Gender and Pronouns

Self-determination, bodily autonomy, and the use of respectful and validating language are best practices for the classroom.

Background

Today’s students, faculty, and staff represent a diverse array of perspectives, experiences, social locations, and identities, including gender diversity. More people use non-binary gender pronouns than ever before (information on non-binary pronouns in French), and Trans people represent a diverse group of people whose needs and interests cannot be universalized or generalized. One of the easiest ways to build respectful and inclusive approaches into your teaching is to consider how gender pronoun use shapes the lives of the people in your classroom. As teachers, our role in modelling techniques for respectful interaction in class can help students navigate respectful and inclusive participation as well. Below are some guidelines on better and best practices for pronoun use both inside and outside the classroom, and some resources on debates about the use of the “pronoun go around” activity in the classroom.

Navigating gender on campus requires a context-specific approach since there may be times and spaces where people choose to use certain names and pronouns (e.g. someone may use different pronouns in class than they do when they’re at work). Further, being “outed” or publicly identified or singled out as trans or non-binary without a person’s consent is a form of gender-based violence. The larger political context of anti-gender rhetoric has also meant that hostile or invalidating environments for gender-diverse people can make attempts at inclusion fall short. For instance, efforts to be inclusive towards trans people can inadvertently single them out, as some of the examples we discuss below illustrate. Added to these dynamics are the delays that occur through administrative channels to update names and gender markers on student files and government IDs and the challenge of communicating new names and pronouns to peers and faculty. While techniques for fostering respectful pronoun use are varied, it is best to follow a person-centred approach to gender pronouns by making space for people to direct how they want to be identified rather than insisting on specific forms, types, or styles of identification.

You should invite people to share pronouns in a group setting — you should just make it clear that sharing pronouns is optional and, if you are in a leader or facilitator position in the group, explicitly share your own pronouns if you are comfortable doing so.

Oliver L. Haimson and Lee Airton

While students at many institutions can officially change their name listed on class rosters, these changes can take time to come into effect and may be limited to students who elect to change their records. Students may choose to use certain names or pronouns in only some settings (e.g. in a gender and sexuality studies class but not in their other courses) for many reasons, including safety. Some students may proactively self-disclose this to their professors, but others may not. Faculty cannot assume that the names listed on the class roster reflect student name and pronoun use.

It is useful to consider that pronoun choice, gender expression (how a person presents their gender), and gender identity (how a person identifies their gender) are connected but not causal relationships. This means that pronoun choice cannot be assumed through gender expression. At the same time, pronoun use may not signal any relationship to gender identity or expression (i.e. some people may not have strong correlations between pronoun use and their identity).

Regardless, if you are new to gender pronouns and identities beyond the dominant social division of male-female or woman-man, we recommend reading further from the Resources section below and seeking out a copy of Lee Airton’s book, Gender: Your Guide (2019).


Self-Assessment Quiz

Want to test your familiarity with this section’s content?

The following self-assessment quiz (available below) offers scenarios to help you test your knowledge and identify how best to use and engage with the material introduced in this section:

 

Self-Assessment

Self-assessment questions for this section are available in the Appendix.

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Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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