Steve, he, him

So, the most recent Smarter Living email from the NYT really summed up for me what I don’t like about gender pronouns in signatures:

Don’t use a stock signature
We have different relationships with different people, so why should the end of your email be the same for everyone? “Your signature block for work runs the risk of seeming a little clunky if you’re writing your kids or an old friend,” Mr. Shipley said…

“Skip the extraneous stuff,” Mr. Shipley said. “Quotations are generally all downside and no upside — unless you’re Mark Twain or George Orwell or Lydia Davis.”

“Trying to fill a signature with bursts of personality can be tiring. That you’re a Bengals fan, or ‘Rock on, Hanson!’ is maybe too much information,” Mr. Schwalbe said. Inside jokes can be alienating; there’s also the risk of burying important information in an avalanche of the unimportant.

These extras also tend to be more about you than the person you’re writing to, and that’s some of the problem. Stick with a couple of links and some kind of contact information. Keep it simple. [emphasis mine] Don’t use wacky fonts.

Okay, all seemingly good advice.  I like it.  Yet, in that same email, we get this:

Include relevant pronouns, too: “You’re doing them the favor of letting them know what it is, and it makes life easier.”

Does it though?!  I’m Steven.  There’s every reason to assume I am he/him unless I say otherwise.  And, you know what, if was Terry or Riley it still doesn’t matter.  Why do you need my gender pronouns when I’m sending you an email.  Are you going to refer to me in the 3rd person in your response?  Now, if your’re transgender, I totally get it and would not begrudge this at all.  But if you are cisgender Tim or cisgender Molly, what are you really saying when you include your pronouns?  I know… you are saying, essentially, “I am a trans ally.”  You know what, I am a trans ally.  But damn if I think that is one of the most important things about myself that it needs to be included in my “keep it simple” signature.  No offense to my trans friends (and, yes, I actually do have a couple), but if I’m going to have a single political statement in my signature, it’s going to be “Donald Trump and his Republican enablers are undermining the rule of law” or “we are heating our planet and we actually need to treat it like the crisis it is” or “everybody needs affordable health care, damnit” or “we need to treat refugees and immigrants with respect and humanity.”  You get the picture.

So, go ahead with your he/him she/hers in your signature, but I’ll stick with my basic info and leave the politics out.

Steven Greene
Department of Political Science
North Carolina State University

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

6 Responses to Steve, he, him

  1. Nicole K. says:

    As I am sure you are aware, I am transgender, and I can’t stand the gender pronoun fixation either. For a cisgender person it is 100% virtue signalling, and I hate virtue signalling. It reminds me of this part of the Sermon on the Mount whenever I see it:

    “And take care not to practice your righteousness before people to be seen by them; {otherwise} you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

    Second,even though I am trans, my name is Nicole; the correct pronouns are implied pretty clearly by the name. And if you accidentally use the wrong ones it is not a big deal, and there is no need to apologize like I am going to shatter. The only time I have a problem is when people do it intentionally, and I can absolutely tell the difference between an accident and an asshole. It is not really that difficult to figure out and takes less than a second of mental processing.

    I don’t think the most important thing about me is that I am transgender. In a perfect world, people would just accept it and treat me the same way as they treat everyone else. Being trans is alienating enough in our society without needing to draw any extra attention to it. I just want to be treated like everyone else, not like a victim or someone who is need of special attention. The worst is when I feel like the only reason someone wants to associate with me is so that they can use being seen with me in public to virtue signal how woke they are to everyone who sees them with me. I would rather be misgendered by an asshole than be used like that. And trust me, it happens.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Good stuff– I was hoping you would weigh in. I love “I can absolutely tell the difference between an accident and an asshole.” Also, I really like the point that the fact that you are transgender is *not* the most important thing about you. And, that, yes, of course, you *chose* the name Nicole. From what I’ve seen, not a lot of transgender people choosing Casey or Peyton.

  2. itchy says:

    First, I’m all about calling out ostentatious virtue signaling. And in many cases, yes, that’s what this is. Second, as a software developer, I’m constantly setting defaults and then accommodating the outliers.

    Third, I’m going to give you a different take.

    I work for a behavioral health agency. Obviously, and unfortunately, we have a disproportionate percentage of trans clients. Nearly all of our staff — especially the client-facing therapists and doctors — include pronouns in their signatures.

    And here’s why: If only transgender persons included pronouns, it would immediately call attention — maybe a disproportionate amount of attention — to their gender, because they’d be the *only* ones with pronouns in their sigs.

    If being transgender truly is not the most important thing about you, especially when 99% of your emails have nothing to do with your gender, it can feel like a stretch being the only one in a conversation who has to include pronouns in your sig.

    So including pronouns — at least for our staff — is (1) an act of solidarity — you’re not calling undue attention to yourself, because we all include pronouns. But it also (2) removes the idea that cisgender is the “default,” and anything that is not cisgender is the “other.”

    Most of our clients also would say they have bigger things to worry about than pronouns in an email sig, and they’re not going to get bent out of shape if someone makes a mistake. And I think most of our staff aren’t pronoun police. I think, for them, it’s much closer and more personal than general virtue signaling.

    • Nicole K says:

      Ok, in that context I agree with you. You aren’t virtue signalling, and there is a reason to do it. I am different from most trans people that I have met in that I accept that “cisgender is the “default,” and anything that is not cisgender is the “other.”” After all, trans people make up about .25% of the population. It is different from the norm and will never be accepted by a significant portion of the population. It is what it is, and I would never be able to be happy if I couldn’t learn to accept that and be fine with myself and who I am regardless of what anyone else has to say about it.

      So, yeah, I accept that being trans *does* make me different from most other people and isn’t “normal.” But so what? Being narcoleptic isn’t normal and also alienates me probably just as much as being trans does. At work I have to ask for accomodations like taking a 30 minute nap everyday and taking a 5 minute break every hour and as needed rather than 2 15 minute breaks like everyone else. I have to live my life feeling exhausted and also jacked up on stimulants that can make me jumpy, sensitive to loud noise, and uncomfortable in large groups of people. And people notice all of that, and it makes me different from what is normal and causes me to be somewhat alienated from everyone else. But I can’t change that anymore than I can change being trans. I just have learned to realize that for every jerk who doesn’t want to be around me for either being trans there is another person who does want to be friends with me. I just learned to not care about the jerks and focus on the people who like me just the way I am. I think many of the trans people I know really struggle with getting to the point of accepting that we don’t live in an ideal world and never will. If being accepted by everyone you meet and not being seen as “other” by a large number of people, including “allies,” is the only way you can be happy as a transgender person, then I would submit that you are going to be one miserable trans person because you are expecting a world that doesn’t exist and will never exist no matter how much you might prefer otherwise. Pretending that is not true doesn’t change reality. And the sooner you can realize that is ok and be happy anyway, the better off you will be.

      • itchy says:

        Sure, that all makes sense, and I think it’s where our therapists are aiming — eventually.

        Obviously, mathematically, the norm is the majority. Cisgender is norm.

        The difference is that, too often, “norm” is equated with “correct” — and outlier with “incorrect.” So “not normal” becomes derogatory.

        And, yes, if you’re a person who is different, and you’re waiting around for the world to accept who you are, you’ll probably be waiting a while. Your primary goal is to be happy yourself. However, I think it’s a false dichotomy. You can change yourself, and you can change the world (forgive the flowery phrase) — especially if you’re not doing it alone.

        All that said, I’m not exactly advocating for everyone to use pronouns in their email sigs (confession: I don’t). Just giving an explanation for why some people do it. There are dozens of small things our therapists do to make our clients more comfortable — no single one of them is assumed to be a cure.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Perfectly put by Nicole. And, when 99% of the population is something, that *is* the norm. That doesn’t mean we need to stigmatize the 1%, but we also don’t have to pretend that it’s normal and that our goal should be to make that 1% feel normal. My son has intellectual disabilities. He’s not differently-abled. He’s not normal. And that’s okay! I think the overriding goal should be to treat all with respect and dignity, whether “normal” or not, instead acting as if acts of language could overcome the fact that the 1% of anything will never be “normal.”

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