the politicization of pronouns
Little attention used to be paid to pronouns. In recent years, however, they have become a cornerstone of the culture wars. Pronoun preferences are a favourite joke among unimaginative reactionaries who use them as proof that "snowflake millennials" just want to feel special. In Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix stand-up special, for example, he jokes: "Hey, what's going on, fellas? Lady. Whatever pronoun makes you feel comfortable in the back."
Meanwhile, pronoun introductions have become an established feature of some progressive spaces and university campuses. Many view this as a positive step towards a more nuanced understanding of gender. As Darius Hickman, a 23-year-old non-binary poet in New York says, these introductions mean people who don't conform to traditional views of binary gender don't feel alienated. "Relying on clocking people's gender based on appearances is harmful, especially since some people - oftentimes non-binary folks - can happen to look strictly binary, and a simple pronoun check makes things easier for everyone, including folks whose gender isn't easy to tell."
But when gender is so complex and personal, is there really any such thing as a "simple" pronoun check? At this stage, I should probably note that although I identify as a Progressive Lesbian™, the pressure of pronoun introductions often makes me feel uncomfortable. Actively announcing myself as a she/her makes it seem like I'm making my entire identity about my gender, which feels regressive. Further, while pronoun introductions are supposed to be about recognizing that gender is complex, it sometimes seems as though they - paradoxically - reinforce gender binaries. Announcing yourself as a "she", "he" or "they" would appear to buy into the notion that a "he" is completely different from a "she" - and if you don't subscribe to traditional gender roles you should identify yourself as a "they".