Eagle-eyed emailers have likely noticed something new in some email signatures: pronouns.
Now, along with the sender's name, title, company, phone number, and address, you may find a set of preferred gender pronouns. These are sometimes called personal gender pronouns, gender pronouns, or, more simply, just pronouns. But they're all words to describe a person when you talk about them.
Typically, those identifying as male will use "he/him/his"; those identifying as female will use "she/her/hers"; and some transgender people, gender non-comforming people, and others use the gender-neutral "they/them/theirs." However, there are more sets of gender-neutral pronouns out there.
- Lambda Legal
- Kayla Gore speaks at a news conference in April.
Mary Jo Karimnia, residency manager at Crosstown Arts, added "she/her/hers" to her email signature over the summer but wished she'd done it sooner. She said preferred personal pronouns "in reality are not 'preferred' pronouns, just pronouns."
"As the residency manager for Crosstown Arts, part of my job is to welcome the entire community to the residency program," Karimnia said. "Although my she/her pronouns are somewhat predictable, this signals that I am accepting of other people's pronoun choices."
Pronouns in email signatures (and other spots in the workplace) caught on early among Memphis health care providers, said Molly Quinn, executive director of OUTMemphis. But they are now popping up in signatures of other businesses "that may or may not have anything to do with gender identity, or sexual orientation, or health."
Quinn's pronouns — "she/her/hers" — were displayed on her work name tag during an event recently. She said part of the work of OUTMemphis is to serve the transgender community here, "to make the entire world a comfortable place for people who are trans."
"In the past five years, and certainly in the past 15 years, the visibility, the legal advocacy, the political narrative, and the services that are available to our trans community have expanded nationally in every way," Quinn said. "Regardless of your gender expression, we really believe that gender expression and gender identity should be the choice of each individual."
Back at Crosstown, Karimnia said being upfront about pronouns is "a good way to let people know in advance that we are a queer-friendly place."
"We also ask for pronouns on our [residency] application," Karimnia said. "We make a point of introducing ourselves at our first dinner meeting with residents using pronouns.
"This creates space for people who use pronouns besides she/her or he/him without singling them out. It can also be an educational tool for those who aren't yet used to this convention."
Gender expression goes deeper than words. It gets to basic dignity.
In April, Memphian Kayla Gore filed suit against the state of Tennessee to challenge a law prohibiting transgender and gender non-comforting people from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.
"I have been a woman my entire life," Gore said at the time. "However, the state of Tennessee refuses to recognize my identity and forces me to carry incorrect identity documents."