I disagree with your implication that asking others to provide gender pronouns if they “want to” is not coercive. Even framing it as you do still puts trans and gender non-binary people on the spot to out themselves as trans and gender non-binary in what might be an unfamiliar or hostile situation, and creates a space for cisgender people to not provide any pronouns or face social opprobrium if they find themselves in the minority.

It still forces people to give an account of themselves in terms of gender even if they remain silent (which is also a form of speaking). It’s exactly the kind of coercion masquerading as inclusion I had in mind when I wrote my story. And it reinforces, rather than challenges, a social system in which gender is a highly salient part of one’s social identity.

We don’t ask for similarly personal aspects of social identity in such contexts: Race? Ethnicity? Religious beliefs? Sexual proclivities? Criminal record? Net worth? It would be seen as invasive to ask people to routinely provide such information in group introductions or email signatures.

Rachel Levin (in the Inside HigherEd piece I cite in my story) offers some helpful suggestions on how to invite group members to share necessary personal information like gender pronouns while side-stepping the kinds of coercion public requests entail.

. . .

Michael J. Murphy, MA, PhD, is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Illinois. He is the author of many book chapters, and encyclopedia and journal articles. Most recently he edited Living Out Loud: An Introduction to LGBTQ History, Society, and Culture (Routledge, 2019).

Professional homosexual. Professor. Writer. Scholar. Activist. Husband.

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