The example you offer is a textbook example of the kinds of power imbalance that marks university classrooms. No matter how neutral or benevolent it appears, a request from a professor that students provide personal gender pronouns is coercive, in that there can be real or perceived negative consequences for refusing to comply. The fact that this almost always happens on the first day of class, when those in the room may not know each other or the professor, only adds to the coercive nature of the ‘request.’ And the example responses you provide are proof that students understand that such a request is coercive.

Societal demands that we give an account of ourselves in terms of gender are already normal. They are already “normalized.”

What I don’t understand is why anyone would want to perpetuate such a manifestly harmful practice, especially in the name of tolerance, inclusion, or liberation? Why are some joyously embracing the reduction of our complicated, messy, personal life histories with gender to a static three letter word called a “gender pronoun”? Whose interests are served by that move? And what options are foreclosed by acceding to such ostensibly benevolent requests?

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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