Is it OK when first talking alone with a new colleague to ask pronouns to ensure you are referring to them correctly, if it hasn’t already been broached?
Yes, it is more than OK to ask about pronouns. It demonstrates that you are caring and considerate and recognize that gender exists on a spectrum. We cannot assume that how someone presents is how they identify. Asking about pronouns simply removes any ambiguity and ensures that you’re always referring to your colleagues in the manner they prefer.
The Limits of Care
As a health care worker, how do you deal with homophobia and transphobia from a patient? Specifically, what strategies can be used to address this when dismissing the patient is not an option? In my case, I don’t own my own office, so I work for someone else. My employer is not willing to let the income from this patient go, so the solution is for the patient to come in on my off days. I find this less than ideal. Also, what are my rights here?
Your employer’s solution is less than ideal. Unfortunately, when dealing with bigotry, there are few ideal options. Patients can choose medical providers according to their preferences. I’m not sure you have any recourse, but I would love for medical professionals to weigh in on this.
I do know that many health care workers from diverse backgrounds deal with patient bigotry. It’s a significant contributor to burnout in medical professions. I suppose it’s something that the patient visits the office on your off days, but it would be better if your employers had principles and refused to do business with a bigot.
They should value your safety and ensure that you work in an environment that doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any kind. You have to decide if you can continue working at this practice under these conditions. And if you can’t, it is time to find new employment. I wish you the very best as you navigate this.
How Much Is Too Much?
I used to identify as a cis-woman but came out as nonbinary/gender queer last year at work and shared at a staff meeting that my pronouns are now she/her and they/them. I told the team I liked being referred to as they/them but that “she/her is fine, too.” Everyone was affirming, but I’ve never heard or read any of my colleagues use they/them to refer to me in the many months since, and it’s starting to bother me. I wish at least some of the time they would affirm my they/them pronouns, which help me feel seen and known.
Am I making this too hard for my colleagues by not making a firm request to always use they/them? How much of my gender spectrum or fluidity can I reasonably ask them to recognize? Is it too much to ask them to try to sometimes use she/her and other times use they/them?
You are never making things too hard for your colleagues by asking for your pronouns to be respected. When you shared your pronouns and said “she/her is fine, too,” your colleagues took you at your word. They are using what is most comfortable for them rather than what is most comfortable for you.
If you want to be affirmed as they/them, you’re going to have to make your preference clear without offering the option of she/her. In an ideal world, people would be mindful of using both sets of pronouns regularly. That isn’t too much to ask, but it may be too much to expect in the workplace where you encounter a range of attitudes toward and familiarity with gender identification.
Write to Roxane Gay at email@example.com.