Pronoun Privilege

When we go around the room in class, students visibly react when they hear that someone they thought looked male goes by female pronouns or vice versa

At some colleges and universities, it’s common for students to introduce themselves, whether in class or in student group meetings, by name, followed by a string of pronouns. “I’m Lizzie; she/her/hers,” for example.

 

My fall classes started recently, and I had to face the pronoun question. It’s simple for me: My appearance matches my preferred pronoun, so I don’t worry about anyone misstating it. But some of my students are transgender or gender nonconforming, and they want to announce how others should refer to them. Or do they?

At some colleges and universities, it’s common for students to introduce themselves, whether in class or in student group meetings, by name, followed by a string of pronouns. “I’m Lizzie; she/her/hers,” for example. I find the exercise discomfiting, but not because I don’t want to know the students’ pronouns. It’s because this ice-breaking ritual, in my experience, is easy only for those for whom the answer is obvious. It can “out” or isolate others, particularly those who are still considering their gender or who have just begun to transition.

When we go around the room in class, students visibly react when they hear that someone they thought looked male goes by female pronouns or vice versa. This happened in my class a few years back. All eyes fell upon this person as if to ask, “If you identify as female, why don’t you try to look the part?” My heart went out to this student, who later told me that she was just beginning to think about her transition and hadn’t yet started to publicly change anything about herself, other than her name. She looked like any other guy in the class, except she had adopted a traditionally female name and used female pronouns on this day when asked.

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