Preferred Pronouns Reduce Confusion and Provide Support in the Classroom

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The university where I work uses a "learning management system" for online classes. It recently rolled out a new feature where anyone in a class can add their preferred pronouns. Like every other new feature, there was no announcement. It appeared one day with no explanation.

To be clear, nobody has to add their pronouns. They aren't even asked to do so but have the option of doing so. It wouldn't surprise me if this new feature ended up being controversial anyway. Why? The options include "he/him," "she/her," and "they/them." Those who prefer the newer "words" will object that they are missing. I predict the list of options will grow over time. Second, some may claim that anyone who does not add their preferred pronouns is a bigot. I hope this seems far-fetched, but I have seen this claim circulating on Twitter for some time. If it gains traction, people may feel pressured to comply. Third, some conservatives will be outraged because...well...I'm not sure, but it seems like a good bet.

My take on this whole thing is simple. Adding one's preferred pronouns is voluntary and ought to remain that way. It is nice for the option to be there for those who'd like to use it. My guess is that we will see more options added in the future, and that's okay. As for condemning those who choose not to add their preferred pronouns, I disagree with that.

Suppose there are two transgender students in a large online class. Both add their preferred pronouns. It makes sense for them to do so because their names and/or photos may be inconsistent with their gender identity. By adding their preferred pronouns, they reduce confusion. But if they are the only ones in the class using that option, they are calling attention to themselves. If several cisgender students add their preferred pronouns, this becomes less of a problem. The light shining on the transgender students is less bright. Think of this as a subtle expression of support for transgender students. If cisgender students want to add their pronouns, more power to them. I added mine for this reason.

I do not agree with pressuring anyone to add their pronouns. I chose to add mine as a subtle expression of support. I won't go along with the suggestion that those who do not make the same choice are unsupportive. I do not expect others to make the same choices I do. I recognize that they are sentient beings with their own values who need to make their own choices.

I hope the addition of pronouns in this system will make misgendering less likely. If it does so, that would be a win. For those who are not quick to outrage at the mere mention of gender identity, misgendering is a mistake we'd like to avoid. Making these options available could make it harder for us to make those mistakes.