Southern Tier Voices with Hannah Jones
Everyone Asks Me to Talk About Pronouns
We wish identity wasn’t a label
We crave labels to let us go
To find purpose outside of a construct
But to label ourselves
Empowers the soul
Empowers the identity
And changes our world.
It is important to start off by explaining that I am not upset by this question, rather I hope to empower folks to do more research for their journey as an ally.
It is important to start off by saying that if you have not thought about, had to define, or do not understand pronouns, there is a privileged part to your identity.
It is important to start off by knowing LGBTQIA+ as separate identities.
I wish to invite you into this conversation.
For those of you who are fellow LGBTQIA+ folks, please know that I am not all of us. I am not every identity. I am a cis-gendered queer white woman. Therefore, I only wish to help others with the conversation, not speak for us all.
Talking about sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender is critical for our society to re-define and empower ourselves out of traditionally homophobic, transphobic, sexist, etc. ways that proceed us all and continue to be in our day-to-day conversations. In my life, I am constantly asked, “what’s the deal with pronouns?” So let’s start here.
I am here to tell you that the importance of pronouns can change someone’s life. Using someone’s right pronouns or not using their wrong ones, can be the first time someone has ever been seen, heard, respected. It can, quite literally, save a life.
So how do we remember pronouns? How do we not mess up? How do we not create an embarrassing moment? We are asking the wrong questions. I want you to try and take a step back and realize that these questions are about your own embarrassment, your own discomfort, and that is the first step to moving past it. What we should be asking is,
How can I re-write what I have learned to be a better ally? Here’s a start!
Know how to say LGBTQIA+ and do some research on what each term is!
Don’t ask your queer friend to do the research for you. It is important that we remember it is not the job of marginalized folks to teach you about their oppression. Rather, we have the internet at our fingertips and we can do research BEFORE having the conversations with our friends.
Open a conversation with LGBTQIA+ folks in your life is okay, but do not do it out of fear or expectation that they are your teacher. Rather, do it with your previous research knowledge and make sure to ask if they are in the right mindset and have energy for this type of conversation first.
We can’t always ask someone about their pronouns if we aren’t asking everyone in the room. So either, ask everyone in the room -- make it part of intros if it’s a meeting! Or use they/them as a default. We know that this goes against your grade school English class but, did we ever learn about marginalized folks in grade school? Time to change it.
Mess up! And say 'Oops, I’m sorry.' Then move on and make it a point to learn their pronouns. We all mess up. We are human. But not everyone is able to say sorry and change behavior, but you can!
Don’t assume gender. We, also, all do this, we are trained to so, don’t get down on yourself. Rather, take the time to make your language non-binary (they/them) so that we aren’t assuming gender (even to a stranger).
This is just the beginning of some helpful hints. Overall, it’s okay to be new to this and it is okay to mess up. But we all have to do the work, and continue to do the work, for all identities. Not everyone in the LGBTQIA+ world is the same. We are not all one identity and we are humans who struggle due to homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, etc. so by taking some extra time to learn our pronouns, you may change our day, or even just make us feel welcome.
About the Author:
Hannah Jones has a background in youth development, sexuality, and social justice education. She has been a social speech writer and facilitator, youth worker and a sex educator. As a professional educator, Hannah has traveled throughout the United States and Canada teaching diversity, training professionals as well as building curriculums for schools and nonprofits. Currently, she is a Sociology professor at SUNY Corning Community College.
With a Masters in Social Justice and Education, and a working PhD in Social Justice Education, Hannah has been able to combine her professional and educational skills with her passion for the LGBTQ+ community. Being part of the community herself, she strives to make Corning and the surrounding areas a more inclusive and supportive home for all youth.