less inviting for people to use non-binary pronouns if everyone else is using the binary ones.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Yeah, that’s my impression of this whole thing.

        I have sympathy for the LW and their intentions, but at the same time, everyone being “they” will offend people too :( But I do concur it also comes off…strange…when 90% of the room is she and he and then there’s one lone “they.” But statistically I kind of guess that’s accurate, so…I don’t know. No good solutions here but to still ask everyone to be she/he/they individually, I guess :/

      2. London Stacy*

        Asking people to use incorrect pronouns is a problem. I am 10000% in support of someone’s right to live comfortably, and will use whatever pronouns that individual asks me to use for them. But I’m not changing or hiding my own. Also it is telling that OP only brought up a problem with female pronouns, and not male, or other pronouns besides they/them.

      3. Eilanora*

        I feel like it comes down to when minorities are being included *visibly and on purpose* by the majority, that inclusion feels like a spotlight.

      4. Courageous cat*

        Then what the hell else is there to do? Either you want to hear people’s pronouns or you don’t. You don’t get to, like, request this and then be mad that people aren’t using the ones you want. That’s wild.

    2. Lunch Ghost*

      I’m pretty sure what they want is more representation of femme presenting people using “they” and non femme presenting people using “she”.

      But the way to get that is not by making people use the wrong pronouns.

  11. Dino*

    The only groups I’ve ever seen do this are specifically focused on LGBTQ issues such as queer youth groups and ERGs for LGBTQ employees. As much as I support it, I don’t think it’s practical for work meetings. As a queer person who is a secret “they” but reads very much as one gender, I love the idea but have also experienced microaggressions and the like when work groups have tried to force inclusive language. I’d rather be misgendered than have to listen to Brenda in accounting mutter under her breath about men in the womens restroom because the meeting leader tried to be inclusive.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I think it’s specifically very impractical for “external meetings/events”, where OP apparently wants to do this. I feel like in a small organisation people might get used to this over time, but if you have to address this over and over with people you’ve literally just met or in big groups it just… won’t work.

    2. Tau*

      Honestly, this is why I get frustrated about the way inclusive language often gets treated. I feel like most companies could do a lot to promote inclusivity and fair treatment of minority groups, or at least to ensure it’s clear *ist remarks will not be tolerated by either managers or coworkers, that doesn’t touch on language stuff… but people love to go for the “what’s your pronoun?” type of inclusion, often without the preliminary work to try to ensure their coworkers will be accepting, which amounts to basically pressuring people to out themselves in a potentially hostile environment. Thanks but no thanks.

  12. MisterForkbeard*

    This is a bad idea, though well meaning.

    LGBTQ folk who prefer a he/she pronoun will be irritated. Some non-binary or trans people might think they/them also doesn’t fit. And a lot of straight people (especially if you’re meeting with external people that are potential customers or otherwise) are going to roll their eyes at the whole thing.

    The right thing to do is to let people choose their own pronouns or announce it.

    1. Beth*

      Fully agree. It’s already a difficult path to negotiate; this increases the irritation for everyone without easing the difficulty. The issue needs consideration, sensitivity, and recognition of the different needs of individuals, not a great big policy hammer that smacks everyone equally.

  13. Anon7*

    Yeah that seemed extremely rude to me and would be very off putting if expressed in a professional setting.

  14. Properlike*

    What if you use “they/them” for all interactions with everyone, not simply those who don’t choose to give pronouns?

    1. anonarama*

      because you’d also be misgendering people that way as many commenters have shared is specifically harmful

      1. Help Us All*

        I am a woman with a unisex first name. I am old. I’ve been misgendered my whole life, used to get “we’re looking for a few good men” Army recruiting letters, everything addressed to “Mr.”, all of that. I found the standard default to male annoying, but I survived. I guess I don’t get the harm done by pronoun usage. That said, I do my best to refer to anybody how they want to be referred to. But don’t force me to “they/them” everybody, including myself. I’m happy with she/her.

        OP, you have a problem as shown by the odd statement about femme presenting people referring to themselves as she/her. You are trying to impose an unnatural dynamic here. Maybe you should rethink this.

        1. mlem*

          My (cis female) mom would have been 76 this year. She was almost six feet tall and obese, she had heavy features, she preferred t-shirts and shorts/jeans, and she never wore makeup. She was frequently misgendered on the phone and in person. That’s not what killed her, but it hurt her deeply every time. “I survived” is not a great metric for anything short of literal physical survival.

          1. Mid*

            Agreed. My grandmother was a very butch woman (her terminology, she literally called herself “very butch”) who had a double mastectomy, but being called “he” hurt her every single time. She identified as a woman.

            But also, calling singular they “unnatural” is inaccurate, because the English language has been using they for people of unknown gender for centuries.

  15. Kate*

    Interesting. I have started defaulting to « they » in English unless otherwise specifically indicated— to normalize it, I guess?

    I am in a similar boat to the OP. I am slightly uncomfortable with being referred to as she/her, personally have a slight preference for they kinda sorta most of the time-ish, but it’s not on the top 50 list of identities that are important to me so I don’t want it to be the first (or 10th) thing my work colleagues know about me.

    1. Kellbell*

      I’ve started trying to do this too! I had a situation where I was introduced to a new coworker really quickly and off the cuff while I was in the middle of running my own program, and then they were immediately thrown into their own programs following that, and so I didn’t learn that they used they/them until a few weeks later, at which point I noticed I was misgendering them a lot because my brain had hardwired to what it is used to as the “default” pronouns. So, I’ve started trying to use they/them more frequently so that my brain starts seeing those among the default option as well.

      Most frequently I use it in situations where the person would have had no possible opportunity to share their pronouns with me. So like, after seeing a show where the performers didn’t have their pronouns in the playbill, I now make an effort to say “Wow, Joanna was really a stand out performer, their final song was amazing!” instead of “her final song was amazing”. And then if/when pronouns are shared with me, I use the designated ones.

      1. Sam I Am*

        Same here. Of course I call someone what they want to be called, but before I have that information I’ve been trying to use they/them.

    2. non-binary employee*

      This is what I tend to do (especially since not everyone in my workplace has their pronouns apparent), but I think it makes sense in those contexts as it’s often about people I interact with in passing and isn’t that conspicuous in practice. (And any corrections aren’t interrupting a meeting.)

      But I think it’s different from explicitly mandating it in a meeting where the other concerns people have brought up are going to make that mandate a bumpy road and may feel overly intensive and superficial for the sake of a single meeting.

    3. KateM*

      I’m in a boat where generally speaking, I’m a “she”, but I would really prefer my coworkers NOT think about my gender AT ALL, so I’d like them to use a gender-neutral pronoun.

      1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        +1.
        Maybe it would help people remember that I’m actually the one who said that good idea rather than the first guy who repeated it.

    4. Bongofury*

      By defaulting to They, I think you’re trying your best to be inclusive but you’re over reaching and ending up on the other side. Saying “everyone can use they/them as a default” would IMO dimension the work Non-Binary people have been doing to represent and assert themselves in the world (you included!).
      It would appear like you were trying to force everyone to be Non-Binary when Non-Binary people maybe don’t want everyone grouped into their team.
      I do think you’re trying to be as helpful as possible it’s just not going to come across that way.

      1. Kate*

        I… don’t think it’s that obvious?

        If someone specifies their pronouns, I use those.
        If someone is in front of me but doesn’t specify, then « you » works perfectly well.
        If someone isn’t in front of me, and they haven’t specified, then I use « they ». The best example is what someone else provided in their response above “Wow, Joanna was really a stand out performer, their final song was amazing!”

        What I won’t do is what several commenters have suggested above, insisting that *everyone* put their pronouns in their signature block and/or state them at the beginning of the meeting. I am not outing myself or anyone else, especially when I am not even really sure what there is to out in my case.

    5. larval_doctor*

      Ditto. I hate introducing myself with “she/her” because that’s not how I identify, but using they/them attracts SO much attention and is such a minor part of my identity that I don’t usually bother. My organization is into pronoun tags on our name badges and of 1,000s of employees, I’ve only seen he/him and she/her badges, so it really is clear that the expectation is binary.

    6. Ursula*

      It’s interesting to me that people see defaulting to “they” as misgendering. We really need a neutral pronoun that is the default until you know otherwise, but apparently people are resistant to one existing. I hope things move in the direction of considering ‘they’ appropriate for use with everyone, because I’m so sick of our culture’s extreme focus on gender when it just isn’t relevant in most situations. (That’s not a swipe at trans people; it’s a swipe at blue and pink toy aisles, dividing social groups by gender, misogyny in the workplace, “boys shouldn’t cry”, etc, etc.)

  16. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Impractical, probably downright impossible to achieve and may actually have the opposite effect. By this I mean people starting to get angry/frustrated at the whole thing and decide that it’s the transgender/non binary populace that’s to blame. You may end up causing more bigotry than you are trying to stop.

    Lest I’m misunderstood: I know you’re coming from a good place with good intentions. But there’s a post here (I’ll find it in a minute) in the archives from someone who insists on using they/them for everyone to their face regardless of their stated terms because it’s ‘more inclusive’ and it definitely ended up with a lot of offense.

    So, by all means ask people’s terms. As Alison says though don’t make stating them mandatory. Far better to create an atmosphere where people feel they can be who they are without judgement.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Wow, FIVE years ago. (And somehow I’d never read that particular column.) Thank you.

    1. Kotow*

      Absolutely agree this is likely to cause resentment and have people complaining that it’s the trans/non-binary employees who insisted on this and are forcing it onto everyone else. So often policies like this aren’t even coming from the community it’s intended to help but instead from cis/het individuals who are trying to be inclusive and don’t have the perspective to know the likely impact. I suppose if I worked in a company with this policy I wouldn’t waste the capital complaining about it, but I would also immediately disclose that I’m not they/them.

    2. marvin*

      Yes, this is definitely something people should keep in mind when planning gender diversity initiatives. Unfortunately there will be backlash against any kind of attempt to acknowledge that trans people exist and are deserving of basic rights, so we have to be strategic. I’d rather see people organize to stop our legal and medical rights from being taken away if they really want to do something meaningful.

  17. Badass Lady*

    As other mentioned above, enacting a “they/them” policy is just as misgendering to others and doesn’t really solve the problem. I do like your speech, and think it would be cool to give that speech in the beginning of meetings without the they/them requirement. Raising awareness to people’s pronouns would achieve the goal of inclusion without misgendering others.

  18. Blue Glass*

    I would find it extremely off-putting to be told to refer to everyone as they/them. I think you are going to create an uncomfortable situation for a lot of people. This is not done anywhere that I have ever heard of, and I’m afraid it would make you, and HR by extension, sound flaky.

  19. KHB*

    No, please don’t do this. There are all kinds of reasons why this is a bad idea.

    For one, please read up on the phenomenon of “stereotype threat.” Basically, whenever someone is reminded that they belong to a particular group – even though it’s information they already know – they tend to conform more to the stereotypes of that group. Compelling Lucinda Vanderbilt to present herself as “Lucinda Vanderbilt (she/her)” among a sea of colleagues presenting themselves as “Manly McMannerson (he/him)” is going to have a negative effect on her ability to participate in the meeting on equal footing.

    For another, when someone chooses not to state a particular set of pronouns, that means that they’re OK with people making assumptions (based on name, appearance, etc.) on how to refer to them, and they’re OK with the slight chance that someone will get it “wrong.” And you should be OK with them being OK with that.

    1. PastPresentFuture*

      Thank you. I find that this movement to forcing a huge focus on gender in all sorts of applications where gender actually shouldn’t be relevant is basically undoing the entire feminist/equality movement. Isn’t the whole point that your gender shouldn’t matter in a work setting? Only your role/profession/qualifications?

      It’s HARD to be a woman in a male-dominated profession. Don’t make it harder and pretend that you’re serving equality.

      1. KHB*

        I suppose LW probably thinks that this “they/them unless otherwise specified” policy IS decreasing the focus on gender. But I think the more likely effect is that it will induce people to declare pronoun preferences who otherwise wouldn’t, which has the opposite effect.

        Gender in the workplace (and in language, and in the wider world) is a thorny, thorny thing. We’re talking about norms and practices that have been ingrained for hundreds of years, if not thousands. I don’t know what the solution is, but you can’t just wave all that away by fiat.

    2. BeckyinDuluth*

      Sometimes, though, this actually means they prefer not to use pronouns at all.
      I left a comment above about trying our best. There is no one right answer to this that never offends anyone.
      I do like the suggestions folks have made about defaulting to names until pronouns are known, though.

    3. Some Dude*

      I work in a largely female space, and I dislike having to give my pronouns because it just reinforces that I do not belong to the majority group. I could imagine the same thing happens to women in largely male spaces. Every time I think, why am I leading with my gender identity? Why am I making it the most salient aspect about me? I want to be Some Dude, a teapot expert who happens to be male, not Some Dude, Male Teapot Expert.

      1. Mid*

        But, imagine how your non-binary coworkers feel. Every single room I’m in, I’m the visible minority. I don’t fit in any bathroom. I don’t fit in any gendered groups. And I have to constantly come out to every single person, or be misgendered. It’s a lose-lose for me. I’m always The Other. I don’t want my gender to be A Thing About Me. But it always is. And that sucks a lot. There’s no easy solutions, but I want you to realize that the thing you’re complaining about it something you can, in some spaces, opt out of doing, but GNC (gender non-conforming) people can’t unless they want to be misgendered.

        1. Some Dude*

          I hear that. My issue is the space I work in is female and binary and everyone matches their gender presentation, so there is rarely anyone who has nonbinary pronouns or whose gender presentation doesn’t match their gender identity. BTW I don’t dislike giving my pronouns when I’m with a group I’m less familiar with or that includes a larger mix of identities. And I always give my pronouns even when I’m the lone dude in a sea of women, I just sometimes wish I didn’t need to. Like I wish there was a less clunky way of knowing how someone identifies without it becoming a focal point, or just reinforcing that you (be it me, or you, or the OP) don’t share a gender identity with the majority of people in the room.

        2. Happy*

          I’m also nonbinary, but other than the genders, I could have written some dude’s comment word-for-word.

          I get where you are coming from, because I don’t want it to be A Thing About Me, either! But I appreciated some dude’s comment and it vocalized some of my personal opposition to being asked for my pronouns at work.

  20. Brett*

    You are a small non-profit, so this is probably not an issue for your employees but do consider if it is for your clientele:

    Our organization is multi-national and even our small team includes people from a wide range of countries and primary languages. They/them could work as a default for English, but gets awkward for Spanish, Portuguese, German, and probably other primary languages (and we do have meetings and client interactions that are conducted in those three languages, in particular).

    In other words, your policy is English-centric. That might be okay for your org but you should validate that assumption, particularly as it pertains to your clients (along with all the other issues that have been raised here).

    1. Minimal Pear*

      Sorry, just have to geek out for a second, but there actually are gender-neutral pronouns and word endings in Spanish! It’s -e endings (“amigue”) and elle for the pronoun. Obvi because they have one of those Standard Language Authority things set up it’s not official yet, but I’ve seen pretty wide usage among the queer Spanish-speakers I know.

      1. ThatGirl*

        so, I don’t say this to argue, but more as a point of interest: I know enough Spanish to know that -a and -o are the gendered endings there, but in French (which I speak more of, poorly), “elle” and extra Es on the ends of words are feminine. So If I saw “elle” my brain would default to feminine.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I get what you mean, but: even in a sea of Spanish, your brain would read that as French (rather than as an unfamiliar word in Spanish)?

          1. ThatGirl*

            I mean, in context I would probably know it was Spanish and intended to be gender neutral, but I know a lot more French than Spanish so it would still “read” feminine to me, probably. It’s a passing thought on language, though; I haven’t seen elle/amigue/etc used in practice in Spanish anywhere yet.

            1. Fulana del Tal*

              The vast majority of Latin Americans rebelled against ”Latinx” and -x ending. It didn’t work for the language and it felt like it was something non-latinas were trying to force us to use. So now people are trying with -e ending but it’s still very niche and online.

              1. QuickerBooks*

                it felt like it was something non-latinas were trying to force us to use.

                I get that you are merely reporting how it felt, but this is ironic because the term was literally invented by Puerto Rican scholars.

            2. QuickerBooks*

              I wonder about this. I read English, Portuguese, and French. There are many words that look the same across languages but mean different things in the different languages.

              For example, “or” in English is presenting you a choice. In French, it’s “gold”. In Portuguese “mais” is “more”. In French, it’s “but”.

              These overlaps cause exactly zero problems when reading one language or another, because when you’re in French mode, you’re in French mode.

      2. Fulana del Tal*

        While the -e ending is a lot better than the illogical-x this is still very online only and most Spanish speakers are not using this.

  21. Exhausted*

    I hate this. It’s exhausting. Let people add pronouns to their zoom name/name tag/ email signature, etc
    Having to have a big discussion about stuff like this in every meeting is a huge time suck.
    And dare I say a bit performative a lot of the time?

    1. Loulou*

      Right, I do not want to begin every meeting with a long-winded reminder that there is diversity in the room we cannot see etc. As OP points out, the point of inviting people to share their pronouns is so that coworkers don’t misgender each other, and I don’t see how the proposed plan accomplishes that goal.

  22. Cat Tree*

    I think they/them should be the default for when the person is unknown, ambiguous, or hypothetical (ex. ask the doctor for their professional opinion on such-and-such).

    When referring to a specific actual person it’s different. Some folks who are trans or non-binary have already determined their pronouns so using they/them as the default could still require the same correction.

    I guess I don’t really know what the best method is, but I don’t think this one is it.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      It kind of already is, isn’t it? I haven’t caught anyone saying ‘ask the doctor what he thinks’ for years.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Oh, I just meant that we should continue using it that way. I mentioned it to contrast to using it as the default for specific people.

        Also FWIW, I do still occasionally run into holdouts for the generic “he”. They’re usually extremely pretentious and think they’re smarter than the unwashed masses.

    2. Loulou*

      Right, or we will even say (when referring to a specific library patron) “that reader over there needs help, can you talk to them?” because “them” is a pronoun that corresponds to “that reader.” This feels different to me.

    3. Mary S*

      Yes, and I’m not sure why people don’t seem to notice/hear this – but “they” has been used as a gender neutral pronoun in exactly those situations in English for hundreds of years. Especially in spoken English. hxxps://public[dot]oed[dot]com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I agree with that distinction. I (she/her) have a child who uses she/they with quite a few classmates who also use she/they, they, he/they, and so on. If my child mentions someone new and doesn’t specify a pronoun, I refer to that person as “they” until I know better.

      But as for the gendered default for a profession, unfortunately it is still rampant in the aviation world. There are a number of efforts to create gender-neutral language where the default has been male (“airmen” to “aviators”, “unmanned” to “unpiloted” and so on) but it hasn’t taken off just yet. Hopefully those efforts will gain traction as the number of women in aviation jobs increases into the double-digits, though that in itself will take a massive culture shift to enable women to obtain, remain, and progress in aviation jobs.

    5. Kate*

      Thanks, this is really helpful and clarifying.

      Requiring “they” as the default in “unknown, ambiguous, or hypothetical” cases (such a great framing!) is more inclusive than defaulting to guessing, which assigns gender to someone else. In contrast, requiring “they” for people who are sitting right there and are perfectly capable of giving you their pronouns also assigns gender to someone else.

    6. Aggresuko*

      I use “they” all the time when emailing people since I frequently have no clue on their gender from the name and it’s not exactly crucial to look that up every time. Or just “they” and “the client”-type stuff.

  23. Marcella*

    The comment about avoiding a slew of “she/her” seems disconnected from reality. People are who they are. It’s not my job to come to work and pretend to be something I’m not to fulfill other people’s hopes of a gender-diverse world.

    1. kittymommy*

      Yeah, this seemed odd to me. If the idea is to allow individuals to express their own choice or pronouns why the subtle disparaging of those who identify as she/her?

      1. Aggresuko*

        I’m guessing because the vast majority of OP’s industry is cisgender women and OP may very well be sick of that.

        1. Librarian1*

          Great, but that’s not something that’s solved by using they/them for everybody. Especially because you’re STILL going to get a bunch of people telling you they prefer she/her.

  24. Jean*

    They/them is not really a catch-all when referring to an individual person in that type of setting. It’s a specific set of pronouns that nonbinary people choose to use, so asking everyone to use it in an unless-otherwise-specified kind of way isn’t correct. If people at the meeting want to share their preferred pronouns with other attendees, then they should be free to do so. That’s as far as it should go in my opinion.

    1. KRM*

      Exactly. I feel like OP is conflating “I don’t know this person at all so when I ask coworker X to get the report from them, I’ll say “can you get the report from the head and maybe their top three concerns?”” with “this group of people in front of me must use they/them pronouns because I do r know what they use”. They/them is certainly default for speaking about a nebulous third party you don’t really know anything about. Not for an actual group.
      And FWIW I also find the comments on “having to hear a slew of she/her” to be off putting. OP, if you’re in a room of people who all say they use she/her, then that’s what they use. If you’re concerned that someone in there MUST use they/them, we’ll, that’s not actually any of your business. Just make space for people to be who they are and use the terms that are right for them. It sounds like you’re trying to force a weird vision of inclusivity without having really considered what you want and how to achieve it.

  25. Numb Little Bug*

    I agree that this isn’t perhaps the best idea, although I can see the well meaning thoughts behind it for sure.

    Perhaps you could let people know that if they want to share their pronouns in their introduction or include it in their zoom name, then they are welcome to do so but make sure people know it is not mandatory. You could even set the example for this by doing it yourself. I am currently ‘figuring things out’ I suppose and trying out they/them pronouns but am not ready to tell anyone in my professional life and so for me this approach would feel the best.

    You want to create a safe space for people to share if they are comfortable, but not force people to share if they are still figuring things out, or have other reasons for not wanting to share their pronouns.

    I think it’s great that you have asked though as it shows you are doing this for all the right reasons !

  26. A trans office worker*

    Yeah, don’t do this.

    In the best case scenario, where everyone complies and asks for specific other pronouns if they don’t want they/them, you’re still going to get a huge chorus of “my pronouns are she/her” if your participant base is, as you say, overwhelmingly made up of people who use those pronouns. There’s really no way around that. Those are their pronouns!

    I get the feeling that you’re somewhat trying to outsource your own mixed feelings about asking for gender neutral pronouns by making it the default and making people ask if they want something else — and boy, I do understand that impulse. My own pronoun turmoil isn’t so far in the past that I’ve forgotten it.

    But even your best case scenario isn’t great, and the possibilities are only downhill from there — from people ignoring your request, having the request derail the meetings in a significant way by plunging the discussion into a morass of gender identity kerfluffle, or by seriously damaging your own reputation by coming across as deeply out of step with business norms.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My team is 13 women and a dude. If I tell them at our next meeting we’re going to use “they/them” to refer to each other unless someone specifically requests otherwise, I’m going to hear 13 “uh, please call me ‘she'” and one eye-rolling joke about being the only dude in the room. (And probably more than a few “Why would we call each other ‘they’? Isn’t that for people who specifically want to be called ‘they’?” which, well, kinda, yeah.)

      1. ThatGirl*

        My immediate team has 6 women, 1 man and 1 nonbinary person. If we all started using “they/them” I suspect our nonbinary member would feel mocked.

      2. Mid*

        But you presumably already know their genders, so you wouldn’t be calling them they, because you know they want to be identified as she or he. The point is that you shouldn’t assume, based on appearances, that someone identifies as she or he, and to be more aware of assumptions you’re making, not that you should misgender anyone.

    2. Hyperactive Bunny*

      “I get the feeling that you’re somewhat trying to outsource your own mixed feelings about asking for gender neutral pronouns by making it the default and making people ask if they want something else”

      I think that’s exactly what’s happening. While I don’t have personal experience with pronoun turmoil I do have my own history with PTSD and understand the desire to have the world conform to your comfort zone. “If everyone else just did X simple thing then I don’t have to be reminded about Y and it’s pretty easy.” In practice, there are so many other ways Y can come up in casual conversation and you can’t always control those triggers. It sounds cliche, but you can only control and work on your reactions to those triggers.

      I think I’ve settled and accepted somethings in life are hard and uncomfortably squishy and the only way out is through. We cannot prevent all discomfort. We can treat others with respect and expect the same, though!

  27. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    I don’t like it, because the assumption behind something like this is that “they” is a neutral pronoun. While some people use it that way (and are welcome to), not everyone who does use it feels it is neutral – I have a few friends who use “they” specifically because it encompasses their feeling of duality/multiplicity, and I would feel like you’re minimizing that choice and its significance to them, when you say everyone should use the term because you are labeling it as neutral, rather than a statement of their identity.

    I’m not sure if I’m conveying my thoughts well though, and I haven’t asked their opinions on it before. I’ll have to do some reaching out and thinking.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I like the way you describe this. I, too, have an issue with thinking of “they” as neutral or generic when, in fact, for individuals that have chosen it for themselves “they” is a powerful, nuanced concept.

      We’re in a learning curve, though. It’ll take awhile for folks to get used to using words/ideas differently, but we all adjust language all the time. We’ll get there if we keep trying.

  28. metadata minion*

    Yeah, I think this is coming from the right impulse but is going to be awkward and probably counterproductive. I like the (as far as I can tell organically-developing) trend in my workplace to refer to *unknown* people with they/them pronouns — job applicants at the application stage, the author of a book you’re looking at, etc. But that’s when there really isn’t an opportunity to learn the person’s correct pronoun. We’re still not in a place societally where “they” is actually neutral, and it’s going to feel uncomfortable for people who actually do prefer other pronouns. And as someone who does use they/them, I’d like to be able to use that pronoun affirmatively rather than have it just be the default.

    I have absolutely also been in the position of having the correct answer to “what are your pronouns?” be “…I don’t really know, actually” and it’s such an awkward and painful position to be in. So I really sympathise with the LW here. But I agree with Alison that there’s really no way to avoid having a bunch of femme-presenting people requesting she/her pronouns if you’re workplace is indeed full of femme-presenting people who use she/her pronouns. It’s going to be awkward for the one person who asserts a “nonstandard” pronoun pretty much whatever you do.

    If most of these meetings are over Zoom and you can normalize (but again, not require!) putting pronouns in your Zoom name, I think that makes the disclosure a bit less weighty, and you also don’t have to take up time going around the group verbally.

  29. Bananagram*

    There are many things I contribute to a work discussion, beyond my gender identity. I’d rather focus on those instead.

    1. BeckyinDuluth*

      I’ve seen this sentiment a few times, and I think that’s great if it doesn’t bother you to be misgendered during a work discussion as long as people are paying attention to/valuing what you contribute. But for some folks, it can be really difficult to participate in a meeting where they are misgendered, even if people are taking their ideas seriously (if they have been able to share them). Sharing pronouns when folks are comfortable doing so isn’t making the meeting about gender but about making sure for folks who find it important to have people refer to them correctly so they can fully participate in the meeting.
      If I misunderstood I apologize. I just thought it was worth pointing out since I’d seen the sentiment a few times.

      1. Nynaeve*

        It’s not that it doesn’t bother me to be mis-gendered in a work meeting (which, it wouldn’t, as long as it’s not meanspirited) it’s that my gender should not be coming up. At all. Ever. If I am in the room, speak *to* me not *about* me. It is the height of rudeness and unprofessionalism to refer to someone who is within earshot (or in the chat, or on the call, etc.) in the third person. Manners, they matter.

        1. iliketoknit*

          I get the general point about being referred to in the third person, but I wouldn’t find a brief comment in a meeting like “Jim, if you need information about [whatever], you can go to Sheila and she’ll help you out” to be rude to Sheila even if she’s present (yes, it could probably be “Jim, Sheila can help you with X,” but that’s still referring to Sheila in the 3rd person). It’s not a social occasion. Of course, “Jim, Sheila can help you with that” avoids the gender issue, but is distinct from the third-person issue. They’re different concerns.

          1. Nynaeve*

            Now you’re speaking for me, which is nearly as rude, IMO (And I do get it, I am very old fashioned when it comes to this stuff, and it’s easy to let it slide. But it’s relevant to the discussion, and I believe can go a long way towards normalizing options when pronouns are ambiguous or to be avoided). In this situation, I would highly prefer if you allowed me to offer my assistance and continue avoid using the third person to refer to me. “Jim, if you need information about X; Sheila, are you still the POC for that or is there someone else better positioned to assist?” Or even better, presumably Jim knows you’re talking to him still, so just “Sheila, are you able to assist Jim with [the topic at hand]?” Even if your the boss and need to not frame it as a request, telling me directly rather than tangentially as part of what you’re telling Jim is preferred.

            1. IEanon*

              That would be exhausting in my line of work. We’re routinely in meetings with 8+ members of partner agencies in all different time zones, meeting online in the few hours of overlapping times that work and trying to get through them as quickly as possible.

              My supervisor runs the meetings with little input from our staff for most of the conversation, until we get to our subject areas. If something needs to be done, it gets delegated as “IEanon will take care of that. She runs the presentations, so she’ll send an email with details and schedule a follow-up email” or “Please stay on after the call to talk with IEanon about that one-on-one.” Asking me to weigh in or if I would be willing to schedule is a whole layer of unnecessary complication; I will do these things because that’s my job, and no one needs to ask me to do it.

              I believe that refraining from referring to someone in the third during conversation is (should be?) limited to social settings, where there isn’t a hierarchy.

            2. iliketoknit*

              How is me saying that I don’t find a particular kind of comment rude speaking for you? I thought it was speaking for me.

              In any case, I agree with IEanon that under a lot of circumstances in my workplace, the kind of circumlocution you’re advocating for is going to be unnecessary or inappropriate. If Sheila is responsible for travel reimbursements, and her boss wants to remind everyone to get them to her in a timely fashion, how can her boss best do this in a meeting where she’s present without saying something like “everyone, make sure you get your travel reimbursements to Sheila within 2 weeks of your return, and remember she will need your meal receipts”? Turning it over to Sheila to remind everyone might get around it, I suppose, but it’s inefficient, and might put Sheila on the spot/make her uncomfortable depending on the size of the meeting and hierarchies involved. Even your second example entails referring to Jim in the third person, and your examples both involve turning statements into requests, which seems cumbersome and artificial. The boss no doubt knows that yes, it’s still Sheila’s role to process travel reimbursements and that Sheila will in fact be able to help Jim with them. It may be intended as polite to request rather than state, but if I were Sheila, I’d find it kind of condescending to act as if I have a choice in the matter. Now, if this were only Sheila and Jim sitting down with their boss, that’s one thing, but lots of work meetings aren’t in that format.

  30. Anon for this*

    We do this in our textbook and course materials, and use they/them when referring to students when we don’t know their pronouns for sure. An unexpected benefit is that when students bring a complaint about an instructor, we can look into it with more confidentiality. Also, we all have deep rooted prejudices. Using they forces us to act differently.

    We (as an office) don’t do the same with colleagues, parents, anyone else who’s not a student, which is too bad.

    They is extremely useful

  31. Tobias Funke*

    This is not a good idea. I have examined my gender throughout my life and she/her are very important to me. I have fought very hard to feel as if I “deserve” to describe myself as a woman. We don’t know people’s private relationships with their gender and with pronouns. It seems like a mess to strip that from people.

    Also, being a woman is not inherently transphobic. I am very confused by why “a slew of femme presenting people asking for she/her” is wrong? Please advise.

    1. She in the streets, they in the... more private streets*

      I don’t think OP said it was wrong or transphobic to be a femme-presenting person who uses she/her. Just that it was quickly alienating/painful for them and situation they hoped to avoid while in the planning stages of their hypothetical plan.

      Things can be both “not wrong” and “painful, something I don’t want to go through.” It sounds *to me* like they were trying to find the perfect solution where they don’t feel bad.

      You and I are in agreement about why this isn’t a good plan and won’t work, it sounds like. This solution isn’t it. But this person came to ask for advice, and they haven’t implemented anything yet. Idk, please advise felt unnecessarily harsh.

  32. tessa*

    “So by all means, encourage people to share their pronouns if they want to (as long as you don’t require it). But trying to impose ‘they’ for everyone as a default unless they request an exception is likely to draw a ton of attention away from what you’re there to do and ultimately not have the effect you want.” – Alison

    In a nutshell…

  33. Minerva*

    While well intentioned this is a mistake. As others have mentioned using they/them inappropriately is not neutral as you think, it can be actively misgendering.

    Similar tho not the same – before we had profile pictures we had cross cultural issues where people just didn’t recognize what names were traditionally masculine or feminine. We had a new, cis woman hire on our team in India who the entire US team referred to as “he” for THREE MONTHS before she was on a meeting and we realized the mistake! At that point forward we made it clear to the mgmt team over there that there is no shame in a cultural error, and that if we make that mistake again they or the team member should correct us immediately.

    Just build a culture like that, one of “please correct, no worries” if someone gets it wrong.

  34. WorkerJawn*

    Two things –

    1) I’m in a lot of situations where pronouns are shared and hearing people use “they/them” for someone who just said different pronouns for themselves really bothers me. It’s still misgendering someone! Just, like, ~*woke misgendering*~. I think this policy would cause that over and over again, as well as hurt binary trans people.

    2) I completely understand that being the only non-cis or NGC person in an environment is alienating and including pronouns in introductions can be a reminder of that alienation. The “slew of she/hers” is an issue of hiring practices though, and will not be solved by changing people’s pronouns for them.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      I mean, the vast majority of people seem to prefer she/her or he/him. We should absolutely seek to be inclusive in hiring, but you’re not likely to get an out nonbinary applicant for every position.

  35. bennie*

    what my old office did which i appreciated was that when folks from HR spoke at all-staff meetings (which was every week as they introduced new hires and did announcements) they would always open with “hi, i’m (name), my pronouns are she/her/hers (or he/him, they/them etc)” and then say their piece. they never asked us to always introduce ourselves that way, but that sort of modelling led other people to naturally introduce themselves in that fashion more often than not. it was not by any means required to do this, and i didn’t always remember to, but it seemed to strike a good balance between encouraging people to be open about pronouns in a natural way. we had a number of trans/nonbinary people on staff as well as a LGBTQ+ affinity group which i’m sure were consulted in this process because my company was good and progressive on such things.

  36. AnonEMoose*

    I agree with Alison that it’s likely to draw attention away from the actual objectives of the meeting, and sadly, likely to draw scorn/pushback from the “woke is bad/you’re too sensitive” types, if there are any.

    My suggestion instead is to encourage people to include their pronouns in their Zoom displayed names. For in person meetings, maybe have an option for people to display their name and pronouns in front of them: table tents, 3×5 cards (fold them in half and they’ll stand up) – something like that? I am…not great with names, and trying to remember everyone’s pronouns, too, would definitely distract me from the meeting. My problem, I know, but having a quick visual reference would make it easier.

    Or if an agenda is provided, maybe include a list of the expected attendees and their pronouns? That won’t help with last-minute attendees or substitute ones, but I don’t know how common that is in your workplace.

    1. Bayta Darrell*

      I had a same thought about getting pushback from people. There are, unfortunately, people with rather large platforms who are perpetuating the false claim that “woke” people want to aboslish gender and want everyone to become androgynous. It’s obviously ridiculous, but doing something like this would play right into their hands and end up backfiring. As a woman in the workplace, I know it’s exhausting to have to watch your every move so that your personal actions aren’t taken as a failing of the entire minority group, but it is still sometimes necessary to stop, reflect, and think: “how will this be perceived?” and then course correct accordingly.

    2. fueled by coffee*

      This is essentially what I do when I teach discussion sessions for college undergrads (table tents or updating Zoom handles), with the added stipulation that including any pronouns at all is optional.

      I find that this helps skip the verbal “pronoun go-round” that mostly seems to put non-cis and cis-but-appearing-non-gender-conforming students on the spot. I also specifically state that the reason I am making this optional is because I want to normalize asking for pronouns while also respecting that some people might not feel comfortable sharing with a group of strangers, and therefore whether you are cis or not you are welcome to decide whether or not you want to share your pronouns. I also point out that these are not set in stone, and they are welcome to let me and/or the class know if their pronouns change at any point during the semester.

      In practice, most students tend to share pronouns, and as far as I can tell (from asking for anonymous feedback on this practice in course reviews) the handful that don’t are split between students who aren’t out and/or haven’t landed on a particular pronoun set yet and cis students who forgot (plus the occasional jerk who thinks “pronouns” are silly, in which case, all the more reason not to give them the opportunity to sigh and make a stink about the whole exercise in front of the class).

      Another tactic that I’ve tried on occasion is to make the icebreaker activity something like “here’s five prompts, pick three to answer in front of the group,” where one of the options is “your pronouns” but the other four are benign things like “what’s your major” (obviously modify for a work setting) or “what would your dream vacation be”? I feel like this gives folks the opportunity to share their pronouns if they want, but also to skip them, without it being a whole ~thing~.

  37. civil rights worker*

    I work in nonprofits and am a cisgender member of the LGBTQ+ community.

    Personally, I’d be incredibly uncomfortable with this setup, because they/them pronouns are associated with *specific gender identities*, not with an absence of gender identity. My friends who use they/them are nonbinary, agender, Two-Spirit, etc. When we say they/them pronouns are “gender-neutral” we mean that they’re not associated with masculine or feminine identities, not that they/them pronouns are appropriate for any individual across the gender spectrum. Sure, sometimes we say “they” for someone whose pronouns we don’t know yet, but that’s a bit different than assuming anyone who doesn’t disclose pronouns at the start of the meeting would like to go by they/them. They/them can also be misgendering!

    Also, for those who are exploring their gender identity, I could imagine this amount of emphasis on pronouns at the start of a meeting being a really high-pressure situation. Delving into the complexity of gender before getting some basic work done might not be ideal for people who are having their own private processes around those topics that they’re not ready to share.

    Honestly… I just run meetings by making pronoun sharing at the beginning available but not mandatory. It seems to work out!

  38. Ferret*

    This seems pretty misguided. They/them is not some kind of generic default that can be applied to everyone.

    In addition, as someone else pointed out above, you are unlikely to be using pronouns for people actually in the meeting, so I don’t know how useful this is in the immediate setting, especially if you find people giving an honest response when you have explicitly asked them exhausting

  39. Savvy*

    Trans person here! The intention behind this is good, but the actual execution is overly complicating things. I think people forget that “they” should be considered on the same plane as she/he/etc. and not some magic catch-all for folks whose pronouns you don’t know. Some people are fine with “they,” but for others it is misgendering! Calling someone “they” when that isn’t the pronoun they go by is the same as any other, it’s not correct just because it’s considered gender neutral.

    The best thing to do here in my opinion is to allow space for folks to give their pronouns, add them to their zoom names, etc. (not requiring it!!) and just not making a huge thing of it. It’s great that you’re trying to be inclusive! But the best thing to do is normalize sharing pronouns and making people feel safe enough to do so, without having to throw a parade every time it happens or make people feel pressured into it.

    1. Savvy*

      Coming back to say:

      “Plus, beyond my own identity, I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.”

      This has really been grating on me and I was trying to figure out why, aside from sounding really sexist.

      Either you encourage people to share their pronouns or you don’t. It’s either a safe space for that, or it isn’t. You can’t privilege some over others, and calling out she/her specifically is really odd.

  40. Bridget*

    Side-eyeing that “avoiding a slew of she/her pronouns because it seems like a public celebration of the gender binary” passage as thinly-veiled misogyny. Are women supposed to sacrifice their gender identities to make other people more comfortable? Something about that whole line of thinking just raises my hackles. It’s like it’s ingrained in society that women will always be the group required to sacrifice something.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I’m side-eying that, as well. Why the hostile response to “she/her”, but not “he/him”? I’m a cis woman, use “she/her,” and when I express my pronouns, I’m doing it because I want it to become a “normal” thing for everyone to express their pronouns…and I want people to know it’s safe to tell me their preferred pronouns, that I support whatever pronouns they use. I’m not trying to impose my pronouns on anyone else.

      Maybe try thinking of women doing this as trying to be supportive, because they have experience of being disregarded/pushed aside/discriminated against because of their gender? I know there are incredibly valid reasons to be…skeptical(??) (Not sure that’s the right word, but it’s the best I can come up with right now) of white women trying to navigate intersectional spaces, that there’s a history of them assuming that they are some kind of default, centering themselves, etc. That said, some are trying, and by expressing my pronouns, I’m trying to use the privilege I know I have to make it safer for others who don’t have that privilege to be who they are.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Or it could just be that OP is referring to their personal experience and doesn’t work with many men or masculine people, as is very common in the nonprofit world.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          So, even if this is the case, OP is still basically expressing annoyance at hearing women say that they’re women and want to be addressed/referred to as such. That…doesn’t make it better.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Yep. The double standard strikes again. When we encourage people to share their pronouns to normalize the sharing of pronouns, women comply more than men do. Then, instead of acknowledging that women are doing more work for inclusivity, we get annoyed and accuse them of attention-seeking for using “she/her.”

      I’m not a “they.” And femmephobia is not an effective instrument for dismantling the gender binary, at work or anywhere else.

    3. Justice*

      That, and I’m getting just a whiff of “why can’t everyone move past the gender binary, like I have?”. The OP is suggesting that they should misgender the vast majority of the participants in their meetings, just to deemphasize the gender binary. (I think?)
      As a regular-degular cis gay guy with a gender-ambiguous first name, I get misgendered all the time over email, so I get that it’s annoying. But I sure wouldn’t prefer being called “they” over “she”. And in an in-person meeting? I would actually be offended. Why is that misgendering okay?
      It’s not a good solution.

    4. cmcinnyc*

      It’s not even thinly veiled. “We should have less women around here” or “working with cis-gendered women is alienating” is full-on problematic. As someone commented above, no one is being a cis-gendered woman AT you.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        It’s not just cis-gendered women. Plenty of trans women and some non-binary people also go by she/her. Nobody is using pronouns AT the letter writer; trans, cis, or non-binary, they’re just the person’s pronouns, which each person has the right to use and to have respected.

  41. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    Maybe we should take our answer from “Sesame Street”…

    “Elmo’s boss reports that Elmo’s clients are pleased with Elmo’s work, and Elmo should be promoted.”

    1. Former Young Lady*

      I believe the cheering sound we hear is the Bob-Dole-cet tones of Bob Dole endorsing this from deep inside Bob Dole’s grave.

      Bob Dole.

  42. Dr. Rebecca*

    Please do not. I know you’re trying to make a solution, however imperfect, for an historical injustice, but this isn’t the way. And you never know if the “women/femme presenting” people are struggling with their own identities, or if they’re trans and just “pass”* really well for cis.

    *I know there are problems with the idea of passing, and I want to acknowledge that here, while also acknowledging that there’s not really any other way to state this based on the assumptions of the LW.

  43. darlingpants*

    I think you could edit your introduction.

    “Before we do introductions, I want to acknowledge how much we don’t know about each other just by looking. There’s likely a spectrum of racial/ethnic and gender identities in this meeting, as well as neurodiversity, an array of areas of expertise, and more. So we’re asking all participants to challenge yourself to not make any assumptions about others in how you talk to or about each other. If you are someone who wants specific pronouns used for you, you can mention that in your intro or add them to your Zoom name. Any questions?”

    But by saying this you will continue to get a bunch of women who go by she/her announcing this. And no, you shouldn’t misgender cis and binary trans people by referring to everyone as “they” until corrected.

  44. Not really a Waitress*

    My work place strongly encourages everyone to put their preferred pronouns in their email signature as well as account profile. The thought is if everyone does it, no one feels uncomfortable doing it.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Except when putting a particular set of pronouns in the signature would result in a coming out that the individual is not ready for, especially in an all-or-nothing context as an email signature.

      Coming out is an ongoing, emotionally charged experience that never ends.

  45. Wendy City*

    “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.”

    On the one hand, seeing a slew of femme-presenting people clarify their she/her pronouns is often really cringey, especially in nonprofit environments.

    But introducing oneself with pronouns is not an “acknowledgement of diversity” – it’s just about making sure people are respectful when they address you. Think of it less like a Pride flag pinned to your jacket or a quota on a spreadsheet and more like someone saying, “My name’s Siobhan, rhymes with ‘futon'” to avoid mispronunciations.

    Lots of other commenters, and Alison, have pointed out that you can misgender someone with ‘they/them’ just like you can with any other pronoun, but it really does bear repeating. For many trans people, the use of they/them pronouns can rise to the level of a microaggression, when it’s someone trying to reinforce that said trans person doesn’t fit into someone’s idea of “she” or “her.”

    This is well-intentioned but ultimately full of problems. Please don’t do this.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Yes, this is what I was struggling to articulate. Introducing oneself with pronouns is about respectful communication. It’s not about making folks put their gender front and center at all times.

    2. Mirror*

      Why is it cringey to have a slew of femme-presenting people say their she/her pronouns? I’d love it if someone could put this into words.

      1. fishwings*

        Perhaps I can give a partial answer: I’m a cis woman in a male-dominated field and have been active in women’s affinity groups in my field for the last decade. As my awareness and knowledge about non-binary identities has grown, I and others in these women’s groups have struggled to understand our place in supporting nb individuals in the workplace. On one hand, we want our space to be welcoming of nb folks especially because we have the numbers among women for a strong community whereas if nb folks were to have their own organization they likely would not. On the other hand, nearly all of us are cis women. Since one of the easiest suggestions to be more inclusive is to start by suggesting folks introduce themselves with pronouns, we have adopted this practice in many of our meetings, but it does end up being a slew of she/hers, which in my experience draws attention to the fact that the space is primarily a space for women, and only secondarily for nb folks, as good as our intentions may be.

        1. Beebee*

          I think that’s a valid point, but to refer to a group of women identifying as such as “cringey” feels…. kind of rude? Like because it’s a space largely made of women, it’s weird/gross/embarrassing for them to identify as such?

          Women existing is not an attack on NB people. It’s definitely an issue if a gendered minority space is 99% women and NB people feel excluded, but sometimes that’s just a reflection of who is in that specific group. The solution isn’t to ask women to not be women or tell them it’s cringey for them to be that way.

          1. Aggresuko*

            I don’t think this is a problem that can be fixed. The femme women outnumbering the NB’s in an obvious way sucks, but statistically speaking that’s kind of how things are shaking out these days. I hate that my not feeling gender neutral/queer/what have you hurts people, but what am I supposed to do about it? Lie? Pretend I come off as more partially sorta-male-ish than I actually come off as? I don’t even like being female per se because it sucks, but I am definitely not a dude or NB at heart or in presentation at all, so… I apologize if that bothers people.

            1. Fulana del Tal*

              But there’s no problem to be fixed and nothing to apologize for. The vast majority of people are binary and 50% of the population is female. We don’t need to apologize for our existence. And other’s feelings are not ours to manage.

              1. Beebee*

                “And other’s feelings are not ours to manage” that’s a great point. I think for OP I feel for them immensely about feeling unsure how to navigate their gender… but ultimately only they can navigate that. Not their coworkers. But hopefully the comments help nudge them in a helpful direction!

          2. fishwings*

            I mean, maybe it’s a little rude to call it cringey, but as a participant in these meetings sometimes I wince a bit because I *want* my group to be inclusive of nb folks and it feels like drawing attention to the fact that everyone except one person uses she/her may not serve that goal. I haven’t found a good solution to that – I agree with the points that if we are going to share pronouns and many folks use binary pronouns that this is just going to happen. But I understand why OP might find it cringe-inducing. Like “I want to tell people my pronouns, but now I am the only one announcing that I use different pronouns.”

        2. Librarian1*

          This doesn’t make sense to me. Why isn’t it equally cringey to hear a group of cis men introducing themselves with he/him? It seems to me like the thing that’s really bugging OP and others is that the space is primarily cis (or primarily women? in which case… that does seem kinda sexist). And if that’s uncomfortable, then maybe just stop asking people to state their pronouns? Although then that leads back to people assuming things. Maybe just ask people to put pronouns in their Zoom names or, if it’s an in person meeting, have nametags and have people write down their pronouns if they want to. That way it’s less intrusive, but people can still communicate what their pronouns are.

          1. fishwings*

            It’s a bit unfortunate, but in my experience when we share pronouns in mixed groups that are male-dominated, the men mostly don’t share pronouns and the women mostly do, because women are more keyed into inclusivity practices. So OP may just be referring to that phenomenon, or perhaps OP works largely with women.

            1. She in the streets, they in the... more private streets*

              Seconding fishwings, personally.

              Also, you know that like… feeling you get when you see a company diversity leadership team but every member is white? Or like… I’ve been the only queer person at an LGBT roundtable and… it’s hard. It’s not being a member of a majority group advocating for a minority that’s an issue! But it’s uncomfortable to go to a meeting for and about something essential to you and not see yourself represented there, the space actively dedicated to your concerns and needs.

              I see where this sentence definitely rubs people the wrong way, and ultimately I agree that the OPs proposal doesn’t work. And the begininng of every meeting really can’t be dedicated to their needs and concerns, unfortunately.

              It sounds to me like they just feel very raw and the world is not a comfortable place for them right now.

  46. korangeen*

    Personally I like to think of they/them being a gender-neutral term that you could use to refer to anyone of any gender, but as several of the comments here show, a lot of (probably most) people don’t see it that way. It’s a little frustrating that gender is so integral to how we refer to people, but, it is what it is I guess.

    1. korangeen*

      A somewhat related tangent — a few years ago, I was visiting my family for my 30th birthday, and I was playing an Apples-to-Apples-style game with my siblings and mom that involved making up stories/identities for fictional cats. A few times, my sister referred to her fictional cat as “they” and my mom got upset. She argued that since we are making up the identity of this cat, we know its gender, and so we have to refer to the cat as “he” or “she.” My siblings and I argued that we could use “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun regardless of the fictional cat’s gender. My mom insisted that we absolutely could not do that. I said “fine, the fictional cat is non-binary.” She told us we could just leave then. My mom stayed mad at us for a month.

      Yes, my mom is a bit nuts and very passionate about grammar. And no, I don’t extend this argument to referring to individual people as “they” who I already know use “she” or “he” or something else. It just would certainly be nice if there were at truly gender-neutral pronoun for individual people.

  47. C*

    The idea that you’re actively trying to avoid hearing a bunch of femme-presenting people using she/her pronouns is frankly kind of offensive. You’re happy to hear any identity represented in a meeting other than theirs? Why is that exactly?

    Cis and trans women’s gender identities are just as real and foundational as your gender identity is.

  48. Critical Rolls*

    If you set “they” as the default pronoun, you are going to get a slew of people clarifying that they prefer she/her or he/him, because of statistical realities. This has unwanted effects: it will put the pronoun issue right front and center, instead of keeping it low-key for those who prefer it that way; it will pressure people to declare pronouns; and it will highlight that statistical reality, that likely most people in the office are more or less cishet, which can be othering even if all those people are chill unproblematic allies.

    There’s no good answer to this right now, and we all need to keep working on it in our own ways. But I think the costs outweigh the benefits on this one.

  49. Another Sarah*

    I have no problem with anyone’s gender identity or pronouns, and I do my best to support my transgender brothers and sisters, my non-binary pals, and anyone else’s rights to their gender identities and to live free from discrimination.

    But I find it offensive that my pronouns are such a problem that OP doesn’t even want me to say them when asked. I know transgender women who would feel erased if they couldn’t use she/her. I also notice it is only female pronouns and not male ones that are a problem.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Probably because there’s a big majority of femme cisgender women there and not too many men, and I think the OP’s primary objection is being outnumbered by femme cisgender women.

  50. She in the streets, they in the... more private streets*

    First of all, OP, sorry for the comments you’re going to get on this. People are already reacting really strongly.

    Secondly, you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this and we’re somewhat on the same wavelength. I would rather eat a brick than have a conversation about gender/pronouns in the workplace. It feels very private and intimate to me, and it’s not something I want to ever discuss with a job.

    It also sounds like you’re coming from a place of alienation and pain. When we’re raw, everything hurts us more. I’m not trying to discount your discomfort! I don’t want a high five when I have a blister on my hand, and I wouldn’t want to listen to a bunch of people requesting she/her pronouns when it feels like my only options are to lie or out myself.

    That said… I think a lot of these commenters are right. They/them can feel misgendering for cis and trans people alike. The fight you want to have happen happens on a larger cultural stage, and the road to being comfortable probably lies in making peace with your pronouns at work. Whether that means coming out or, like me, deciding that it just isn’t worth it to you and moving on–but genuinely, not just saying you have while you continue to be hurt.

    I’m sorry there isn’t a better solution for you, and I hope this pain eases for you soon.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Love your username, and I want to second everything you said!

      OP, I like your “icebreaker where meeting participants are asked to describe their relationship with their mother in two words” analogy and I think it can be helpful here.

      Forcing everyone to share their pronouns at the start of a meeting is terrible because (to use your analogy), you have to sit through how ever many people saying “warm and loving” and when it’s your turn you can either lie or say “confusing and strained.” And if you say “confusing and strained,” of course everyone is going to spend the rest of the meeting wondering about your relationship with your mother or thinking “poor OP.”

      But your script about gender identities and using they/them pronouns isn’t great either. You’ve replaced the terrible icebreaker with “Before we get started, I want to acknowledge that not everyone has a happy relationship with their mother. Please be considerate when mentioning mothers around your coworkers.” And of course some people will pipe up with “I have a good relationship with my mother” and the people with strained relationships will feel weird that this was mentioned at all and everyone else will spend the meeting wondering who has a bad relationship with their mother. So no one had to share personal information (small improvement) but some people did anyways and most people feel a little uncomfortable.

      So I do think that the best option is the one Alison suggests, where those who want to can share their pronouns actively and the groups will just assume pronouns for everyone else. In your analogy, I think this is akin to “you can tell us a little bit about your relationship with your mother if you want to, but if you don’t we’ll generally assume it’s great and won’t think to much about it.” Which mostly works, and occasionally someone will ask “got any Mother’s Day plans?” to someone whose mother is dead and triggers some difficult feelings. Still not perfect, but better than anything else I can think of.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I thought the example of talking about your mother was a big of a head scratcher. If asked to do this and I had complicated feelings I’d probably just pick something neutral and move it along … you’re not obligated to go into something you don’t want to just because someone asks, even in a work setting. However, I agree that workplaces shouldn’t either force people to share pronouns if they don’t want to, nor default to they/them for everyone, so I guess it’s a moot point.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Maybe it made a lot of sense to me because I’m currently questioning my gender. And, yeah, if asked for pronouns (especially at work), I’ll just give the ones that match my assigned at birth gender because that’s a minimum of fuss and moves the conversation right along. But it feels bad in a small way, much like I imagine saying “I get along with my mom just fine” may feel for someone who has a strained relationship with their mother.

          I think the most confusing part is that it feels less bad/wrong/etc when people assume my pronouns than when I tell them to use those pronouns, even when it’s the same set of pronouns! Maybe it feels equally bad for people with difficult family relationships when everyone else assumes all is well as it does for those people to actively declare “my family is totally fine”? I can’t speak to that.

        2. mlem*

          I’ve seen several people react to suggestions they share their pronouns in work contexts as if they’ve just been directed to write a dissertation about their identity. It’s not that; “share your pronouns” is a shorthand. Maybe we need a better term to convey, “To help people avoid making pronoun assumptions about you based on your appearance and their preconceptions, let us know what pronouns you’d prefer us to use *in this setting*.” (That is far too much of a mouthful!)

    2. They*

      Yes, the replies accusing the LW of misogyny are a bit much and that gender-conforming cis people really should try to have more grace around trans and non-binary people’s complicated gender feelings. The LW isn’t offended that people around them are women, it’s obvious that they mostly work with women and that their feelings are colouring their view of things.

      But their proposal is not a practical solution. I’m non-binary and comfortable with they/them in my personal life. However, I’ve had very very bad experiences trying to use they/them in the work place, so I am very cautious about it and would prefer not to share. People assume she/her and I don’t correct them. I don’t have my pronouns in my email signature. Asked point blank about my pronouns, I’m not sure what I would do but I’d rather not have to lie and say “she/her” just to keep flying under the radar.

      1. Wisteria*

        Two things can be true:

        1. A person can have complicated gender feelings
        2. That person’s words regarding same can fall in line with misogynistic sentiments.

        I can have grace on the former while calling out the latter.

        1. They*

          The most likely explanation is that the LW work with mostly women and has complicated feelings about being classed with women. While you haven’t done this, the people getting up in arms about this person being clearly super sexist over a poor choice of words are wrong. The LW should have expressed it differently, but they don’t deserve to get piled on by cis people over it

          1. Fiddlesticks*

            “They don’t deserve to get piled on by cis people over it.”

            Why not? I guarantee you if the LW had said they were sick of being “alienated” by trans-appearing people stating they/them pronouns, the commentariat would be howling – and rightly so. Failing to do so when misogynistic language is used is hypocritical.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          Seconding this. I know enough people in the LGBTQIA community to know that coming out is a complicated, often scary, and intensely personal process. People should get to make their own choices about if/when/how to come out in any context.

          Having complicated feelings about it is totally valid. It does not exempt a person from misogyny. Our society is steeped in it, as it is also steeped in transphobia, hostility toward people who don’t conform to gender norms, those who don’t conform in a multitude of ways. It’s fair to point that out.

  51. A Woman*

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable with this suggestion. I am happy to use other peoples correct pronouns, whatever they are, but why should I have to give up my identity as a woman who uses she/her? OP even expressed annoyance about “femme presenting people” asking for she/her, which makes it seem like they want other people to suppress binary identities for OP’s own comfort. Not ok.

  52. asummerbook*

    I have enormous sympathy for the letter writer – and for their aim of taking some of the burden off the shoulders of trans and non-binary people. But as Alison says, it’s probably just not practical: there will be many people, both trans and cis, who feel very strongly that, without desiring to reinforce many of the toxic qualities of the gender binary, they *are* men or women and the use of they, because it’s currently associated with a non-binary identity, is a (well-meant, but even so) misgendering: so you’ll get lots of ‘actually I prefer she/he’ – which the letter writer explicitly says they want to avoid. I’m afraid I have no solutions (many people in my industry use she/they or he/they in their bios which might perhaps be an option?) but I think the script will create the opposite effect from the desired one.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I am a “she/her”. I’ve given the matter lots of thought and while I have no problem with “they/them” in written communication where gender is unknown or using it for people who prefer it, I am not a “they/them.” I think I have as much right to be a “she/her” as others have to be a “they/them.” If someone were to call me “they/them” I would politely correct them, because it’s not how I identify.

    2. Leilah*

      They isn’t associated with a nonbinary identity 99% of the time we use it in English though? It’s almost always used to refer to a plural group of people or a person whose gender identity is unknown (Oh, someone dropped their pen, I wonder where they went? for example)

  53. AProfessional*

    To the commenters saying the intentions are great but it’s just executed poorly, I disagree. Did you read the proposed “script”– presumably to be recited at the beginning of every meeting? It sounds like a bunch of HR gobbledygook that’s likely to make everyone feel on edge about saying the wrong thing (and after the 3rd or 4th time it’s read at the beginning of a meeting, it’s likely to make them tune out).

    Everything about this idea is wrong! It exemplifies why many people really dislike HR: they can’t tell the difference between a workplace that’s actually welcoming and inclusive, and one that’s not at all inclusive but spends a lot of time publicly announcing their commitment to inclusivity. It’s from the same brilliant folks who were sure they could improve “DEI” by forcing everyone to click through an hour long computer based diversity training.

    1. Jackie*

      This is a bit harshly stated but I kind of agree…. I think D&I efforts should feel deeper and more authentic. An HR-lead group discussion about how to help each other (wether it’s people who are elder, from different races, disabled etc), understand what respect really means and when to apologize (what matters is effect, not intent), maybe have somebody from the trans community give a talk about their experiences (they should get a speaking fee) – all this could help build real empathy. Having blanket rules like do this training, use this language, feels inauthentic and performative.

    2. Moira Rose*

      The hour-long diversity trainings are due to the fact that the courts look favorably at companies being sued for discrimination if those companies have mandatory diversity trainings. This in spite of the fact that mandatory diversity trainings make for a worse environment for marginalized employees (I swear, look up the research). It’s a perverse incentives situation. And companies don’t make it better by doing real DEI work; they do the crappy thing that the courts will like and wash their hands of the rest.

  54. Presea*

    I think a better way to handle this would be to make sure some members of leadership visibly share their pronouns, and other members of leadership visibly do not, and try to find some sort of not-intrusive way to highlight it specifically, to help normalize that both options are okay and that sharing really truly is opt-in and there’s no issue with opting out.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      This is an odd approach, so it’s ok to force people at a certain level to publicly define themselves? I see what you are trying to do here ‘leadership modeling desired behavior’ but this is not the way to accomplish what the OP wants to do and is unfair to anyone in leadership who doesn’t want to state their pronouns publicly (or those that do but are assigned to the non-stating group? I don’t even know how this would work)

      I think the OP just needs to back off of this idea (and any like it) and trust professional adults to be able to state how they want to be referenced or not. This a solution that is looking for a problem and will likely create more problems than the perceived original problem.

      If I read correctly the OP is uncomfortable stating their pronouns. I get this, but the answer can’t be to misgender everyone unless they are forced to declare.

      1. Presea*

        My idea would be for the leadership group to talk amongst themselves to figure out who’s most comfortable being in the sharing and non-sharing groups. Not about being coercively assigned to one group or the other, but just like… “Oh, Larissa doesn’t mind being in the non-sharing group, but Jackie feels very strongly that they should share their pronouns because they’re very likely to be misgendered otherwise. Let’s have Larissa and Jackie introduce themselves first and right next to each other, and make sure Larissa doesn’t share pronouns”. Or, if there really is nobody who wants to be in a particular group, making it a point to mention specifically that sharing/not sharing pronouns is also fine.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Like I said, I can appreciate where you coming from and trying accomplish, but good grief, all of that just to have a meeting? A meeting where everyone is assumed to be an adult and can offer their pronouns or not as they see fit? Again, the OP did not indicate that there was a widespread misgendering problem or lack of respect in these meetings.

          1. Presea*

            Okay, fair, I see your point a lot better now. I guess I was thinking in terms of my own experience, where there are very small teams so an arrangement like this wouldn’t require a ton of setup every single meeting.

  55. Muffin*

    How about folks who prefer to not be “I’m in this camp and tired of being labelled and being asked to label myself. How about using my name?

    1. Moira Rose*

      Most English speakers find it difficult to function alongside people whose pronouns they do not know and cannot assume. Speech without pronouns sounds stilted and is mentally taxing for speakers and hearers alike. I’m afraid that is one of the prices of admission for speaking English.

  56. Richard Hershberger*

    “(look at how much trouble people have getting individual people’s pronouns correct when they change, even when they’re genuinely trying)”

    Very much this. My teenager came out as trans, complete with a new name, about a year ago. My wife and I are totally supportive, but we occasionally slip up. Fortunately the kid is totally prepared to kick me when I do this, thereby providing helpful reinforcement.

    As a linguistic matter, personal pronouns act differently from other words. They are more baked in: part of the linguistic infrastructure. When I slip up, it is almost never reverting to the birth name, but rather the birth pronoun. This is why all those proposals for gender-neutral singular pronouns never caught on. New words get coined all the time and are picked up in general usage with no problem, but you can’t do that with pronouns. That simply isn’t how brains work.

    “They” has been semi-adapted for the purpose because it was already in the mix as a personal pronoun, has been under some (but not all) circumstances a bit vague about number for centuries, and pronouns are a bit flexible about number anyway. But this process is still ongoing. My mother can’t bring herself to use it: not due to gender politics, but because it is so very, very grammatically wrong in her brain. On the other hand, The Kids Nowadays are much more comfortable with it than I am. This is utterly unsurprising. Language change always comes from the kids, with old-timers shouting at clouds in response.

    My guess is that this issue will resolve itself in a generation or two, most likely with “they” coming out of the process as a true gender-neutral third person pronoun in both the singular and the plural, just as “you” is in the second person. But it could go a different path. As has been pointed out already in the comments, some people use it more narrowly than as purely gender-neutral. That could become the standard, leaving us still with the problem of a neutral singular pronoun.

    1. Minimal Pear*

      As a nonbinary person myself I definitely find that I can adopt someone’s new name pretty much right away, while updating pronouns takes longer!
      Also if it would help with your mother, there’s a lot of documentation of how they/them has been a neutral pronoun set for a VERY long time–Shakespeare even used it!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        They/them has always been gender-neutral. The issue is number, and that is complicated. Yes, it has been used as grammatically singular for a very long time, but only in certain circumstances.

        The most straightforward is when what it corresponds to is grammatically singular but has a collective sense. Here is an example from the 1611 King James Bible: 2 Kings 14:12: “And Iudah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled euery man to their tents.” The stickler would say that it should be “…they fled every man to his tent.” In practice people only complain about this construction when primed by something else to complain. It turns out that grammatical number is not so straightforward as the sticklers like to imagine. Again from the 1611 KJV: Matt. 18:35: “So likewise shall my heauenly Father doe also vnto you, if yee from your hearts forgiue not euery one his brother their trespasses.” Every man is clearly more than one, and each of the relevant group of men has at least one brother, so there are lots of brothers trespassing. But under traditional grammar rules, this should be “every one his brother his trespasses,” as the clause is dealing with but one brother at a time.

        Somewhat more controversial is the singular they for an indefinite person. Here is an example from Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennett speaking to Mr. Darcy: “To be sure, you knew no actual good of me — but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love.” The stickler, if they notice this, will complain, but the passage would hardly be improved with the traditional fiction that “he” is gender-neutral in this sort of construction, and even less so by substituting “he or she.” In practice this usage generally goes by unnoticed.

        The next step is when applied to a specific individual of unknown gender. “Pat is available to come in on Tuesday. When can you meet them?” This is much more recent, and much more likely to rankle.

        The final step is the true singular they, using it in any situation that would traditionally call for some combination of he and/or she. This is very recent. Its becoming common is within my adult lifetime. This is the construction that can trip up even persons of genuinely good intent.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          A gentle note to Alison: This is entirely on topic, not thread drift. Much of the confusion about pronouns comes from not understanding the grammar. Getting that sorted out is the first step to a sensible discussion.

          1. Loulou*

            Why did you feel the need to include this gentle note? I have not seen Alison remove a single thing for being off topic on this post (though since we’re all providing unsolicited moderation advice, I’d say perhaps she should consider it!)

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              She has deleted posts of mine in the past. I am not complaining. I do tend to ramble. This is not an example of rambling, but I can see how it might appear to be.

    2. goducks*

      Seconding this. My kid is trans/non-binary (identifies as both) and my husband and I one million percent support their they/them pronouns. Still, after referring to them using different pronouns for 13 years, it slips in sometimes. It just does. My kid is super graceful about it, but it pisses me off when it happens because I don’t want to misgender my kid. My 16 year old has had pretty much zero instances of misgendering his sibling, because gender binary is so much less deeply rooted in the kids today than it is in the olds. It’s wonderful to see.

  57. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    This was happening in work in an e-mail context and I didn’t think it was appropriate because many employees put their pronouns in their signature, zoom name, etc and defaulting to “they” can misgender anyone who has shared a preferred pronoun.

    If you’re in person, can you give people name tags? It’s one thing I like a lot about Zoom – it’s easy to remember names!

  58. Churlish Gambino*

    I appreciate your intentions, but you are way overthinking this. Let people display whatever pronouns they want and let people opt out of displaying pronouns lest they feel pressured to out themselves if they’re not ready. That’s it.

  59. Tired Social Worker*

    Therapist here, it can be REALLY invalidating to an individual who regularly experiences discrimination to be identified as the wrong person or be lumped in with a gender/identity they do not feel is correct. I feel that the heart is in the right place here but this is very much like stating “everyone is the same as a cis male so we should identify everyone as such”. The important part of honoring someone’s pronouns and how it impacts their sense of identity is to be specific to each individual person.

  60. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW, your solution to having to hear people reveal their pronouns is asking people to reveal their pronouns?

    Your solution to people being misgendered is to misgender other people?

    Your solution to people not remembering names is asking them to remember pronouns?

    I’m not trying to pilo on to you or anything, I’m just confused by the logic.

  61. Anonymous Anemone*

    Cis person, so you can take it or leave it, but I have worked in lots of professional spaces where people who have been around a long time have decided to publicly change their pronouns. Usually, this just looks like using the Zoom/Slack settings that show pronouns next to user names and others just continue to refer to them using their former pronouns (not ideal, misgendering, etc.). The only way in my experience to not seem like you’re singling out people is to just make it a norm that everyone puts their pronouns in their user name, and everyone always states their pronouns when they speak or introduce themselves. People can at that point also say they would just like to be referred to by name.

    Normalizing the heck out of everyone always sharing their pronouns, especially when everyone seems to be presenting one particular way, is really useful because it’s going to allow people who do present very femme but maybe have been uncomfortable saying that they want to use she/they to just say so in a particular instance. Plus, if you do it every time, people can change their minds from meeting-to-meeting.

  62. Leilah*

    Using they/them pronouns for someone that doesn’t use them *can* be misgendering — if you do it as a microaggression (ie only doing it for people that you think looks trans) or if you do it even after someone has told you their pronouns. Even asking for pronouns can be a microaggression if you only do it when there is someone in the room who isn’t looking “cis enough” for you.

    I’m a trans nonbinary person and I’ve really never heard anyone express that defaulting to they/them until told otherwise is misgendering, I’m very surprised to see that cis folks in the comments here seem to think that it is. I’ve seen it recommended as best practice in many LGBTQ+ communities.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      I don’t think defaulting to they/them until being told otherwise is misgendering, but I would immediately tell you I prefer she/her and I would expect that to be respected, just as I expect someone with different pronouns to be respected. The issue I think is more that this OP doesn’t seem to want people to give their pronouns if they are she/her- they explicitly state, “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns” and that’s a problem. You can’t ask for pronouns and then be bothered when people give them and if you ask for them, and chose not to use them intentionally, that’s where we get into misgendering territory, as I understand the term.

      1. Leilah*

        Yes, I agree, once you know the proper pronoun you do need to use it. A lot of folks in this comment section really seem to be bothered by it and are saying that they do not view they/them as gender neutral but as specifically indicating a nonbinary gender and I’m shocked,

        1. Nynaeve*

          Yeah, we need some kind of word to use when a person is known, but the gender is still unclear. Quite frankly, I object strongly to the notion that someone might think I was comiting a microaggression in such an ambiguous situation. I would be far more offended that a person may think I would be capable of doing that intentionally than I would be by being misgendered. But also, it is offensive to me if you refer to be by a pronoun where I can see/hear. Please address me directly, don’t talk about me as if I was not there.

          This is my whole disconnect with the entire pronoun debate. I should not know if you have me misgendered in your brain because you should never have occasion let me know that, especially in a professional setting. It’s the same as if you think I’m a frigid bitch, or can’t stand my tone of voice. Professionalism and polite society rules dictate that you need to keep that to yourself. The same way they dictate that you should never refer to someone in the third person who is in the same space as you.

          1. Moira Rose*

            You’ve never been in an email thread of multiple people and seen a sentence like, “We wanted to give this task to Patricia but her plate is really full”? Or “We tried Carlos’ idea because he spent a few years in the Teapot Department”? When Patricia and Carlos were on the thread, perhaps CC’d for informational purposes, where the main convo was between others? What about if your boss sends out a weekly “attaboy” thread to a large office? “We want to congratulate Jeann on their Award for Excellence in Underwater Basket Weaving from the American Academy of Weird Arts.”

            It’s true that mostly you hear “you” when you’re being talked about to your face, but it’s not some horrific insult to be spoken about in the third person, particularly in a large email.

    2. Anon5837*

      Binary trans man who’s stealth at work. I consider this kind of best practice for intra-community spaces (I prefer nametags/introductions when possible). While still technically misgendering, I don’t mind if someone defaults to they/them for me in a community space because I can correct them (and I know it’s a norm not someone being transphobic). In a workplace, I would hate it. I wouldn’t know how to gracefully correct in a space where this isn’t the norm especially since not being out is a priority. If they keep defaulting to they because I can’t publicly correct them, that’s going to become a major problem for me.

    3. Julia*

      I’m a queer cis woman and I think there are a lot of situations happening which are getting smooshed together.

      If I’m in a group of people whose pronouns have been stated, I use that pronoun.
      If I’m referring to someone whose pronouns I don’t know, I use they/them. I might say “someone from Tea Pot department stopped by and wanted to know what the deadline is” rather than “a woman from Tea Pot department stopped by and she wanted to know what the deadline is.”

      Then there is the situation of going around a table and asking people to say their pronouns which, as you say, can be a microagression. This is something I’ve only seen discussed in LGBTQ+ spaces and I wish more people would be thoughtful about it.

      You could make it a policy to encourage people to avoid gendered language unless it’s relevant. Use humankind not mankind. The chair of the committee not the chairman/chairwoman. You can do this without getting convoluted. For instance, pregnant people should avoid fish high in mercury describes the exact group of people who need this information. People with a uterus should avoid high mercury fish includes lots of people this doesn’t apply to.

      In practice, in non LGBTQ+ spaces I do make assumptions about the pronouns someone uses. I also don’t assume someone who seems gender non-conforming uses they/them pronouns. I do my best to not be obtrusive and weird about it.

  63. LawBee*

    My preferred pronouns aren’t they/them. I would have a problem having that be mandated language.

  64. The Analyst*

    Perhaps use titles to be especially neutral since your gender doesn’t usually have anything to do with your work? I will henceforth be referred to as The Analyst. I am being mildly facetious but I’ll try it & let you know how it goes.

  65. EngGirl*

    Yeah… this just feels yucky to me, but I can’t 100% put my finger on why. Like it doesn’t bother me to be called by they/them pronouns in general, but something about it being forced rubs me wrong.

    I also have to say that I absolutely hate the way the letter writer called out having an issue with she/her pronouns. Especially as “he/him” were considered “gender neutral” for years.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      Same. I’m not sure it really removes the onus of coming out – it’s still a pronoun that is being foisted on people, and if you aren’t the “standard” you’re still expected to say something. And the statement about she/her also felt really odd to me. As did the “The best parallel I can imagine is an icebreaker where meeting participants are asked to describe their relationship with their mother in two words” – I – what? Huh? Is that a thing that happens at OP’s workplace??

      Rather than force a standard (which society does already), are there already steps in place to make it a safe space to use your pronouns? Are people being held accountable to not be jerks about diversity – using the preferred pronouns, not deadnaming, etc.?

      Also when is the proposed script going out? As a statement by itself? Will this be a statement at every large meeting? How often are they asking someone to confirm their pronouns? Wouldn’t that possibly cause some issues as well – someone who is unsure, doesn’t want to be out, etc., and now every single meeting they have to go through this “here’s my pronouns” again and again? Why do we need to go through pronouns that often?? Do people normally have introductions of that length at all these meetings?

      I really think OP has the best of intentions, and I’m very glad that they are trying to take this kind of thing seriously – I wish my workplace did better – but I do think it’s too much in a wrong direction.

    2. Alxx*

      Yeah. Gender and identity are complex, but I think the LW has some stuff that could be worked out in the workplace (ie making sure it’s welcoming) but also some stuff that might need to be worked out privately (antipathy to people who are she/her). Those two categories cannot be blended at work.

  66. I'm A Little Teapot*

    No. Just, no. If someone wants to use a different pronoun, then that’s fine – but it is on them to figure it out and ask others to use it. Once they have done so, then it is on others to use that pronoun.

    Like it or not, the number of people who are not comfortable for whatever reason with the standard pronouns are a minority of the population. Yes, I will be respectful and use the preferred pronouns when that preference has been shared, but I’m not going to change standard language for everyone because of 2% of people (or whatever the percentage is, I just made that up).

    OP, wanting to use the correct pronouns for people is admirable. The way you do that is by creating an environment where people feel safe to share their preferred pronouns.

    1. Anat*

      Right. If your goal is to avoid misgendering as many people as possible, stick to the default of using the pronoun that the person appears to be, unless and until they tell you otherwise, and then use that.

      Everyone has a right to be addressed as they prefer. It’s the desire to police my interactions with everyone else that would really rub me the wrong way.

      1. MuseumChick*

        This is where I fall on it. The goal should always be to misgender as few people as possible (with the goal always being zero of course) and well, the fact is most people identify with she/her or he/him. Once someone communicates otherwise it’s on others to use their chosen pronouns.

  67. BeenThatDoneThere*

    In general, it’s a wise idea to tailor defaults to the common case, rather than the edge case. That applies here too. The large, clear majority of people (in most business settings) will identify as he/she. Certainly, if you *know* somebody prefers a different pronoun, then that should be used (and communicated, if the person is comfortable with it). But as a default? Using “they” is going to cause more problems than it will solve and, as Allison noted, will detract from your message and the purpose of the meeting.

  68. yo*

    Very curious where society will move in this regard, and whether a true neutral pronoun will emerge in English if “they” has emerged as specific to certain people but misgendering for others.

    1. Moira Rose*

      My money is on no; since English’s inception, we’ve steadily decreased the number of pronouns (no one’s really using “thou” anymore!) and we seem to find it extremely intellectually difficult to incorporate new pronouns into our mental map of English, despite the attempts of many well-meaning people.

      Compare this to the relative linguistic ease by which we’ve all adopted “Mx.” as a gender neutral alternative to Ms./Mr. That was introduced to the public (i.e. not denizens of very specific Internet forums) *very* recently — the NYT used it for the first time in 2015 — and Mx. is going to be recommended in the edition of Emily Post Etiquette that comes out this year. Pronouns are special and introducing a new one would be a huge lift.

  69. Mehitabel*

    I am not at all offended by someone referring to me with a gender-inclusive pronoun, and when I’m asked I give my preferred pronouns as “she/they”. I would not be bothered by a request to use “they/them” as a default because I do see those pronouns as gender-inclusive. YMMV, of course.

  70. Camellia*

    “I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in)”.

    Perhaps the OP was merely defaulting to the ‘feminine’ for her example, the way Alison will default to using the feminine for people when gender is not specifically noted in the letter.

  71. Milx*

    >I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.

    This is…super sexist! So the letter writer wants to force me to use they/them pronouns, or is going to resent me privately for “celebrating the gender binary” if I correct my pronouns after they’ve tried to force everyone to use they/them pronouns for me? Why is this only directed at women? So men can correct any pronouns they want, but if women want people to use their pronouns, they’re celebrating the gender binary?

    How can you simultaneously say “everyone should use they/them pronouns unless otherwise specified” and then also have this snarky bit about how women “celebrate the gender binary” by presenting their pronouns? It seems like LW is letting their own personal feelings on gender color their interactions with colleagues…to the point of misogynistic judgment of women and trying to change the rules to erase their gender entirely (or judge them in secret when they refuse to have their gender erased).

    1. Camellia*

      Perhaps the OP was merely defaulting to the ‘feminine’ for her example, the way Alison will default to using the feminine for people when gender is not specifically noted in the letter.

      1. Milx*

        Perhaps, but given this is about gender and how to refer to people, I’m not very quick to assume that “when they said she and femme-presenting they also meant he and masculine-presenting, obviously”. That isn’t just a choice of a pronoun, that was a very specific callout to women, and not just women, but women who present a particular way. If they’d like to clarify, that’d be nice, but I don’t really see any reason to assume that their very specific example that they said happens often in their spaces is actually referring to a wider group of people than the people they were specifically calling out.

    2. SJ (they/them)*

      eh, gender shit is really hard and it sounds like OP is struggling and it’s coming out in an unproductive way. I’m inclined to give OP some grace here.

      1. Milx*

        I agree that this is coming from a place of struggle. I think it’s possible to recognize a viewpoint as sexist while also recognizing that the person who’s doing that is struggling. And being explicit about where their mindset is leading is a good way to course-correct. Even the most well-meaning, feminist person can espouse misogyny accidentally, through a mindset they never fully thought through, through thoughts that they’re nurturing because it helps their own hurt, through automatic reactions to events, etc etc. It’s important to call it out when it’s happening, especially in this kind of situation where LW is explicitly asking for feedback and has the opportunity to look back and examine this mindset, where it’s coming from, and if it’s fair to the people around them.

        It feels like their own struggle with gender identity is making them resentful of others, and it’s coming out in a misogynistic way directed very specifically at women. I’m not sure what giving them grace entails honestly, other than not noting sexism in a viewpoint? Because I’m sure that’s not what you mean. I’m not calling LW out to tear them down, I’m saying this so they can reflect on their attitude and thoughts in this situation.

        1. AnotherLibrarian*

          Well-put. I think you can both give grace (acknowledge that someone maybe struggling and have empathy for that struggle) without also silently accepting sexism in their language or phrasing.

  72. non-binary employee*

    As a non-binary person who uses they/them/their pronouns at work and has felt irritated but pretty resigned at strangers misgendering me (regardless of my email signature or my pronoun button). I also feel very awkward correcting people when it happens and for my own sake, often wish everyone would just default to they/them/their, so I can empathize though I’m coming from a different place.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the concerns everyone else has said are true. I think the fact that many people, from allied cis people to non-binary people, would push back shows how their experiences of gender and pronouns are extremely varied and personal. Obviously, active steps towards inclusivity are necessary, but this is swinging too hard towards a direction that I don’t think is conducive to that.

    One thing I’ll note is that I’ve seen quietly changing pronouns is always an option that doesn’t necessitate a more formalized coming out. My department supervisor uses she/they when I would’ve previously thought they only used she/her. They’ve never explicitly talked about their gender identity and no one has asked because quite frankly, it’s no one’s business except theirs. This is not to say just changing pronouns is easy or smooth, but separating what needs to be workplace relevant or not might help.

  73. talos*

    When I (cis he/him, but frequently misgendered if people can’t see my face as my name and voice are ambiguous) share my pronouns, it’s not “celebrating the gender binary”. It has nothing to do with my opinions on the gender binary.

    It’s me *getting people to call me the right goddamn thing*.

    1. Sam*

      Same. I’m cis, I’m a butch lesbian, I will politely but firmly correct people if they don’t use she/her —- that’s who I am!

  74. EvilQueenRegina*

    My coworker has actually started doing exactly this. In a lot of cases, it’s referring to people she doesn’t actually know i.e. a telephone message saying “Minerva McGonagall called to chase a response to the escaped llama situation, can someone please call them back on 555-867-5309”, where she doesn’t know Minerva at all and thinks she’s erring on the side of caution. Chances are, Minerva would never see that message anyway and know that “them” was used.

    But she’ll also do it with people she does know. She referred to me using “it has their name on that”, but I’ve always identified as she/her. This is an employee who takes things very personally so I haven’t worked up to addressing it.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      This makes me long for the old sticky notes that had form fields: “Name of Pest Who Called” / “Time/Date Pest Called” / “Pest Called About…”

      I do see a trend toward re-labeling people as “they” who have expressed a preference otherwise. Perhaps it’s well-intentioned, but it strikes me as performative — and really not in keeping with the spirit of respecting people’s identities.

  75. LizB*

    Plus, beyond my own identity, I’d really like to avoid hearing a slew of femme-presenting people ask for “she/her” pronouns (as often happens in the spaces I’ve been in); this can quickly feel alienating, like a public celebration of the gender binary rather than the acknowledgment of diversity it’s meant to be, depending on who’s in the room.

    LW, it sounds like you’re having a really tough time around gender and pronouns, and I feel for you. But the femme-presenting people who use she/her pronouns aren’t doing that at you. Those are their pronouns. Sharing pronouns isn’t really meant to be an “acknowledgement of diversity,” it’s meant to help people be respectful to each other in conversation. If you have a bunch of femme-presenting women in a room, that’s the result you’re going to get. The pronouns shared in a group are going to reflect who’s in the group, not the whole spectrum of human identity. It sounds like you’re trying to make a safer space for yourself at work, but this is unfortunately not the solution.

  76. Trans Teacher*

    I use they/them and he/him pronouns at work and I’m always surprised to notice that very few people realize that a great way to address a person whose gender pronouns you may not know is to… just use their name. It’s much more clear and precise. Asking for workers to share their pronouns is just a helpful way to establish with the group how we should accurately refer to one another in a professional context, not a way to force workers to come out to their colleagues about their gender identity so it can be celebrated. Gendered personal pronouns used at work are not necessarily an indicator of someone’s gender identity, either, so it’s best to just work with the information that you and your colleagues are comfortable supplying to each other: most likely, your names.

    1. Jackie*

      But we’ve also had people write in here, saying that they are asking people to use a different pronoun from what they ‘look like’ at work or home, and resent having other person use their name instead, since it’s clearly because their colleagues / grandma can’t bring themselves to call somebody they’ve known as “he” “she”. I can maybe see that, but I also would have thought using the name was an ok-thing to do in this case, so it feels like you can’t win.

      1. Me ... Just Me*

        I tend to be one who slips with pronouns, despite efforts not to misgender people and have taken to simply using people’s names as an easy option. I was told that this wasn’t ok because it was deemed a sort of micro-aggression, so I feel your pain on this.

  77. Dontagree*

    I was extensively bullied throughout school and into my early 20s for having a “masculine appearance”. I’d constantly be referred to as a boy, if I wore makeup in my teens I would get comments that it looked like drag. The more feminine I tried to present, the worse the comments cut, strangers on the street would walk past and joke about how I was a “dude in a dress”. Over the last 30 years of my life I have been extremely self conscious of how I look due to this.

    If I was in a situation that enforced they/them, or asked me to verbally correct people with my pronouns, I’d be absolutely miserable and heartbroken. Being referred to as she/her is the only way I have affermation that maybe I’ve done okay today, that I’ve somehow passed the test.

    It may seem dramatic as a cis woman because its often the trans and non-binary communities speaking about misgendering – but the idea of this panics and terrifies me. I’ve managed to avoid it until now but I genuinely worry for the day this inevitably happens. I honestly think it would do some serious emotional damage.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Same – I am cis, but examining my gender began in second grade because of how people responded to me and my masculine appearance, bull in a china shop energy, and giant size. When I realized I was in fact a girl and then a woman (after spending a long time thinking about, are they right, am I a boy, am I a girl, am I anything, if I am a girl am I bad at it, if I am a boy why do I feel like a girl, etc) I felt I had to fight for it as it was being taken away. I in no way want to compare my experiences to what trans women experience as it isn’t even remotely the same. The thing is, though, we never ever ever know the private relationship people have with their gender. Being a woman is not inherently transphobic and I am uncomfortable with the OP’s assertion that my relationship with my gender is something I have AT them.

    2. Jazzy*

      We need more awareness in the trans community of the fact that cis folks can and do experience gender dysphoria, for sure.

  78. Oy Vei*

    I try with pronouns, I really do, but once the group gets to 5+ people that I’m not overly familiar with it’s like playing 3d chess.

    Augmented reality can’t come fast enough. I’m going to need the help just to keep track of who has what.

  79. EarlGrey*

    So…there is simply not a great solution to gender being complicated and our current culture being very binary. I understand where LW is coming from, I have a lot of complicated feelings myself about how “out” or not I want to be at work, and it can feel like a ton of weight rests on a simple pronoun introduction before a meeting. For me at least it really helps to remind myself that I’m not going to fix the culture or create a perfect and comfortable environment for everyone if i kick off a meeting with the exact right words and processes – it’s not possible, so it’s liberating to let it go.

    Of course suggest that folks share their pronouns, set a precedent by sharing your own, correct people who accidentally get them wrong and don’t tolerate people deliberately getting them wrong – but if you try to push beyond those basics, you’re going to run into some of the unintended hurtful consequences folks are bringing up here. Some nonbinary folks want exactly what you’re proposing, some won’t want to use “them” until they’re ready to ask for it, some will be very uncomfortable having a meeting facilitator bring up a big point about gender diversity because now everyone is LOOKING AT THEM, many binary gendered folks feel strongly about he/she, many folks are exhausted by thinking about gender and want to leave it at home whether they share pronouns or not, etc etc – lift the burden of doing gender exactly right from your meeting facilitation policy and take that stress off yourself!

    1. EarlGrey*

      Or to put it another way since I’m still turning this over in my head – however you approach this, you WILL end up with situations where a person is inadvertently mis-pronouned because someone made their best guess, or situations where a person is put on the spot because someone asked for pronouns instead of making their best guess. Fostering an environment where those situations will be handled respectfully – and where they’ll only happen inadvertently and not maliciously – is going to be more effective than trying to engineer a way out of them.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        “Fostering an environment where those situations will be handled respectfully – and where they’ll only happen inadvertently and not maliciously – is going to be more effective than trying to engineer a way out of them.”

        +10000

  80. Swiss+Army+Them*

    As a they/them…..I don’t really like this idea. I adopted my they/them pronouns because they fit me and my gender identity; not because they’re an “outside of the binary” default. They/them is a vital part of gender identity as much as she/her and he/him are; not a fallback for when you feel unsure how to refer to somebody.

  81. Absolutely not.*

    This is an awful idea. Nonbinary people or those that go by they/them represent a TINY portion of the population. It’s way out of sync.

  82. Laney Boggs*

    Echoing everyone else – using they/them for people that DON’T use t/t is misgendering. It will make lots of otherwise very nice (i.e., not anti-pronoun) people feel very uncomfortable.

  83. hihello*

    Personally, I would be offended that there was so much emphasis placed on gender orientation at all (unless the meeting is specifically about gender/identity).

    I am a female person, and yet I sometimes struggle with the need to constantly identify myself as she/her because I don’t feel strongly about my gender and resent needing to choose one at all. The focus on including genders in email signatures is fine and I encourage anyone confident in their gender identity to choose one, but the pressure to include it or risk being seen as unprogressive is uncomfortable for me (I am very liberal in my social and political beliefs, but “normal” and female-presenting and am in a relationship with a man).

    What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a man? Gender is a social construct and I don’t care about other people’s genders or my own. Why am I forced to choose a gender identity in a work context (or in life) at all, if I don’t feel a personal connection to any gender identity? Yet because I’m feminine, and don’t include a gender identifier in email signatures, people may assume I’m in some way antagonistic towards people with nonbinary identities, when something closer to the opposite is true. Should I be including “gender is a social construct” in my email signature in lieu of gender identity? I do not identify as they/them but resent being forced to identify as she/her; I do not want to choose any identity at all and I do not care what gender people assign to me in communications. What is the way forward?

    Anyway, I agree with Alison and wouldn’t impose they/them gender identities on people as a default, for the same reasons imposing she/her or he/him on people is considered harmful.

    1. Yaz*

      I feel very similarly. I don’t want to be known as “Yaz, she / her” at work. I work in a very male dominated industry and the idea of adding MORE of an emphasis to my gender is very stressful

  84. anonymous1*

    I am a ciswoman, and I have wondered what the right approach to offering pronouns is. On the one hand, offering pronouns feels like it creates space for others to share theirs; on the other hand, offering pronouns as a cis person does feel a little bit performative — because the social or emotional cost of sharing non-binary pronouns is often higher (being worried about reactions, being worried about being misgendered, being worried about actual violence as happens at a higher rate, etc). I see what rubs the LW the wrong way. Not sure the solution but I think it’s fair to name this as a challenge. LW did not say they wanted cis people to stop being whatever gender they are. They said they have an emotion when people share that. I think that’s an important difference.

    1. Beebee*

      But sharing your pronouns when you are cis normalizes the process and means that the onus isn’t entirely on nonbinary people to share. Plus it helps those who are trans but identify as a binary gender because then they aren’t singled out as being one of the only people to state their pronouns. And also helps those who are cis but are often mislabelled (shoutout to all the butch she/hers who have been commenting today and pointing out this exact thing). It’s not performative, it is useful and also helps everyone understand that just because someone appears to be a certain gender doesn’t mean that’s actually how they want to be referred to.

  85. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    There was a thread a while back about whether gender-neutral bathrooms means “bathrooms for non-binary people” or “bathrooms for everyone, regardless of gender.” I think most people came down on the side of “bathrooms for everyone.” I’ve seen businesses where the only bathrooms were gender-neutral–do binary people feel misgendered by having to use one of those?

    Personally, I think having an all-inclusive pronoun would be a good thing. I don’t care if it’s “they”, but it would be nice to have something that neither forced you to come out or stay in the closet, nor could be used to misgender you, because it just means “you’re a person.”

    But if people went that route, defaulting to “they” *unless* someone declares another pronoun would defeat the purpose. You’d then be having people say “they” was not their pronoun, which would mean you would, by definition, be misgendering them to start with. Which is a problem, as pointed out by other commenters.

    My own preference would be gender-neutral “they” for everyone, and then opt-in to other pronouns for anyone who wanted to. But that would require a awareness that “they” is for everyone and thus isn’t misgendering.

  86. SJ (they/them)*

    Others have covered why this is unrealistic but can I just say, OP, I get where you are coming from and I wish this could work. It would be sooooo nice for me, a full-time they/them, if there was a universal comfort with the idea of “oh we just use ‘they’ for everyone until they tell us otherwise and then we switch to that’.

    Because the current strategy is ‘we use whatever our best guess is based on the other person’s name, voice and/or appearance, until they tell us otherwise and then we switch to that, and also there’s a general societal expectation of getting it right the first time and it’s embarrassing not to and also probably the fault of the person who presented confusingly for causing this embarrassment and and and etcetcetc’

    Default they/them would be soooooo much better. Yeah a lot of she’s and he’s would have to correct people on their pronouns all the time, but people who aren’t easily slotted into a binary by name/voice/appearance need to do that anyway so, it would be fair-er if everybody had to. Also: if we could just remove the guessing game, and work on the assumption that ***you don’t know, so don’t even try!!!***, ugh that would be so nice. So nice!

    This particular execution you have in mind won’t work well, but I feel your pain and I honor your wish to make it go away. Sending you strength to move through whatever you need to right now.

  87. Elle*

    This is clearly well-meant, but I think it would be a mess. I can imagine cis people resenting it STRONGLY and treating queer people in the office (especially those who DO use they/them) worse because of it. Many cis people already behave like queer people are trying to force them to do things they don’t want to do. I’d be very concerned as a queer person to be in this space if they went ahead with this.

    Instead of instituting awkward rules, I’d much rather cis people just be less weird about gender, period- use others’ correct pronouns without discussion, correct themselves (without making a huge deal out of it) when they mess up, and stop assuming the gender binary is an immutable law. It really feels like the average cis person is far more focused on JUST pronouns than they are on actually challenging the gender binary… which is also likely why they mess up pronouns so much-they haven’t truly started thinking of that person as a different gender (than the one they were assigned at birth).

    1. Elle*

      I’m also somewhat amused by how up on arms many cis people are about someone using “they” for them. People have been using they/them as a gn pronoun for hundreds of years. I did it in my first sentence! Simply using they/them for someone whose pronouns you don’t know isn’t misgendering- not unless you know their actual pronouns. I wish folks would think about that discomfort they feel when they think of being misgendered and use that to have some compassion for what it feels like to have your whole life and all your choices being treated as extremely weird and “other.”

      1. They*

        Yeah, it’s kind of amusing to see cis people being like getting annoyed about hypothetically having to correct someone using the wrong pronouns. You know people live that every day, right? Honestly, would have been better if Allison had asked only queer people to comment as she has for other lgbtq+ discussions in the past.

  88. MuseumChick*

    Add my voice to people saying this is impractical and using they/them can be misgendering. Your intention are very good through. This reminds me of the letter from a while ago where a person was going by gender natural pronouns at work as well as using them for everyone. A female coworker asked them to use she/her when referring to her and the LW didn’t want to arguing they were not misgendering her by using gender-neutral pronouns.

  89. I should really pick a name*

    I’m curious about the idea that using they/them can misgender someone.
    Isn’t the idea that them/them is non-gendered?

    It sounds like some people interpret they/them as specifically applying to some form of gender non-conformance, but I equate it to the French pronoun “on”.

    I’m curious how wide-spread different interpretations are.

    1. nnn*

      One specific scenario for how they/them can misgender someone:

      A trans woman comes out and starts using she/her pronouns publicly. A transphobe responds to this by repeatedly and deliberately calling her “they”.

        1. even more anon than usual*

          Yes, a lot of transphobes would do that, but there are definitely situations in which I’ve seen what nnn described play out – specifically, when a transphobic person is trying to pretend that they aren’t actually transphobic.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      Linguistically, they/them is used to denote someone whose gender you don’t know OR someone who is non-binary (which is not necessarily non-gendered) and therefore doesn’t use she/her or he/him. It’s only used like “on” in the first situation.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        used to denote someone whose gender you don’t know OR someone who is non-binary

        This is where I’m seeing some inconsistency. I’ve always interpreted as not indicating a gender, not specifically suggesting non-binary (while acknowledging that someone who’s non binary is more likely to use they/them)

    3. Beebee*

      “On” in French tends to refer more to “we” but only in specific contexts. It is not a gender neutral third person pronoun (or at least, is not the French equivalent of they/them).

      1. Jackie*

        Yeah, you could something similar in English but it wouldn’t solve the problem. Like always use the passive voice – instead of “would she like some coffee” you could say “would coffee be wanted’. But it sounds ridiculous.

  90. Kathy (she/her)*

    Youre saying that what you really want to avoid here is femme presenting people asking to be called she/her, because it celebrates the binary rather than affirming diversity?

    I feel like you are creating a workplace that is not inclusive and would alienate many of your employees. You’re saying that cisgender women’s pronouns make you uncomfortable and you’d rather not hear them, so much so that you’d misgender them by calling them “they” instead. I would be really uncomfortable working for someone who had such bias.

  91. E*

    Perspective from someone female presenting: I hate being called they. My pronouns are she/her which is just as valid as someone’s pronouns being they/them. If I worked someone where that tried to force people to call me they/them I would correct them every single time because it’s not fair that my pronouns are ignored either. Let people choose their own pronouns, I think making a blanket pronoun for everyone is problematic as well.

  92. Resident Enby*

    They/them is generally fine if you don’t know someone’s pronouns, but once you do, it’s respectful to stop using they/them unless those are the actual pronouns of the person. Forcing they/them on everyone regardless of individual stated identity would be highly inappropriate.

    Slight tangent containing an exercise I’d recommend to others: I’m both nonbinary and also trying to scrub third-person pronouns out of my vocabulary as much as possible, unless I know what a specific person’s pronoun requirements are (gender is not a “preference!” It’s who you are.) It’s actually not as difficult as you’d think! The hardest part is breaking old habits. It’s actually pretty fun to rewrite sentences so they don’t include unnecessary pronouns. If something sounds awkward in my head without pronouns, it’s usually only because I’m not used to thinking of it that way, but not grammatically incorrect. It’s important to keep in mind that things don’t get normalized if you don’t use them regularly.

    I write a lot of fic, and I have an enby character who goes by no pronouns at all. So I use the character’s name in writing more than I normally would, and sometimes have to gently rework a sentence. It’s great for reminding me to think outside the gender box that even we enbies find ourselves stuck in sometimes.

    Here are some recent writing samples where I had to change my thinking to excise the pronouns.
    Original sentence in my head #1:
    [Enby Character] faced off against [Other Character] with their feet braced against shifting sands.

    Final sentence #1:
    [Enby Character] faced off against [Other Character], feet braced against shifting sands.

    Original sentence in my head #2:
    [Enby Char] drew their hand back just before the door slammed.

    Final sentence #2:
    [Enby Char] drew the hand back just before the door slammed.

    Original sentence in my head #3:
    It took far too long before [Enby Char] gave in and dropped into their chair.

    Final sentence #3:
    It took far too long before [Enby Char] gave in and dropped into [Enby Char’s] chair.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I appreciate your examples, and demonstration of how rewriting can help us to rewire thinking processes around this. Rewriting like this has also served to help me remember that it isn’t necessary for a person to own a thing in many sentences, though we default to that assumption by using possessive pronouns far more than necessary (e.g. Final Sentence 3 would have made as much sense as “gave in and dropped into [a/the] chair.”)

      1. Resident Enby*

        Exactly! So much of how we use language revolves around habit, and it’s been valuable to me to shake up those old habits and ask myself, “Why DO we say X like this, and not like that, when both work just fine?”

        (If more context helps, repeating the character’s name in the final example made the sentence flow better–at least for me–because of how I’d set up the sentence before it, but I didn’t include that one here. And sometimes I’ll do the name-repetition purely to show that names are acceptable in place of pronouns, and that it stops coming off as awkward writing once you get used to seeing it in such a way. Some other languages do names rather than pronouns…and English is nothing if not a thief of other languages, haha.)

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I read the novel Outlawed by Anna North and I was about halfway through when I realized there were no pronouns for the enby character. It helps that the character’s name is short, but I did appreciate all of the artful sentence construction because the lack of pronouns did not feel awkward at all.

      1. Resident Enby*

        I’m going to have to read this now. I couldn’t find anyone besides me who just straight-up didn’t use pronouns for some enby characters, and now I feel seen.

        I was about halfway through when I realized there were no pronouns for the enby character.

        This is a great thing to mention! A lot of awful people are making a huge deal out of how nonbinary pronouns are destroying language, but literally no one who reads my stuff has ever mentioned being aware of the lack of pronouns for my enby chars until I bring it up. Then the response is, “I totally didn’t catch that!” And that’s how it should work. It can and should flow and feel as natural as pronoun-reliant writing.

  93. anone*

    Yeah, as a they/them person who is also firmly on the side of “don’t make people share their pronouns by default”, I’m also a “no” on this. There are some languages (Finnish, I think is one?) where the equivalent of “they/them” IS the language default in that cultural/linguistic context and I think that’s different, because it’s understood that way. While English could eventually evolve in that direction over time, trying to institute that as an abrupt shift would not feel inclusive for enough people and it would defeat your intentions.

    Of course, it’s already a linguistic convention in English (and always has been) to use “they/them” when you genuinely have no idea who you are referring to (“oh no, someone left their hat on the bus! I hope they get it back”), but pushing that into the realm of an explicit rule “you will be THEY’D unless otherwise identified!” is going to feel too authoritarian over people’s identities. You are better off with more flexible principles that get at the heart of what you want (people’s identities to be respected), like, “Be aware that people’s pronouns are not always obvious and pay attention to the guidance they give you about what pronouns to use”, generally provide access to information about the complexity of gender and the different kinds of experiences people can have, and be vigilant about people who are being shitty about other people’s gender or pronouns and intervene with them directly as needed.

    There just is no simple, “one size fits all” solution to this. There’s a fundamental mismatch between our language conventions and many people’s lived experiences and there’s going to be a baseline-level requirement for awkwardness, grace, and creativity while we sort it out, context by context.

  94. Cheese Mom*

    There are a lot of clear comments about why this may be a problem. I do see the appeal, though! It might be helpful to try to default to referring to people by their names as much as possible, which is benefical overall for clearer communication in groups as well as avoids most misgendering assumptions.

  95. Applesauced*

    This seems like it will draw MORE attention to people stating their pronouns, making it worse for people who don’t want to / are unsure.

    Am I missing something?

    1. RagingADHD*

      You are not missing anything. This speech is not going to solve the stated problem, just make it worse.

      I suspect that’s because the stated problem (other people’s hypothetical discomfort) is not the real problem LW is trying to solve. I think LW’s own discomfort with pronouns is magnifying the issue and obscuring some relatively simple solutions.

  96. ferrina*

    This feels deeply cultural. I grew up in a very liberal city where this would be okay. Asking for preferred pronouns is common practice, wouldn’t distract from a meeting, and presumably most of the meetings you are in, you’d be familiar with folks enough to know most people’s pronouns (and be able to pick up on some people’s pronouns from others who are more familiar with them). It’s also a pretty safe city to be out about your identity, so sharing your preferred pronouns has almost no professional risk. In this scenario, the they/them default could be just fine and even respectful (assuming that you immediately switch to preferred pronouns once you are aware of them- no “but it wasn’t 100% proven beyond a reasonable doubt”, if someone who knows a person uses a specific pronoun, you use it too)

    But I currently live in a more conservative city. Asking for preferred pronouns in most meetings would be distracting. It would instantly derail the conversation into a primer on gender identities, and would quickly alienate people who weren’t prepared for that type of conversation (I really just wanted to talk about TPS reports!!). It can also be dangerous to share your pronouns- some folks are safe to share with, some will mean well but will ask prying questions so they can “understand” or will make assumptions that would lead to less professional opportunities (Oh, I’m sure they’d feel uncomfortable doing this project with MakeUp Brand, so let’s not assign this to them), and some people are just plain discriminatory. In that case it would be more respectful to default to binary (or ask in 1:1 settings- I’ve done this where I’ve publically defaulted to binary so as not to put someone on the spot in a potentially dangerous situation, then afterwards privately say “hey, I realized I defaulted to binary and I wanted to follow up to make sure i was using your correct pronouns. What pronouns would you like me to use?”)

    In the end, no matter what you do there will be the chance of misgendering. Part of it will be a numbers game. Make an educated guess, continue educating yourself and refining your strategies, and go forward with compassion.

  97. long-winded nb person*

    As someone who *does* go by they/them, I think I might at first feel relief for me personally, because it would initially save me the awkwardness that sometimes comes with coming out with “nonstandard” pronouns, but… I don’t think even I’d actually feel all that good long-term.

    This is all me speaking just from my own experiences and observations of course, but:

    I think using “they” when you don’t know a stranger’s pronouns is fine, but… just forcing defaulting to it feels wrong. I think it would be better to foster an environment where either A) people are encouraged to ask pronouns when they meet a new person, regardless of how “obvious” you might think the new person’s gender might be, and/or B) people are encouraged to introduce themselves with name and pronouns – again, even the “obvious” ones. I think I’d feel much more comfortable in an environment where everyone – cis or trans – felt comfortable being up front with their pronouns. Starting with everyone being called “they” just feels like it’s forcing people to either awkwardly correct, or awkwardly confirm their pronouns, if that makes any sense? I think I would so much prefer a world where “Hello, nice to meet you, my name is John and I go by they/them.” is the norm.

    I’m not sure if this would work in all situations, but perhaps another option would be handing out those “hello my name is” badges, and having everyone write their name and pronouns on them? That might not be viable depending on how formal an event it is, or how exactly things are set up (I’m quite near-sighted, so I imagine I’d be squinting uselessly at people’s chests trying to read name badges if I weren’t fairly close to the person I was trying to address.)

    For online things, it’s already becoming more common to include pronouns in email signatures or in i.e. Discord display names, which is a nice way to have pronouns right there and clearly visible. I’ve never used Zoom myself, but it sounds like it works similarly?

    I got a bit wordy there, but I guess the tl;dr of my thoughts is: even though “they by default” seems like it would benefit me, I do think in the long-run, that I would feel infinitely more comfortable in an environment where sharing pronouns clearly was a normal, encouraged thing, instead of what… kind of feels like an afterthought, to me in this case? If you got this far, thanks for reading my ramble, and I’d love to hear others’ opinions on my thoughts, as I am just one single nonbinary person with just my own thoughts, and the world is a big place with lots to learn.

    1. Siege*

      The existing system doesn’t work for some people; the solution is not to break it for everyone else. Then you have the same problem, just affecting different people. But I don’t know what the solution should be; coming out repeatedly is onerous.

      (And yeah, zoom works well for displaying pronouns.)

  98. darcy*

    This is the default in my social circles (I’m trans and use they/them). If you don’t know someone’s pronouns you use they/them, and if you do know you use that. It’s no more misgendering than guessing she or he incorrectly, but I find cis people often find it uncomfortable because they’re used to having their pronouns guessed correctly. All the trans people I know who do use he or she pronouns would much prefer someone default to they and then use the correct pronouns when told, than for them to incorrectly guess at he/she (e.g. a trans woman who uses she/her will probably be less upset by someone who always uses they/them defaulting to that until told otherwise, than by someone incorrectly guessing at “he” which happens a lot to basically every trans woman I know).

    1. Olivia*

      “I find cis people often find it uncomfortable because they’re used to having their pronouns guessed correctly.”

      Yeah I think this is the second time I’ve seen a letter about using a non-binary or gender neutral pronoun for everyone, and both times I have been a little surprised at the sheer amount of protest from cis people who are adamant about not being misgendered in this way. It’s like some people are offended that a person *wouldn’t* assume they’re the gender they are, and idk, maybe there’s some queerphobia and/or misogyny that some people might want to unpack there. I think most cis people almost never misgendered–I’m a cis woman I don’t think it’s ever happened to me (although to be fair I am femme-presenting and short). I’m kind of baffled as to why a rare occurrence would be so distressing to people who are normally told by society that they are exactly as they are expected to be. I definitely get why it would be upsetting to a trans person who does not want to be called them, or to the small portion of cis people for whom it is not a rare occurrence. But for most cis people…well it kind of makes me think of how there are some people who if you incorrectly guessed that they were gay, they would just say no and go about their day…and then there are some people who would be downright offended. And the word for those people is homophobic. Some people act like it would be personally insulting if someone *didn’t* assume they’re the gender they were assigned at birth. And I think they should name (to themselves, not here) why exactly that is an insult. It’s like how the problem with “throws like a girl” isn’t that it’s insulting…it’s that the person who said it thinks it is.

  99. Temperance*

    Don’t do this. Because you’re very likely misgendering a whole bunch of people who you know are women and identify as such because you don’t like that femme-presenting people use she/her pronouns.

    I’m a cis woman and I always introduce myself with my pronouns because I a.) want to signal that I will pay attention and get it right for others, and b.) I am an ally and want to normalize pronoun sharing, so that folks who are trans or gender diverse will feel comfortable.

  100. Siege*

    I would quit.

    I’m a cis woman. I’m also 6’4” and have short hair. The number of times people call me “sir” is too many. The number of times people call me sir while I am wearing a dress, they’re eye-height to my breasts (which are not small!), and I am presenting as femme as possible is WAY too many. Because I am consistently misgendered in the non-work world, I have no patience for being misgendered by my employer, who apparently doesn’t care enough to fix the VERY BASIC structural problems that mean non-profits are largely staffed by people who identify as female.

    Is your workplace somewhere it is safe to be out at? Do you understand what a small subset of the population uses they/them pronouns? Is your workplace located in a region that it’s safe to be out in? You’re thinking of the person who didn’t know their pronouns; I’m thinking of the gay man who was forced to stay closeted for his own safety. We can find lots of letters that represent different safety issues.

    More importantly: do you pay a fair wage? Non-profits in my area are still paying the same $50k they paid ten years ago but the COL is median $80k now. Are you paying a wage where people who are not dependent on a high-wage-earner (typically male!) to survive, let alone thrive, can afford to work for you?

    Why would you assume misgendering your employees would solve the problem, when there are a lot of very common, very basic problems with non-profits that could solve your “problem”? But I have to admit, if you’re located in Vador, TX, I don’t think salary is the problem that will lead to a florescence of non-binary individuals in your office.

  101. mockingbird2081*

    I think you are coming from a good place LW and I understand the desire to make sure that people feel comfortable at work. But I am cis female who goes by she/her and I don’t want to go by they/them if possible, that doesn’t feel neutral to me, it feels like I can’t be me. I want people to be included and to be able to go by the pronouns of their choice but this feels like it may be painting the building when you only need to paint the wall. I do agree with Alison that approaching it this way would be difficult. It may cause a person to be quieter in a meeting than they want to be because they don’t want to get the pronouns wrong, especially if they don’t know everyone enough to call them by their name.

  102. Beebee*

    I think the push to default to gender inclusive language makes a lot of sense in certain situations. Reminding your employees not to assume gender based on appearance is great, as are things like removing male-focused language so they are more inclusive. Asking for pronouns, while it is tough for you personally, feels like a natural step towards inclusivity. If you aren’t sure of your pronouns or identity because you’re working through it, that’s very valid but the solution isn’t to remove everyone’s gender identity and give it back if they want it. And if your desire is not to hear a lot of people use she/her pronouns, well if you work with a lot of people who use those pronouns this isn’t going to solve that at all.

    Since your workplace seems to want to be inclusive and respectful, maybe there could be some form of LGBTQIA+ (or gender minority specific?) focused committee that works to ensure that gendered minorities feel comfortable. If it’s too small for that, maybe you could seek out nonbinary support groups online or in your area and talk to other people who have had similar experiences and see if they can help you? I feel like hearing from other NB people may help you figure out how to exist in a world that is very binary and could bring you at least some peace and solidarity!

    But you also have to remember… women are a gendered minority too. And wishing more of them were non-binary or viewing their gender as an attack on you is a little harmful and feels discriminatory. Even though your personal reasoning for it likely makes a lot of sense (like if you are non-binary but often identified as a woman and you wish there were other femme NB people too!) but the end effect seems to be that you want women in particular to not identify as such in the workplace. Women just existing isn’t an attack on nonbinary people or a celebration of being cis or binary… it’s just women existing. And women have a long history of being attacked for just existing.

    Keep in mind also that you may have trans employees for whom using they/them is just as incorrect as a cis person. These employees may really dislike being perceived as anything than their actual gender in a painful way that goes beyond what the cis employees would feel.

    For what it’s worth, I would say I am very solidly she/her but have considered using she/they. Ultimately I realized that didn’t work for me, but the way I figured that out was through support groups and LGBTQIA+ focused communities. Work wasn’t the venue to figure out my personal identity or talk about gender in this intimate of a way.

    I hope this is helpful and you find a solution that works for you and all your coworkers!

  103. HufferWare*

    The only way to know you are referring to someone correctly, whether it be pronouns or names or anything else, is to ask. Giving people a safe and respected space to say who they are so that everyone who is interacting can honor one another’s identity will best any blanket policy or one-size-fits-all decree. When you request something like this, you are taking away that space and creating obstacles. Instead of starting off the meeting knowing everyone’s preferred name and pronouns, everyone is just going to blunder through until they are (maybe?) corrected if they get it wrong. Which is easier: sharing your pronouns while everyone else is doing the same, or stop a meeting to correct a colleague (or superior!) on your pronouns?

  104. Echo*

    As a nonbinary person who isn’t 100% out, the constant, unrelenting focus on pronouns is a huge source of stress for me. Sitting through your proposed speech would make me feel awful. How about just one single, brief “if you’d like, you are welcome to add your pronouns to your Zoom name”?

  105. Alex (they/them)*

    I’m non-binary and use they/them. Please don’t do this! I would suggest saying something along the lines of “tell us your name and pronouns, if you’re comfortable with that.” and then don’t press people if they don’t specify. I’m personally not out at work, but this is the way I’d prefer someone ask me.

  106. whatever, just wash your hands*

    Our organization is considering name badges with our pronouns on them, which I think would be a good idea. If nothing else, modify your email signature to put your preferred pronouns. Starting in-person meetings with pronouns is well-meaning but there’s a high likelihood that it’ll derail your meeting.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      As long as your organization is comfortable reprinting those name badges if folk want to be addressed by a different pronoun. It’s not a decision you make once and are stuck with for forever; identity is an ongoing conversation with yourself and can change.

      And these sorts of things should always come with training and a deliberate attempt to shift the culture so you can get used to people sharing pronouns during introductions without it derailing anything.

  107. Canonical23*

    I am a trans nonbinary person that uses they/them pronouns and I *hate* when people default to they/them for a couple of reasons:

    – In my experience, when that’s your default, even when you know someone’s pronouns, you’ll use they/them pronouns half the time anyways. For a lot of my trans friends that use she/her or he/him, this is really invalidating. (And honestly, a lot of cis people feel invalidated by this and that’s a legitimate feeling for any person to have!)

    – It’s the “conflict-free” option for the speaker, meaning that the onus is on the misgendered person to correct them. Just ask someone their pronouns! If they don’t know or aren’t comfortable saying, then use they/them as a gender neutral option, but don’t do it as the default.

    – I know it’s the default in a lot of queer spaces to do this, but there’s a huge difference between a group of LGBTQ+ folks meeting together and forming community….and a workplace. Workplaces should be inclusive and respectful of everyone, but I’m not sure if using the unspoken rules of queer spaces is going to be that “one size fits all” approach that, in my opinion, doesn’t actually exist.

    Here are a few things I think the LW should think about:

    – You talk about people having an “onus to come out” by asking people their pronouns. There is no onus if the workspace is inclusive and welcoming. I know if I go to a meeting with certain people in my job, I can assume my pronouns will be used, and that if they aren’t, I can speak up and people will apologize and correct themselves. There’s only an onus if there are people who are making the space unwelcoming or uncomfortable.

    – Some trans/nonbinary folks (especially those still in the closet) aren’t going to come out and are going to feel uncomfortable no matter what. I had a conversation with one of my trans friends before I came out about how uncomfortable I felt during pronoun circles because “well, I shouldn’t have to say she/her, I don’t really like those pronouns, why do I have to announce it?” and they told me, very nicely, that 1) discomfort around pronouns might mean that I need to explore my gender identity and 2) saying your pronouns normalizes that everyone has them and that everyone’s should be respected. If that triggers something uncomfortable within you, that’s something *you* have to work out, not expect a group to stop using an inclusive practice because you haven’t figured something out about yourself.

    – Just encourage people to share their pronouns. Those who have strong feelings about theirs will make them known. I put it everywhere – on my business card, my security badge, in my office, on my Zoom name, in my email signature. There’s another nonbinary person at work that doesn’t do any of that, just corrects people who get it wrong.

    – Finally, I do DEI work at my job and I run into people with the LW’s perspective a lot – there has to be some way for no one to ever get misgendered, ever experience a microaggression, etc. etc. There unfortunately isn’t. The real approach is enabling a culture where people feel comfortable correcting their colleagues, where people know that they might make a mistake, and it’s their responsibility to fix that mistake and learn from it. That’s the harder option, because it means all of us are going to mess up and accidentally hurt someone. But I would much rather someone misgender me, be corrected by myself or a bystander, and that person learn from it and truly embrace and understand they/them pronouns, than feel like they have to follow some default HR policy “just because.”

    1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      ^upvoting Canonical 23’s comment.

      And I’ll add, re: “Some trans/nonbinary folks (especially those still in the closet) aren’t going to come out [about what their pronouns are] and are going to feel uncomfortable no matter what.” … that also, some people who are out and secure about their gender identity and the correct way to refer to them, will still feel uncomfortable about making a big deal about 3rd-person pronouns. Because for some of us, the correct pronouns are neopronouns and educating about them is often off-topic and a derail. For some of us gender identity is fluid on a short timescale and the correct pronoun changes frequently enough that explaining when to use which is off-topic/too longwinded/too personal for many occasions and relationships, but not-explaining contributes to other problems like lack of visibility/representation, so any choice is fraught and burdensome in a way it is not for people who have a simple relationship with pronouns. For some of us all the available options are equally good fits and all are acceptable; or, none of the available options are suitable and the best fit is to not use a third-person singular pronoun at all for that person (everyone doesn’t have them) but use the subject’s name or restructure the sentence so a pronoun isn’t needed.

      It is not possible for a standardized policy to accommodate every situation perfectly and never make anyone uncomfortable ever, or disproportionately impact someone who’s already marginalized. But creating a culture of flexibility over rigidity, openness to acknowledging errors, learning and repairing, though harder, will go farther toward making better outcomes for everyone, and not just about pronouns or gender representation either.

    2. Xanna*

      “The real approach is enabling a culture where people feel comfortable correcting their colleagues, where people know that they might make a mistake, and it’s their responsibility to fix that mistake and learn from it. That’s the harder option, because it means all of us are going to mess up and accidentally hurt someone.”

      Absolutely perfect – thank you so much for sharing this here.

  108. Susie*

    People should be able to opt in to provide pronouns, but this should never be required. When in doubt, use someone’s name. It’s really not as hard and giving every single person a they/them pronoun. The easiest fix is to just call people by their name!

  109. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I understand where the LW is coming from, and on the surface, it seems like it would be an easy thing. We often already use they/them pronouns when we don’t have any context. (For example: “Hey boss a Dana Johnson called about price information.” “Oh. Did they say what company they are with?”).

    I work where we often see students and when talking with my coworkers I often use they/them because I do not know their pronouns off the top of my head.

    However, having a big script before a meeting seems unnecessary. I think the best way is to 1. not force people to give pronouns and 2. allow people to say their pronouns. We often have new people we meet at the beginning of the academic year. Jobs change, new graduate assistants, etc. So when we have team meetings we usually do something like this.

    Hi welcome. My name is Cat, and my pronouns are she/hers. Why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves. Feel free to include your pronouns if you like.