As we approach the beginning of a new semester, I want to talk a bit about including pronoun introductions during the first day of class. Note that this post is intended for (primarily) cis instructors who already want to create an inclusive atmosphere for their trans students. I’m not going to argue here for why being inclusive is important.
For those who are unfamiliar, the idea of pronoun introductions is to have people state the pronoun by which you should refer to them along with their name or other introductory material. More and more instructors, as far as I can tell, are either including this in the first-day-of-class go-around-and-introduce-yourself instructions or thinking about doing so.
The idea here is good, but there are some common ways that pronoun introductions, which are intended to foster trans inclusion in the classroom, can actually hinder it.
The first is when the instructor does not, themself, participate in the pronoun introduction. I can understand why a trans instructor may prefer not to (I have refrained from doing so in the past for various reasons), but it is important, particularly for cis instructors, to model pronoun introductions as something cisgender people need to participate in as well. Because the idea that trans people need to state their pronouns while cis people do not can make trans people feel singled out, hypervisibile, and uncomfortable when that is the opposite of what is intended!
The second is when the instructor fails to talk about why they are asking for pronouns along with the other, more usual, information. Not all students come to class familiar with the idea of pronoun introductions, and (as in the point above) it is important to make sure that cis students especially understand why (1) this is a thing they are doing, and (2) that this isn’t just for trans students.
The third is when instructors require that every student state a pronoun. When a closeted trans student is forced to participate in pronoun introductions, they are essentially being forced to either out themselves or become complicit in others’ misgendering of them. This may seem to contradict my point above, and there’s no perfect solution: if you don’t require that students state a pronoun, lots of cis students will skip it under the assumption that people will just intuit the correct pronoun, while if you do require that students state a pronoun, some trans students will be faced with choosing between two painful options.
The way I choose to approach this is by saying something like the following:
After stating your name, please feel free to also state the pronoun by which you should be referred. For example, my name is Ada and you should refer to me as “she/her/etc.” I understand that, for many different reasons, students both cis and trans may not want to explicitly state pronouns in this manner. I will do my best to avoid using gendered language to refer to any student who chooses not to participate and ask that other students do the same. If at any point during the semester you want to change the pronouns by which you are referred, feel free to do so. If you get misgendered or notice someone else getting misgendered, please feel free to correct that either in the moment or whenever/however you are most comfortable doing so.