Why do we include pronouns in our email signatures?
JustLeadershipUSA is an organization led by people who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration pursuing a bold vision: to cut the U.S. correctional population in half by the year 2030.
While systems of mass criminalization have swept up breathtaking numbers of people, they do not have uniform impact. Black and brown communities, low-income people, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are specifically targeted and suffer far higher rates of incarceration. Recognizing that racism, economic injustice, homophobia, and transphobia underlie hyper-incarceration, we look to dismantle these systems and build the power of those most directly impacted.
Gender pronouns are a small, daily way we do this. Just as we learn each other’s names as a basic sign of respect, we learn and use the gender pronouns each of us prefer. By naming our gender pronouns in our email signatures, in meetings, and in other spaces, we let each other know how to call us. By doing so, we recognize our individual and collective humanity in the face of dehumanizing carceral systems.
Prison has many practices of dehumanization. An essential one is stripping our names and identities, reducing us to numbers. Everyday, we fight these practices – calling each other by our chosen names and chosen pronouns.
Gender pronouns are words we want others to use when referring to us.
Some examples of gender pronouns are:
she/her/hers (often used by people who identify as a girl, woman, transwoman, or other feminine/female gender)
he/him/his (often used by people who identify as a boy, man, transman, or other male/masculine gender)
they/them/theirs (often used by people who identify as gender-nonconforming, genderfluid, gender neutral, or genderqueer; also used to refer to multiple people)
For many of us, we were raised to believe that gender is self-evident: that there are only two genders (men and women) and that our gender identity (how we self-identify our gender) should correspond to a particular gender expression (how we express our gender through appearance, clothing, and other markers).
In the United State, this assumption is policed and those who are seen to violate gender norms are often criminalized. We can see this in the staggering incarceration rate of queer and trans people. For example, of young people incarcerated in juvenile facilities for girls, 40% identify as LGBTQ. We also see this in how prisons treat trans* people. For example, placing transwomen in men’s facilities and denying access to healthcare, hormones or gender-affirming and necessary clothing or products.
By naming and using our chosen gender pronouns, we recognize each of our right to self-identification. We acknowledge that you cannot know how someone identifies by looking at them and that asking and correctly using someone’s gender pronoun is a basic sign of respect. For trans* people, genderqueer people, and others who do not fit into narrow gender norms, this is life-affirming. For cis-people, naming your gender pronouns is a powerful act of solidarity, demonstrating that none of us take for granted that particular genders must look a particular way.
While sharing your gender pronoun is not a requirement, we make space for each of us to do so and to see and value each other as our full selves.
If you are introducing yourself to a person or a group, you can say, “My name is Joey and I go by he/him pronouns” or “My name is Joey and I use they/them pronouns.”
In a group setting, you can ask everyone to share their name, role, and gender pronoun as part of introductions. If you are speaking with someone one-to-one, you can ask about pronouns as you would ask someone’s name: “What are your gender pronouns?” or “Can you remind me of which pronouns you use?” If you make a mistake and call someone by the wrong pronoun, you can apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Consider what you would do if you called someone by the wrong name and use that as guidance.