by Hannah Trees
Last month, I attended the Central APA meeting in Chicago to be part of a panel on queer productions of knowledge.  I do not usually expect big events to be queer-inclusive spaces, but I was very excited to see that the conference was providing pronoun stickers for everyone in attendance. When I arrived, a volunteer told me that pronoun stickers were available to put on my name badge and pointed me in the direction of a nearby table in the middle of the main floor of the conference center. The large rolls of various types of stickers – “SHE,” “HE,” “THEY,” “ZE/HIR” and write-your-own – were readily available for the duration of the conference.
For those unfamiliar with the practice of sharing pronouns, it usually goes something like this: “Hi, my name is Hannah. I use she/her pronouns.” In situations where you can’t verbally introduce yourself to everyone, like APA meetings, a “SHE” sticker on your name badge does the work for you. These stickers make it less likely that trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people are misgendered by people who’ve just met them, and ideally, if everyone uses them, it helps to normalize the practice of sharing pronouns.
Unfortunately, the meeting in Chicago turned out to be less than ideal in this respect. As soon as I began going to sessions, I noticed a marked lack of pronoun stickers on name badges, especially among the cisgender men in attendance.  Given that everyone was told upon checking in that there were pronoun stickers and the central location and constant availability of the stickers, this lack of use could not be attributed to ignorance or a sticker shortage. Each name badge even had a clearly labeled place to put a sticker. And while I’m sure that there were probably a few people who refused to use them due to transphobia, I’d like to give the philosophic community the benefit of the doubt and assume that most of the people who didn’t have stickers on their badges were not motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
So why were so many cis people not using pronoun stickers? I think the most likely answer is quite simple: they thought they didn’t need to. The vast majority of cis people (and many queer and trans people who “pass” as cis) don’t need to worry about telling people what their pronouns are, because most of the time everyone else can correctly guess which pronouns they prefer. We have all been socialized to assume that when someone dresses a certain way or has certain secondary sex characteristics, we should use pronouns that “match” that person’s gender presentation or perceived sex.  When it comes to cis people, these factors line up in exactly the way we have been taught to expect, and so when a cis person is given the option of putting a sticker next to their name to make sure others know their pronouns, they have the luxury of opting out.
Of course, you might be thinking: why does it matter if cis people don’t explicitly tell people their pronouns? If no one is ever going to use the wrong pronouns, isn’t it just redundant to tell others which to use? The APA meeting program has one response to this question: the stickers “can easily be worn as a show of solidarity.” The quote in full is as follows:
“Beginning this year, as a show of the APA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are introducing pronoun stickers for your name badge, including blank stickers that will allow you to use a pronoun of your own choosing. Stickers will be available for pickup at registration and can easily be worn as a show of solidarity, and a means of making our annual conference a friendly and safe environment for all.” (from the APA Central Division 115th Annual Meeting Program, page 1.)
While it is admirable that the APA is encouraging straight and cis people to be better allies, this answer misses the mark. It suggests that only certain people – people who don’t have the luxury of “looking cis” (Again, you cannot tell if someone is cis or trans just by looking at them. But it is the people who “look cis” by societal standards, whether they are actually cis or not, who have the privilege of not needing to tell people what pronouns they use.)– really need to use pronoun stickers or engage in any other pronoun-sharing practices. Everyone else can choose whether or not to use pronoun stickers depending on how explicitly pro-LGBTQ they want to be. This line of reasoning ignores the fact that everyone has preferred pronouns, and that because of this, everyone should get into the habit of telling others what pronouns they use.
Most importantly, cis people’s refusal to engage in pronoun sharing practices reinforces the deeply engrained idea that we can tell which pronouns someone prefers simply by looking at them. It encourages people to jump to conclusions about other’s pronouns because it supports the current norm of simply making assumptions about how others identify, rather than attempting to shift the social etiquette to one that encourages the sharing of and asking for pronouns. We have to remind ourselves that although it might seem superfluous for someone who identifies as a man and has a beard and wears a shirt and tie to let others know that he prefers he/him/his pronouns, there are people who look and dress like that who do not use he/him/his and who do not identify as men. Until we all stop making assumptions about pronouns, the simple act of making an introduction will remain a social nightmare for those people who don’t fit the cisnormative mold.
Moving forward, I hope that the APA maintains their commitment to LGBTQ inclusivity, but more needs to be done to ensure that everyone understands the full import of pronoun sharing practices. There are many very simple changes that we can all make: include your pronouns on your website and in bios; when introducing yourself in any context, but especially when in front of a large audience (as a session chair or at the beginning of teaching a new group of students, for instance), tell the audience your pronouns; if you are introducing someone else before a talk, ask them what pronouns you should use in your introduction. These are not practices that should be relegated to explicitly “queer” spaces; there are queer people in every area of our discipline, and in that sense, all spaces are queer spaces. Furthermore, when we leave APA meetings and return to our home departments, there will be no name badges and pronoun stickers to fall back on. When we ask our undergraduates to introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester, it is up to us to make it clear that verbally sharing one’s pronouns is a normal and easy thing to do. Of course, this is not the only thing that must change in order to make philosophy more inclusive, but it is small shifts like this that make the difference between a climate that is rife with seemingly innocent microaggressions and one that is genuinely welcoming of individuals of all genders.
 I use the term “queer” to mean anyone who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Not everyone in the LGBTQ community identifies as queer, though, and when talking about the identity of a specific individual, it is always best to ask them which terms they prefer.
 For those unfamiliar with this terminology, someone is “cisgender” or “cis” if they identify as the gender that they were assigned at birth. For instance, someone who was assigned female at birth and who identifies as a woman is a cis woman. Normally, no one should assume that they can tell whether someone is cisgender or transgender just by looking at them, but I think in this case, it is safe to assume that if someone wasn’t using a pronoun sticker, they probably weren’t part of the LGBTQ community.
 I put “match” in quotes because there is nothing inherent to certain secondary sex characteristics or to ways of dressing or presenting oneself that make these things correspond to feminine or masculine pronouns. And I say “perceived sex” rather than “sex” because no one can know for sure what someone’s sex is based merely on cursory observations about their secondary sex characteristics. A discussion of how sex, like gender, is socially constructed is not something I can get into here.
Hannah Trees (she/her) is a fourth year philosophy PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include self-knowledge, introspection, and feminist and queer epistemology.