What Are *Your* Preferred Pronouns?

Hi, I’m Robert. Not Rob. Not Bob.

Calling me by my name has been important to me since I was four years old. I told my preschool teachers that my name was Robert.

Why is that important to me? Because I am the one who gets to decide what I’m called. My name is a part of who I am. In my mind, it stands for something. I engage the world as Robert, not Bob and definitely not Bobbie.

I get to set those terms.

Fifty years after graduating from preschool, I have another way I want to be known. My pronouns are he/him/his.

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This may be a new idea for you. If so, please feel free to read some more background on the subject here.

No, I am not changing my gender. Yes, I was born and still identify as a cis-gender male.

It was two figures from the world of sports have inspired and informed my thinking on these issues: Coach Muffet McGraw and Ryan Russell

So why does someone like me make the choice to share my preferred pronouns?

Men like me occupy most positions of political and economic power. They get to decide who gets opportunities and they get to dictate the terms of how we live our lives. That doesn’t work for me, especially when toxic versions masculinity flare up and hurt people that I love. I am happy to see some changes on the horizon.

We need more voices to join the chorus.

Interestingly, it was two figures from the world of sports that have inspired and informed my thinking on these issues:

The first is Muffet McGraw, coach of the University of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team. As Coach McGraw recently pointed out:

“When you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them. And that’s the problem.”  

The second, is NFL player, Ryan Russell, who also recently made a ground-breaking statement:

“I’m a talented football player, a damn good writer, a loving son, an overbearing brother, a caring friend, a loyal lover, and a bisexual man.”

As I wrote here, I expect Russell’s announcement to resonate beyond the game of football, in corporate boardrooms and in our schools.

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I don’t need to share my pronouns. I have the privilege of my pronouns being consistent with how most people perceive me. I can do nothing…but then nothing will change.

Cis-gender people like me can use our privilege to create a welcoming space for those that challenge gender norms. If someone in my position of privilege does nothing, we allow the current system to continue. On the other hand, by supporting those who push against the borders of the current system, we can support the people on the front lines who dare to expand the current system.

I don’t need to share my pronouns. I have the privilege of my pronouns being consistent with how most people perceive me. I can do nothing…but then nothing will change. Cis-gender people like me can use our privilege to create a welcoming space for those that challenge gender norms.

Transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary/non-conforming people are doing more than telling us how they would like to be addressed. They expand the range of possible ways that others can live.

Here’s an example of these expanded possibilities from politics:

The other day I watched two newly elected politicians interviewed on the morning news. They emanated a vibe of “I belong here.” They each earned victories in districts where no one of their party and ethnic background had ever won an election before.

I was inspired by their poise under pressure. It made me appreciate how different the world would look right now if America had not elected (and re-elected) Barack Obama.

Consider the political trend across the globe, where homophobic, misogynistic, and racist groups that previously stayed underground have come out of hiding. In America, the incidence of hate crimes grows, including violence and murder. Within less than 12 months, we have seen the deadliest mass shooting targeting Jews (Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) and the deadliest mass shooting targeting Latinos (El Paso, Texas) in our country’s history. The result? Fear grows.

In the same way that hate and fear can grow, we each have the power to expand hope and courage.

I don’t know what inspired those two representatives to run for office. I don’t know what supports were available. I certainly don’t know if either took the lead from a young, African-American Senator from Illinois who chose to run for the highest office in the land.

In the same way that hate and fear can grow, we each have the power to expand hope and courage.

But I do know that Obama expanded what we thought was possible. He was a pioneer. Standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Shirley Chisholm and Martin Luther King, Jr., Obama’s success stretched the range of what we all believed we could aspire to. Not just people of color. All of us.

This is why it is important to me to share my preferred pronouns.

On a local level, trans, genderqueer, and non-binary people expand our understanding of what gender means. I support their efforts because they are pioneers.

Telling the world that my pronouns are he/him invites others to do the same, and it gives a signal that I understand that gender is not a binary choice for everyone. Sharing my pronouns is my statement of intent that we ALL get to set our own terms.

So, how about you? What are your pronouns?

Photo Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons/Bloco

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