Supporting LGBTQIA+ ecologists: pronouns and gender neutral language
A guide produced by the ALDER Network to help reduce misgendering within the ecological community.
The ALDER Network has provided this resource to guide the correct use of pronouns and gender neutral language in order to help reduce misgendering within the ecological community. A lot of the advice is broadly applicable to the world beyond ecology, however the advice was written with a focus on research and conferences, to provide an inclusive environment for trans and non-binary ecologists to work and study. For more information about what misgendering is and how it impacts trans and non-binary people, check out our article in the Spring 2023 edition of the Niche.
It is helpful for as many people as possible to state their pronouns, even if you don’t think that it benefits you directly. Firstly, it demonstrates that you understand that someone who looks just like you may not be the same gender as you, which can make people feel more comfortable with letting you know about their gender, or possibly with coming to you if someone else is misgendering them. Secondly, if gender non-conforming people are the only people to state their pronouns, then it can make them stand out as different from the rest of the group, which can be very isolating. If stating pronouns is done consistently then it could become as normal as telling people what your name is – you are just telling people how they should refer to you.
However, it is also important that telling someone your pronouns never becomes mandatory. There are a number of reasons that someone might not want to state their pronouns (including trans people who do not wish to come out within a group, and/or do not wish to misgender themselves as well as people who are in the process of figuring themselves out), and this choice should be respected.
Stating your pronouns
If you choose to state your own pronouns, there are a number of ways that you can do this. Zoom, for example, allows you to show your pronouns after your name during a meeting (and it also allows you to choose whether you would like to show this on a meeting by meeting basis). You could also write your pronouns on your conference name badge, or in your email signature. If you are hosting or chairing an event, you could go one step further by including a note in a pre-event email to speakers letting them know what your pronouns are. This would give speakers the opportunity to tell you their pronouns privately if you will be introducing them.
If you do accidentally refer to someone by the wrong pronouns, just act in the same way that you would if you got their name wrong. Correct yourself and move on with the conversation. If you find yourself repeatedly making the same mistake, it may be worth practicing out of the hearing of the person in question. If you have trouble using “they” as a singular pronoun in general, you could also try practicing by speaking about someone whose gender you don’t know (e.g. “Someone left their hat behind, I hope they will come back for it”).
If you hear someone being misgendered (and are confident that they are comfortable with people being corrected), then it is ok to correct the person who made the mistake. If you know the person being misgendered well, then you could check what they would like you to do in that situation. In a group setting, I personally prefer it if people are reminded of my pronouns by someone else using them correctly shortly after the mistake was made (e.g. “Robin was discussing their research”), but you can also correct someone directly (by saying “Robin’s pronouns are they and them”, or more simply “they”). If someone is repeatedly misgendering someone else in your presence, taking a moment in private to remind them of the correct pronouns and the importance of using them is usually the way to go.
Gender Neutral Language
You might naturally use gendered language when talking to a group of people (“Hi guys!”, “Ladies and Gentlemen”), or when talking to (or about) a specific person (e.g. calling on a person to ask a question during a conference as “The lady in the red shirt”). Using gender-neutral language is all about avoiding assumptions – mainly the assumption that everyone fits into the gender binary, and that you can tell where in the binary they sit just by looking at them. Avoiding unnecessary gendering also avoids assigning gender roles (“Is there a strong man here to help me lift this?”, or “Is your manager here? I’d like to speak to him”).
This being said, it is important not to ignore gender altogether. If we try to ignore gender, we ignore the effect that sexism and transphobia has on our lives, which is counterproductive. Also, many people feel more comfortable in a space in which their gender is acknowledged and respected. For example, if someone has made the effort to state their pronouns, then you should use those pronouns. The key here is that you haven’t assumed their gender, they told you and so you know for certain.
Essentially, if you don’t know for certain how someone would like to be addressed, it is best to stick to gender neutral language. We’ve included some pointers here for how you could approach this. If you slip up, don’t worry, just correct yourself in the same way as you would if you had mispronounced a word.
- Instead of writing the phrases “him/her” and “s/he” which assume the person in question is one of only two genders, use “they”, or replace the pronoun with a noun such as “the person” if the person’s name is not known
- If you are referring to someone whose gender you do not know in speech, also use “they”. For example, if you are relaying a question from an audience member you haven’t met before, use “They ask” instead of “He/she asks”
- When greeting a room of people, use “everyone” instead of “ladies and gentlemen”, or just say “Good morning”. There are a lot of gender neutral options available, ranging from formal to informal – some of them are fun, it is worth a google!
- If you need to be specific about including people of more than one gender, replace phrases like “both genders” with “all genders”
- Before you state someone’s gender, try to consider whether it is necessary. If an article is about someone’s work, not their experiences of gender within their work, then calling them an ecologist is probably more appropriate than “female ecologist”
- If you do need to ask for someone’s gender, use an open-ended question (such as “What is your gender?”) rather than a closed question (“Are you male or female?”)
- If you are discussing the results of a survey that separates people by gender, consider whether you have excluded people who are neither male nor female from your analysis. There can be justified reasons for doing this (e.g. there were not enough respondents to satisfy GDPR requirements), but try to mention these reasons instead of only discussing the results for men and women
- Unless you know everyone’s gender, try not to refer to the gender make-up of a group with phrases such as “Hello ladies”, or “All women here today!”
- Avoid confusing biology and gender. For example, tampons are used by trans and non-binary people, and so it is better to call them a “period product” than a “feminine care product”
Overall, try to remember that not everyone’s gender will be obvious to you, nor will everyone fit neatly into a male/female binary. Using gender neutral language both avoids reinforcing gender stereotypes and is more inclusive for trans and non-binary people.
This guidance was written by Robin Hutchinson (ALDER Network Gender Policy Officer) and edited and approved by the ALDER Network Committee. If you have any questions or comments, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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