CHAMPAIGN COUNTY — Not everyone identifies with the gender they were born with, or any at all. So to try to avoid awkward situations, people are adding the pronouns they use to things like email signatures and business cards.
People at the University of Illinois do it and campus leaders say they support that if people want to have it. This is an effort to help those in the LGBTQ community feel more secure with what could be an uncomfortable issue.
“In a brief introduction, nobody’s going to know all of who I am, but I certainly don’t want people to make assumptions about me,” says Molly McLay, who is the assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center on campus.
One common assumption is whether someone is a man or woman. McLay is a woman who identifies with female pronouns, but since people approach gender in different ways, she adds that to her email signature.
“The simple act of adding a really important identifier can make a huge impact,” said McLay. “Trans individuals experience a higher rate of sexual assault than cisgender individuals like myself. It’s really important to be as inclusive as possible.”
“I do identify as female,” said Mia Goodman, who is a junior at the University of Illinois. “I use she, her and hers.”
Goodman has taken classes from McLay. After seeing her email signature, Goodman wanted to do the same thing.
“It shows that I’m a safe and open person to talk to if someone is maybe struggling with identifying their pronouns, I’m aware that it is an issue,” said Goodman.
It’s more than an issue for Ess Okrey-Anderson. It’s life.
“I’m not male,” said Okrey-Anderson. “Not female. I’m not either of the binary choices, kind of.”
Okrey-Anderson identifies as a transgender, non-binary or queer person. Putting that on an email signature is a way of coming out without having to go into details about the whole story.
“For trans people a lot of the time, it’s a way of avoiding having that conversation,” said Okrey-Anderson. “It can make a lot of interactions a lot more comfortable.”
Okrey-Anderson appreciates seeing others add their pronouns and wishes more did too.
“I feel like I’m seen,” said Okrey-Anderson. “I feel like I exist. And I feel like that’s kind of the point of it.”
“I’ve learned to just not assume certain things about people now,” said Goodman. “It’s not that what I was doing before was bad. I was just unaware.”
People we talked with say it helps to have an open mind when you approach issues like this. Be genuine. If you’re not sure which pronoun a person uses, you can always ask, but try not to pry into their past and why they identify a certain way.