Pronouns: Compulsion and Controversy

BBC employees are being “encouraged” to put pronouns at the end of their emails and we look at the possible issues here. Is that a kindness that  only a misanthrope could oppose, or is there more to it?   

Compelled speech

The first issue is that of compelled speech. Pronouns are not neutral. The move towards declaration of pronouns presupposes that everyone “has pronouns”; which is to say that everyone has an inner gender identity, and being described by the pronouns he / him, she / her, they / them, zie / zem, or something else is an expression of that identity. It also suggests that there may  be repercussions for failing to remember a colleague’s preferred pronouns. 

This is a highly political position. At the moment, the law recognises two sexes (male and female) through s.212 Equality Act 2010, and that a person can change their legal sex from one to the other by operation of the GRA 2004. There is also established case law which recognises that a person’s gender can be central to their private life protected by Article 8. The law does not lay down that a) everyone has a gender or b) that gender is innate.

The concept of gender identity entered the legal lexicon with the Yogyakarta Principles. These Principles do not carry legal force, but have often been adopted as a convenient shorthand. They were drafted in response to global discrimination and persecution of LGBT people. The definition given of gender identity is this:

We can see two things from this: first, that it assumes that each person does have a deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender. Secondly, that it rather correlates to the Equality Act definition of gender reassignment, envisaging a process which may include medical modifications, rather than a simple declaration. 

But the more commonly used definition in the UK is that provided by Stonewall through their training. You can see that Stonewall depart from the idea of reassignment altogether (it is described as “a term of contention” in their glossary). Here are their definitions of gender and of gender identity:

What does this mean? Three things: a) that everyone has an “innate” sense of gender; b) that “culturally determined” masculinity and femininity is innate to males and females; and c) that those who reject their culturally determined gender are at odds with their sex, while those who embrace it are aligned with their sex, and are “cis.”

This is a political, and controversial, perspective. There are many people, male and female, across the political spectrum, and across sexual orientations, who regard it as problematic. It is a particular issue for those women who reject culturally determined femininity as oppressive and sexist, and for whom the idea that it is innate to most women – and by extension, that for those to whom it is not innate are not fully women – is nothing more than reinforcement of harmful stereotypes. 

It is from the belief that gender is innate that the drive to announce one’s pronouns stems, because pronouns then become an expression of individual gender rather than a convenient linguistic replacement for a proper noun. 

Insisting that employees put pronouns into their signature therefore leaves women who do not accept innate gender theory in a dilemma. They must either comply,  aligning themselves with a political position they disagree with;  or else reveal their political views in the workplace, which carries  a risk of adverse consequences. We know that the popularity of innate gender theory means that those who take the contrary view may be visited with vile abuse, reported to their regulator, complained about to their employer, or even fired – so a woman who opposes innate gender theory may nevertheless feel obliged to comply through fear of losing her employment or being socially ostracised.

Some will suggest that this is acceptable – that to reject the notion of innate gender is so repugnant that those who do so must expect to face adverse consequences. They may point to EJ Tayler’s judgment in Maya Forstater’s case that gender critical beliefs did not qualify as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 for that reason.  There are two answers to that. The first is that a first instance employment tribunal judgment has no weight as precedent, and this particular judgment is under appeal, and seems likely to be overturned. The second is that there is a great difference between disciplining an employee or treating them adversely because they voluntarily express opinions that they know to be controversial on the one hand, and forcing employees to sign up in public with a political statement that they may find profoundly objectionable. 

A belief that gender identity is innate may also be quasi-religious; the concept that each of us has an inner being, a soul, which is gendered, contained inside the mortal flesh which has a reproductive sex that may not match that gender. As the MP Layla Moran said, “I believe that women are women…. I see someone in their soul and as a person. I do not really care whether they have a male body.”

It has long been held that the freedom to believe is matched by the freedom to disbelieve, not just for outright atheists but also ‘sceptics and the unconcerned;’ as per §31 of Kokkinakis v Greece (1994) 17 EHRR 397:

“As enshrined in article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a ‘democratic society’ within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it.”

Freedom to disbelieve in the context of political, not just religious, scepticism was considered in RT (Zimbabwe) & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 38. The Court commented that “As regards the point of principle, it is the badge of a truly democratic society that individuals should be free not to hold opinions. They should not be required to hold any particular religious or political beliefs…. One of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes is their insistence on controlling people’s thoughts as well as their behaviours.” The Appellants, who were politically indifferent, were protected as they could not be expected to assert loyalty to the Zanu-PF regime in Zimbabwe against their true views.

RT (Zimbabwe) was cited in the more recent case of Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd & Ors (Northern Ireland) (Rev 1) [2018] UKSC 49 (often described as “the gay cake case.”) The bakery could not be compelled to ice a message “with which they profoundly disagreed” onto a cake. It is difficult to see how an employee could be compelled to align themselves with a perspective with which they profoundly disagree in their email signature.

Sex Discrimination

The next issue is whether a female employee encouraged or compelled to declare pronouns could legitimately argue that this discriminates against her, directly or indirectly, because of her sex. 

We know that sexism in the workplace is far from over. Conscious or unconscious bias operates against women. This example, from 2017, illustrates the point: when Nicole and Martin swapped email signatures, they learned that “Nicole” would be perceived as far less competent than “Martin” by clients. Without that sexism, if Nicole truly had been less competent, she would still have been regarded as such when signing off as Martin – and yet that is not what happened. 

In 2019, the Royal Society of Chemistry undertook an analysis of gender bias publishing in the chemical sciences. It recognised that biases were “subtle” and could be “inadvertent.” Women were invited to review less often, their work was more harshly received, their initial submissions more frequently rejected. These “small biases” led to a “significant cumulative effect.”

The RSC are not the only organisation to have done such research. Others have found similar results, and of course there are numerous articles spanning the last decade or more which find that CVs with a female name get poorer results than the same CV carrying a male name. CV writing services recommend against including gender on the CV – a practice which used to be common and is now recognised as archaic. Race is also a factor – although for now at least, nobody is suggesting we declare our race at the bottom of email signatures.

And it is not just the recipient of the email who may be unconsciously biased against a female sender. The female sender herself may be subject to ‘stereotype threat.’ This is where a person is reminded of membership of their group and then under-performs; for example, women who were told that women do worse than men in maths tests then really did perform significantly worse in a maths test than women who were told there was no difference in performance (Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, p.32-33). Even being reminded of one’s own sex at the beginning of a test can have the same effect (ibid, p32). 

It would seem that women who are compelled to declare female pronouns in their signatures may be vulnerable to stereotype threat and also to unconscious bias on the part of the recipient of the email, thereby entrenching those biases further. 

This does not mean that any woman whose workplace initiates a pronoun policy has an automatic, unassailable, claim. An employer might defend the claim by arguing that they are aware of the negative impact on women but that it is justified as a proportionate means of achieving  its legitimate aim of trying to create an inclusive work environment. Argument and evidence would then centre on balancing the potential harms and benefits of the policy. It would be relevant, for example, if the employer was already struggling with recruitment and retention of women, or if there were a male / female disparity in sales commission. The ‘compelled speech’ aspect of the policy would also be relevant to this balancing exercise. 


It should go without saying that if an employee is beginning gender reassignment and wishes their colleagues to use a different pronoun for them, they should be supported to do so. There are rightly prohibitions on victimisation and harassment on the grounds of gender reassignment. That person may wish to send an email round-robin with their news, or may wish to have their pronouns in their email; an employer should not prevent that. However, when the BBC’s guidance suggested that all employees should put pronouns in their signature, and said “It’s really simple,” that was, we suggest, premature, and may be experienced as coercive. And when they speak of “creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable introducing themselves with pronouns” they should also consider whether they might be inadvertently creating a culture where those with the she/her pronouns experience discrimination as a result of their sex. 

34 thoughts on “Pronouns: Compulsion and Controversy”

  1. Please be aware it is not just the BBC who are asking staff to add pronouns to their emails. Other Stonewall Diversity Champions are doing this.

    Along with pronouns on emails they are asking staff to announce their pronouns in meetings before speaking. They are also changing ‘sex’ to ‘gender identity’ in documentation.

    Pronouns are just the tip of a huge iceberg that Stonewall and the trans gender agenda has created to remove women/girls rights.

    1. It’s now happening at my engineering consultancy. I am upset and frightened by this very quick takeover of even construction and engineering.

  2. I quit my lesbian choir over this issue. We were sternly scolded and told there would be consequences for non compliance. We were rehearsing in a church and the comparison between gender ideology and religion was not lost on me. I walked out, pretty upset.

    1. Fantastic article . Jo Meyerston sounds like you have a sex descrimination claim against your former choir .

      1. I am grateful that you wrote this piece, legal feminist. At my workplace, more and more people are including their pronouns in their signature. I understand the value of doing so to destigmatize pronoun identification in support of people who are not or do not identify as cis-gendered and to be respectful of people for whom gender is important to how they identify themselves. In my context, there is no requirement yet that has been communicated to staff to identify their gender. I do feel, however, that there is an unspoken social pressure to do so and that creates anxiety for me because of the points you identify, in particular privacy and enhancing still-existing discrimination toward women. At some point I will have to bring this up with my manager, I fear, because not identifying my pronoun may suggest that I harbour negative sentiments toward people who are not or do not identify as cis-gendered when my actual deep discomfort with this signature trend is that I do not wish to bring attention to my gender or other characteristics that have been treated in law in my jurisdiction as characteristics against which discrimination is illegal. Basically, I have spent my adult life acting in ways that aim, mostly but not always successfully, at being treated as a human being as opposed to as a female of a certain ethnic and cultural background (though caucasian so I can go unnoticed in a number of instances), I feel that these elements of my identity are a vulnerability that has been and can be used to treat me in a discriminatory fashion, and as a result focusing attention on my gender in the workplace simply gives me the creeps; the possible next step of having to identify one’s ethnic, cultural, religious etc background would be equally abhorrent to me, though we are obviously not there yet. As long as there is openness to people identifying or not identifying these pronouns, with no social, policy or legal coercion, I think we are fine, but as soon as there is the slightest hint of coercion even through some form of social conformism, I think we are entering the type of dangerous socio-political territory that we have tried so hard to move away from in the 20th century in liberal democracies.

        1. I wonder what trans or gender uncertain people feel. Isn’t being coerced into declaring your pronouns abusive when a person doesn’t want to come out? All in all I think that it’s abusive no matter what a persons context is. I don’t have a problem with people letting others know what they’d like to be called, but honestly I don’t get too bent out of shape if someone refers to me as “hey you” or “that jerk” or whatever, and I really think that its time we weren’t so thin skinned that we were offended by an unintentional misunderstanding. After all if the current conception of gender is that it is a deeply held and very personal feeling, how can anyone accurately know and describe with mere words another person on that level, let alone everyone they come into contact with and through all time? In the end we all want to be recognized as valuable, but value doesn’t come from group identity whether race or gender or sexual expression, but from knowing that you are a unique individual who has something important to contribute to this world.

  3. Is it really correct that a person can be forced to use the pronouns directed by a transitioning colleague, as you say in your last paragraph?

    It doesn’t ‘go without saying’ for me. I am autistic and unable to process language that is radically different from what I see.

    1. I should have been clearer – the “goes without saying” is that the employer must support the employee to make the request. I think the employer is duty bound to ask all employees to use preferred pronouns, but should make reasonable adjustment for your autism if you can’t.

  4. If a person has got a GRC perhaps they are protected and so pronouns may effectively be compulsory. But surely for anyone self identifying there it is only social stigma and perhaps HR policies insisting on people using a person’s requested pronouns? What if as a gender atheist I used ‘they’ to not lie but not cause offence?

  5. I’m somewhat surprised at the conflation of “compelling” in the sense of a government/the law compelling something under threat of penalty, vs. an employer compelling something under threat of employment discipline.

    You are quite right about compelled speech when it comes to government/the law, and yes, Ashers is a very relevant case. However, no BBC employee is under threat of a discrimination tribunal finding against them for refusing to include pronouns in a signature (let alone actual persecution as in the RT&Ors case). Instead, you are talking about an employer requiring something by what might, at worst, be a disciplinary process.

    But compelled speech at work is a routine thing, starting with the norms of speech that cashiers or fast food workers are trained (I’d call that “drilled” sometimes) to adhere to.

    So what is your basis for applying a “compelled speech” angle specifically to employment law, where civil (let alone criminal) repercussions are not threatened and only a work disciplinary consequence can ever happen, assuming the worst?

    You mentioned the Forstater case, and I agree it is not relevant here as Maya Forstater was an activist, while work rules apply to people who are not activists. However, another recent case, Mackereth, specifically dealt with “compelled speech” at work – and it was even about pronouns, too. I understand that Forstater is for some reason much more in the public eye, but I think Mackereth is more applicable in daily work life. Just how many activists, on any side, even are there? Most cases of workplace dispute would be about daily harassment such as Dr Mackereth’s.

    Moreover, the Mackereth decision specifically says that even Mackereth’s “wider views” are not protected in this instance by failing the Grainger test – that part refers to religion (in this case Christianity) and is far wider than trans issues. For example, a teacher at school might be validly compelled to refer to a pupil’s same-sex parents as parents, the teacher’s religious views to the contrary notwithstanding. And this would again be “compelled speech” and still legitimate.

    So to summarize, I kinda don’t see the ground for your compelled speech theory as applied to employment, and I would suggest you may not have covered a directly relevant case.

    Having said that: your other point, that for women the reinforcement of “she/her” in signatures might exacerbate unconscious biases against them, might have merit. I personally don’t think it would stand in court. But it might, in my opinion, be a good position to present to HR, and wider if necessary, for those refusing to put pronouns in their signatures. The advantage here is that this point has nothing at all about trans people and, thus, does not fall anywhere near the Forstater or even Mackereth case. Of course, for anyone who does have preferred pronouns, work can still require their use.

    1. I am not the author of this piece but am a discrimination and employment lawyer. There is a subtle but crucial difference between the Mackereth case (whereby the employee wouldnt agree to refer to others by *their* chosen pronouns) and this scenario (requiring staff to make a declaration to identify pronouns to which *they themselves* identify). The latter is widely recognised as consistent as accepting a belief in gender identity theory (which many reject), so it means that the employer is requiring staff to show their own adherence to a philosophical belief they dont hold (or even a form of proselytizing). Employers of fast food companies can require their staff to say “have a nice day” but not “God is great” or the philosophical non-theist equivalent. Hence why the cases cited in the piece are relevent even in employment context

      1. I’m in the process of enrolling for my second year of Uni. I’m having to complete an online enrolment form this week. The forms asks me to select my sex (which it defines as gender assigned at birth), my gender identity, my pronouns and my sexual orientation. The questions are compulsory and don’t give an option of ‘prefer not to say.’ I cannot continue with the enrolment unless I answer these questions. Ive complained to the Uni and said I do not believe in gender identity or pronouns, but will of course respect other student’s beliefs. I’ve pointed out the legal case which says a belief that sex is immutable is protected. I’m being told I can’t enrol unless I answer the questions. Would this be a breach of the equality act? What could I do? I can’t just quit Uni so need to enrol, but very uncomfortable at being forced to choose a gender identity and pronouns

        1. Wow, that sounds so intrusive to be required to answer even your sexual orientation. How is that relevant, i can understand asking your sex but beyond that should not be required.

      2. Hi Audrey,

        Please can you advise me whether students can be compelled to use pronouns? We have just been told by our college that it is now mandatory to put pronouns after our names in Zoom lectures.

        I completely support people’s right to identify however they choose and to move between those identities as they see fit. I applaud anyone who chooses to show solidarity through adopting pronouns but I will not have that choice made for me.

        Thanks to the author for a very thoughtful article.

  6. I’m a bit perplexed and hope someone can help me understand.

    In a work environment I’m interested in if someone is good at their job and/or is a nice person, or otherwise (acknowledging that neither are fully objective and could have many pitfalls but that’s a different topic). I expect others to take a similar approach (acknowledging some don’t).
    My first question is – Why would I want anyone/everyone to know my gender identity and why would I care if someone inadvertently used an incorrect one for me, an imprecise one or simplistically reduced pronouns to the 2 most common ones that happened to be incorrect/imprecise?

    I don’t, but I can see that a (or another – I choose not to share) noncis person may feel a need to be addressed as whatever they identify as, perhaps a) to validate themselves or b) to take a stand against what they perceive as casual disregard for something important to them. I can also see that they may feel a need to hide it because of c) feeling forced to conform to something and that may cause anger and a reaction. I can also see they d) may wish to not share with some people in their lives they care about (I’m thinking for example grandparents) and hide it in in a work environment so the information doesn’t propagate. I can also see people either e) hiding it or f) putting it front-centre of their interactions in response to other people being hurtful. I’m sure there are many more situations.
    Introducing a pronoun policy for email signature blocks would therefore support people in a), b) and f), may exacerbate c), be worse for d) and e) and may cause some of them to migrate to c). And as I mentioned, I’m sure there are many more nuanced situations where it may help or harm.
    My second question is – Since such a policy can either help or harm depending on the situation, why would anyone consider making it a policy, either mandatory or to ‘encourage’ it?

    For someone to decide to put their pronouns in their email signature block ‘in support’ knowing from the above that it may cause harm, they would need to have numerical evidence (otherwise it’s just guesswork) that the help was much greater than the harm, and ii) that the harm element was ‘acceptable’. That doesn’t seem to me to be straightforward and without the data, it would just be a decision based on hope.
    My third question is – So why would anyone do it without the data and thorough analysis?

    If someone says something deliberately hurtful to someone else (including me), directly or by subtle expressions of an inner aggression or bizarre bias, or is discriminatory then I’m very not ok with that. It doesn’t matter whether the hook they put that behaviour on is shoe size, gender identity, skin colour, height, religion or anything else – they are all equally ridiculous, equally childish and equally not ok – the amount of hurt caused is the only really relevant thing.
    The fact that there are apparently so many people who do behave in these ridiculous, childish and not ok ways is a sad indictment of the human race. If as a set of global communities we are to counter such behaviour, we’ve got to think through the possible pros and cons and unintended consequences of anything we introduce, get data and do the analysis before introducing it.

    My fourth question is – Are people, companies, institutions, thinktanks etc, introducing this policy to tick a box and follow a trend (or create a trend) or have they done the deep data gathering and deep statistically significant analysis focused on reducing people’s hurt, the only thing that actually matters?

  7. ps: the article makes several points citing ‘woman’ or ‘female’ something yet exactly the same logic applies if ‘woman’ is replaced by ‘man’ etc, so why make the distinction. Surely that’s stereotyping and it should instead be ‘person’.

    There is the phrase ‘…that to reject the notion of innate gender is so repugnant…’. Followed by an exposition and 2 answers. My view is much more basic though, on the face of it the statement is just a bit silly not really deserving an answer as if it were meaningful, the response should be ‘where is your evidence and rationale for it being repugnant’ and if they fail to produce real evidence there is nothing further to talk about. Note there can’t be any evidence because the statement is emotive and ‘repugnant’ isn’t quantifiable.

  8. Very interesting piece. Wouldn’t requiring/expecting employees to state pronouns be a breach of their right to privacy?

    Requiring people to publicly state their religion, disability status etc would surely be recognised as such.

  9. My employer is making it mandatory to put pronouns on our email signature. I feel that it is not anyone’s business what my orientation is or how I would like to be referred to as u less I choose to tell you. Unless I choose to tell you I am just not ready to tell the world. So I put thou, thy, thine after my name.
    Now I was spoken to by HR. I was told I wasnt taking this seriously. I told her she should be referring to me as thou not I.
    I then received a formal write up for insubordination.
    I am considering seeking out a lawyer. Am I over the top for doing this?!

    1. Personally, I commend you. I don’t think its anyone’s business and this is all about ticking a box so they can brag about how inclusive they are. Meanwhile, by forcing all people – disregarding others opinions and/or beliefs – they are actually being EXCLUSIVE. Its 100% outrageous.

  10. This discussion can be helped if someone could explain the great unanswered question: exactly what is meant when (say) somone with a prostate says “I identify as a woman”?
    Such person cannot mean the physical characteristics of a female- indeed they would not refuse prostate cancer checks nor would they seek ovarian cancer checks. So do they mean mental or societal characteristics? Do they claim there are such differences? If yes, what are these ? (Most in today’s society would deny the existence of stereotypical mental or societal differences between men and women). If not what is their definition of “woman”? To say that “woman” is what they feel (deeply) is a circular argument. The whole debate seems to be about the (new) meanings some groups are giving to the same words. The question is, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things”.

    1. You hit the nail on the head for me. I do not subscribe to the notion of gender, as anything other than a reference to biological sex. I do not subscribe to a religious, spiritual, cultural, or social belief. Therefore, the only thing left is biological sex, which has relevance in certain applications (mostly medical).

      I would be perfectly happy with a society that used a personal singular neutral pronoun, unless the biological sex was relevant in that situation. It would help combat discrimination in the same way that we do not use racial or other such pronouns. However, we do not have such a pronoun.

      I have a friend who prefers to be referred to in the plural neutral pronoun of ‘they’, which I choose to adhere to out of not wishing to cause upset. Sometimes this causes confusion when a singular pronoun would have been more appropriate, however, it mostly works out fine. The real issue is having to switch back and forth between gendered pronouns and non-gendered pronouns. On occasion I have ‘slipped’ and been forced to issue a correction (or face the wrath of my friends who are complicit) – it lowers the mood unnecessarily.

      To me this is kind of one of those situations where some people wanted to take the west road and some people wanted to take the east road, however, either way you get to roughly the same destination. The east road was chosen, but in hindsight it seems it might have been slightly more preferable to have chosen the west road. The problem is that turning around now is far too much time and effort for so little a gain, while the vast majority of people shouting to do so have motives that just hold no sway for you.

  11. I was born with a female sexed body and I am transitioning to being identified within society as male gendered. I DO (fairly obviously) see gender and sex as they o different things, one (mainly) socially and culturally created, the other a biological fact. I loathe pronouns in email signatures, what exactly is it supposed to do? I get told all the time that it apparently ‘creates a more inclusive environment’ how does it do this?
    Aski. G that (and other questions) does not make me popular.
    There is an almost quasi religious tenor to the repition of that, and the suppression of critical, nuanced debate.

    Email pronouns don’t help.

    How does it help me, a 40yr old staff memwber struggling with the multiple layers of complexity and personal change of transition to know that my exceedingly feminine, female named boss is female? How does it help me to see the name John (replace the male name of your choice here) and then also the pronouns he/him?

    Pronouns (in the UK) are usually fairly obvious from name, dress and appearance. In cases where they are not because of androgynous names or appearance then surely the simple thing to do is ask. Or, and I realise this is a controversial position, to assume that someone in the workplace will tell you if you get it wrong. In exactly the same way as they’d tell you if you got their name wrong.

    There are several other problems with this policy.
    The obvious one is stated in the article, the effect on women. This is very real, my old name was very obviously feminine however my surname can also be a male first name, so I had experimented several times over the years with using different parts of my name in text based comms and seeing what difference it made.
    There’s the horrendous fact that any compulsion is effectively either outing people against their will, or forcing them to constantly document an identity that is wrong for them.
    We would never countance forcing people to note at the en dof every email their sexuality or race, which are equally protected characteristics.
    Finally, it makes gender disproportionately important. It suggest that during the working day, in a professional capacity, your gender matters as much as your job title /role.

    I have refused to put pronouns on my signature, and found it hilarious to watch the people who had been pressuring me to do so last winter, suddenly backtrack and fumble when I came out at work.

    1. All my respect to you and to other trans /non binary people with critical thinking and respect for others. I see forced expression of preferred pronouns as a non respect of my privacy (I am not comfortable telling people about my ethnicity or religion unless i want to). I express my gender through my physical appearance and fashion and would not want to point it our more than that. I am not overly obsessed with it and don’t see men/ women/ trans and non binary people any different on their abilities and/or rights to privacy. I am frustrated to be forced to point out my gender and to take a political stance. I, however support and respect trans people that would like to specify their preferred pronouns.

  12. After exhaust all options, detail and record correspondences related to the case, and once you have been left no choice, you can either conform to their demands and get into the school, leaving you with a solid ground for a legal grounds to assert your to your own beliefs, or forgo the education. I obviously would chose the latter, as the only way to get anything down in a system that is oppressing your rights is to use said system to your advantage.

      1. Is it possible to update with a footnote following the latest case on Maya please? Would love to share the article with others. (I sit here in a zoom meeting where we were asked (repeatedly) to put our pronouns and when I was the last one who had not done so, my short private message to the facilitator was to why I had not was then read out. Now struggling to engage with the rest of the meeting as my trauma from encounters with trans activists has resurfaced.)

  13. I’ve read this post and all the comments with fascination on several occasions, and feel I should contribute.
    I am a man.
    Biologically, and in every other sense – well, so far as I’ve ever understood it, though this whole “pronouns” agenda seems to be defying logic.
    I make my being a man clear because I’m against the whole thing, though not for the reasons that people might automatically assume – which of course would reflect a certain unconscious bias anyway. I don’t feel comfortable with having to define myself, because it’s divisive for the benefit of few and the detriment of many. It implies that a woman must declare herself thus, and as I’ve already alluded to, suggests to some that I may hold certain “male” viewpoints. Am I, by declaring myself “he”, outing myself as a misogynist? Or is it by refusing to do so that I become so obviously “a typical chauvinist”?
    By forcing the agenda, bias is enforced and polarised views entrenched.

  14. I’m surprised something as unscientific & metaphysical as unconscious bias construct gets the time of day. Whilst ”against a female” doesn’t leave much to the imagination. When unconscious bias first emerged it was used ad hominem in a racist theory. Do rational people serious believe that the unconscious is a cognitive process similar to the conscious?

  15. Thank you for this article.

    I work in the charity sector in the UK, at a small charity. All staff, except me and one other, have their ‘preferred pronouns’ in their signature. All but one of those staff’s preferred pronouns are as you would expect from their appearance, bar one person who prefers ‘they’, although that person’s sex is quite clearly apparent. That person is by some way the most vocal about their views on gender and identity in the office, to a point that I find very inappropriate in a work context.

    I consider that pronouns reflect a material fact (someone’s sex, which is usually obvious from that person’s appearance and/or name etc), not ‘gender identity’, and are for the convenience of the person making the reference, not the person being referred to. Stating or acting on this belief would at best see me shunned by my colleagues as it would be seen as evidence of transphobia, in my view entirely wrongly.

    I have no wish to deliberately offend anyone, and to avoid having to choose being doing so and directly contravening my own beliefs about identity and language, I try to refer to the above colleague by name instead.

    While the use of pronouns in signatures is optional, I feel a strong informal pressure to include mine. I await with some trepidation the seemingly-inevitable moment I am asked for ‘my’ pronouns at the introduction to a meeting, or am asked why they are not in my signature or Zoom name. I am not sure how I will respond. It is very possible that I will opt for the quiet life and comply – but it will be compliance under fear of sanction. Even saying ‘I prefer not to share’ would, I think, be taken as suspicious.

    It is a deeply uncomfortable position to be in. Unfortunately I also do not see any prospect of this trend being rolled back now it is present.

  16. Thank you for writing this, it’s helped me clarify my aversion to using pronouns as more than “why do I have to bend over backwards for 1% of people who use non-obvious pronouns” which sounds terrible because I am honestly very in favor of LGBTQ+ rights and respect, but reading this I can better articulate that it’s not about them, it really is about me and my own feelings about my gender (boring cis-female that it is)

    1) It is a privacy issue and feels like compelled speech
    2) As a woman I have fought to be on equal footing with men and respected in my own right, and I have never embraced being particularly feminine as a female and honestly been a bit self antagonistic about the fact I’m female, so I don’t really want to bring attention to the fact that I’m female, I would rather be thought of as a person, my profession, and as a friend than being a woman (I don’t even want to be thought of as a mother because that’s too feminine, even though I am one)
    3) I have actually worked with a few transitioning clients/patients and half of them seem uncomfortable being asked to decide on pronouns, it makes sense to me – it’s personal, why should they have to make an announcement about this? It’s hard enough figuring these things out for yourself. And the points about even people very comfortable with their gender identity might not want to announce it to the world are very valid.
    4) I have to work with all range of people, I don’t want to label myself as someone pushing a strongly liberal agenda when it has become so politicized. Even DEI initiatives are starting to look like a mixed bag and just a way for companies to look like they care when really they don’t, or it can have an opposite and polarizing effect. I want to work with someone about the things they came to my for, not being politics into the room. My job is to be nonjudgmental, it honestly is a specific part of my job, and shoving gender politics into it seems wrong.

    Thanks again, very helpful article. I am glad other people feel comfortable sharing pronouns so that more people feel included, but I’m just not one of those people.

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