Debi Linton (LGBT+ Staff Network representative on the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group), Nozomi Tolworthy (Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) Diversity Officer), and Parveen Yaqoob (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, and University Executive Board (UEB) LGBT+ Champion)
Members of the University’s LGBT+ Action Plan Group have been working with the Diversity Officer 2018/19 at Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU) this academic year to launch pronoun badges to the university community of both students and staff. These pronoun badges aim to create positive cultural change across our campuses.
In this blog we explain why we want to introduce pronoun badges, and what they are for. We end the blog with a brief glossary of some of the terms we use.
The badges are available from RUSU Reception, and very soon from receptions across the University, in They/Them, He/Him, She/Her versions, plus a version that you can complete as you wish.
What are pronoun badges and why are people wearing them?
Pronoun badges are exactly what they sound like: badges that inform people you are talking to the correct third-person pronouns to use when referring to you. For example “the correct person to contact about this is [xxx], here are her contact details” or “this person is looking for the library, can you show them the way?”
The most common pronoun when talking about people are he/him, she/her, and the singular they/them, but many people use another pronoun altogether. This is why the RUSU & University’s badges include an option with a white space for people to write in their own with a permanent marker.
Why does using the correct pronoun matter?
For many people it seems that the right pronoun should be obvious: if someone is clearly presenting as male, for example, you may default to using “him.” However, for many people it’s not always obvious; where people use gender-neutral pronouns, or when trans people don’t look or sound exactly how we expect a man or woman to do. This also applies to cis people who don’t fit into expectations for their gender, even if it’s the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
Pronouns are such a common part of our language that it’s common and understandable to not even think about using them. However, each usage carries an assumption about the person’s gender identity and can reinforce that assumption to anyone listening. When you are frequently misgendered, the effort of correcting every incorrect usage can be tiring. The practice of using pronoun badges normalises the idea that gender shouldn’t have to be assumed, and recognises that diverse identities and expressions are welcome in our University.
Some examples of pronoun usage
- She wrote her group’s project submission by herself.
- He may not have written his thesis entirely by himself.
- They ordered business cards for everyone in their school but forgot theirself.
- Ze has offered to help hir school on Open Day but doesn’t want to do it by hirself.
Do I have to wear a pronoun badge?
Pronoun badges are completely optional. However, by wearing one, even if your pronouns are rarely or never used incorrectly, you are sending a message to colleagues, visitors and students that you recognise the validity of pronouns other than what is immediately obvious.
What if I make a mistake?
Mistakes happen all the time! If you use an incorrect pronoun and are corrected or later realise you were wrong, then you can treat it like any other error: apologise and correct yourself. You don’t have to draw attention to yourself or to the other person by drawing out the apology.
If someone uses the wrong pronoun for a colleague, you can also gently correct them at the time, for example, “actually, I think Alex uses ze” or later in a private conversation where appropriate.
What should I do if I don’t know the right pronoun or I’m being hypothetical?
If you don’t know which pronoun to use, but you don’t want to assume, then you can get used to checking politely when it’s relevant; for example, “can you remind me of your pronouns?”, before introducing a speaker.
If it’s not appropriate or possible to ask, then “they/them” is a useful neutral pronoun. You probably already use it when talking about people you haven’t met, for example, “your personal tutor is there if you need them”.
What are some other ways I can show my support for gender diverse colleagues and students?
Try to spot times in your language where you are making assumptions about gender. For example, rather than using “he or she” when talking about a hypothetical situation, substitute “they.”
When leading group discussions or meetings with people who don’t already know each other, you can also normalise the practise of sharing pronouns by including them in introductions. For example, “My name is Chris, I work in SAGES and my pronouns are he/him.”
When creating forms or collecting personal information, include gender-neutral options. For example, when asking for personal titles such as “Dr/Mr/Ms,” think about including “Mx” (pronounced “Mix”) [this option is available, for example, when you complete the standard online University of Reading job application forms] and if asking for gender is relevant, include an “other” option.
You may also want to consider putting your pronouns in your email signature, after your name.
If you would like to learn more, you might like to sign up for the Trans Awareness Training coming up on 16 May (see the Diversity and Inclusion Events page for more details and how to book), and there is further “Trans and Gender Identity” guidance available on our diversity and inclusion policies and procedures page.
Glossary of terms
AFAB / AMAB
“Assigned female at birth” / “assigned male at birth” relates to the sex a person is assigned when they are born. This is independent of a person’s lived gender identity.
Cisgender or Cis
Someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. Non-trans is also used by some people.
The assumption that being cisgender is the norm, often resulting in discrimination towards and erasure of trans people.
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and others’. The ‘+’ is inclusive of other groups such as asexual, non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex etc.
Mx (Pronounced ‘mix’)
This is a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.
Term used for people with gender identities other than male or female, thus outside the gender binary. Those who identify as nonbinary may think of themselves as both men and women (bigender, pangender), may identify as neither male nor female (genderless, agender), may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes (genderqueer), or may simply feel restricted by gender labels.
Assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions. Sometimes the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are interchanged to mean ‘male’ or ‘female’.
An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.