Between Gender Pronouns and Spelling People’s Names

I had been seeing a lot of social media profiles with a ‘He/Him’ or ‘She/Her’ mentioned alongside the name, but didn’t completely understand the purpose. A close friend recently explained them as gender pronouns. Given in particular the LGBTQ+ community, the world needs to become increasingly sensitive to the different gender pronouns. Affixing it to one’s name could be considered a global effort towards creating more awareness about the diversities and subtleties of gender.

To make it a bit clearer, in the past, the powers that were, often kept pronoun references intentionally (and forcefully) simple (he/him and she/her), irrespective of how an individual identified themselves. However, with greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, we need to move toward a world that recognizes and appropriately addresses different individuals, so as not to be impolite. Currently, for those who don’t identify as male or female, use ‘They/Them/Their’ pronouns. Perhaps with time there might be more unique ways to identify each type in the LGBTQ+ community. The current habit of individuals mentioning their individual set of pronouns online is an effort to help sensitize the world community to pay more attention to gender differences. I have a lot to learn about this myself, but thought I’d share the little I know. And a question at the end.

In recent times, the world has become increasingly careless about people’s names – from not capitalizing the first letter, to getting the spelling wrong, or worse still, not realizing after having spelt it incorrectly (to be able to apologize and correct the mistake). Relatives sometimes misspell my name. And if you remove the last ‘n’, it is a girl’s name here in India.
Two amusing personal incidents came to mind around this.

I was once moderating a panel discussion around design thinking at a conference, and the organizers had managed to misspell my name on the placard and not realize it. I’m not affected by my name being misspelt, so I simply turned the placard away from the audience, lest they think that was my name.

The second was even funnier. One morning, I get a feedback request call (can’t remember for what service), the conversation goes something like this:

Woman: good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from XYZ business. This is a feedback call. Is it Ms. Shruti?
Me: [wondering wtf] Hi. I think you mean Mr. Shrutin. That’s me speaking.
Woman: [very confused] Sorry sir, is Ms. Shruti there?
Me: I think you have the name wrong. It is Shrutin, and I am the one you are asking about.
Woman: [even more confused] But it says Ms. Shruti?
Me: Ma’am, do I sound like a woman to you?
Woman: No sir!!
Me: Then try and understand this, the name is Shrutin, your rep might have misspelt it as ‘Shruti’, and someone entering it into your system therefore might have conveniently added a Ms., and you are looking at it and asking for a Ms. Shruti.
Woman: [sounding relieved] Oh sorry. Got it sir. I’ll make the necessary change. So sorry again.

Which brings me to my question:

In a world that, in part thanks to social media and also our own aimless hurriedness that causes us to pay less attention to people’s names (even if they are customers or guest speakers); how easy (or not) might it be for us to start recognizing gender based pronouns and addressing people accordingly?

– Shrutin Shetty [He/Him]

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  1. I love how you’ve approached the topic. The tone of the writing tends to affect the feelings of the reader on increasingly political subjects like this. I’ve struggled to understand the idea of misgendering through improper pronoun use. Fluctuated between “why do they have to complicate things so much?” and “is this even a real issue”.
    I guess when something seems complicated or unfamiliar, we just default to a convenient simplification of the issue; something that fits our existing understanding of the world. If I suspect I’m not getting this right, I try to err in favour of decency. “Alright if she wants to be called a ‘she’, I guess it’s just a nice thing to do as she asks.”. You brought out the frustration of being unintentionally misgendered by a customer service representative nicely. I can imagine how much more frustrating it would have been if the misgendering was intentional. Thanks for this write up.

    1. Yell, thanks for reading it, buddy! And glad you liked it!
      The post itself literally happened by chance, from me wondering what those he/him, she/her additions meant, a friend explaining and sending some articles around it, and me then seeing people online address friends/family by name (all small chars), or misspelling names but not realizing or correcting it.
      As you rightly pointed out, I guess decency is a great starting place for things we don’t understand. Unfortunately that doesn’t come naturally for a good number of people. I had read a bit about the Latin’x’ movement in the past, so had a vague idea about it, but was clueless about the ‘she/her’, etc. till a week ago. But we chaps probably wouldn’t understand the extent of the problem, given how women have themselves been suppressed in different forms and on different platforms (to think that war hero pilots like Flt. Lt. Gunjan Saxena and others had to retire simply because our Air Force did not have permanent commissions for women till as recently as 2004, if not more recent). And then to think about possibly far worse struggles and discriminations that people of the LGBTQ+ have, and probably continue to face simply because of the narrow mindset and high handedness of world leaders and legal systems.

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