Current solutions include:
- Adding pronouns to typical introduction circles
- Pronoun pins/pronouns on name tags
- Defaulting to gender-neutral pronouns unless and until you have specific information about the person you're talking about.
So, first: Adding pronouns to typical introduction circles. The advantages include:
- Introduction circles already exist.
- In theory, we can get everyone's pronouns this way, thereby avoiding misgendering people by guessing incorrectly.
- Introduction circles were already a clunky, awkward, unnatural front-loading cram of personal information. Adding pronouns to them does not fix any of ways introduction circles were already awkward, and most people will still forget most of what they "learned" from this cram session.
- If pronouns are a required part of the introduction, people who aren't out may need to choose between lying and coming out. That's not cool.
- Only including pronouns in these introduction circles when you think there's a trans person in the room draws attention to whoever it is you think is trans (not cool), as well as to the gender of everyone in the room.
- Only including pronouns in these introduction circles when you think there's a trans person in the room can lead to not including pronouns when there's an out trans person who would be misgendered without a chance to state their pronouns.
Second: Pronoun pins/pronouns on name tags. The advantages include:
- Name tags are already in common use at certain kinds of events.
- If the person is present, so is a visible reminder of their pronouns.
- If there's no name tag, the pronoun pin could be just about anywhere. Where do we look for it?
- If pronoun pins/pronouns on nametags are required, people who aren't out may need to choose between lying and coming out.
- If this is done in a computer system without a fill in the blank option, people may be forced to lie because their actual pronouns aren't on the list of options.
- When the person isn't present and you need to talk about them, there's no visible reminder.
- Blind people may not be able to use this system effectively, so there is an access issue.
Third: Defaulting to gender-neutral pronouns unless and until you have specific information about the person you're talking about. The advantages include:
- Not gendering people who prefer not to be gendered.
- Not all languages have gender-neutral pronouns.
- Languages that have gender-neutral pronouns may not have a single set of gender-neutral pronouns.
- Gender-neutral pronouns are also used to de-gender binary trans people, and that's not OK.
One idea I have, which I haven't seen discussed as a way of introducing pronouns before (though it could have been -- I obviously don't see everything), is the third person bio. It's a context-dependent option, in that it won't always make sense to include third person bios for people, but some conferences already have presenter bios. So do some meetings. By writing these introductions in third person, we aren't announcing "my pronouns are X," but we are choosing pronouns (or choosing to avoid pronouns.)
As an example, many presenters for AAC in the Cloud wrote introductions in third person. (A few used "I." I used "they.") People generally weren't leading into their presentations with their pronouns. I might have (I don't remember), but it wasn't generally a thing. We could get good information about how to talk about people, though: Dr. Kathy Howery starts with her title, indicating we should use it, and uses she/her pronouns in her introduction. I just use my first name (Alyssa), indicating I don't need an honorific (if you want to use one, it's Mx. until I finish my PhD, but I don't need one) and they/them pronouns in mine. Ms. Helland tells me that "Ms. Lastname" is the right format to use for her, and she uses she/her pronouns. And no, I wasn't the only presenter to use they/them pronouns in my bio.
The advantages of this option include:
- The information about our pronoun preferences is there -- avoiding pronouns is also a choice.
- This can hold additional information about us, including additional information about how to refer to us!
- Bios can be referred back to in a way introduction circles can't be.
- It's a comparatively implicit cue, which may feel more natural for people.
- Ok, where are we putting all these third person bios anyways? (For conferences and meetings that have programs, the program makes sense, but that's not everywhere. The site where I teach math has them posted to the online classroom on the first day of class, and also on the teachers page.)
- There can still be a choice between coming out, lying, and avoiding pronouns for trans people who aren't out. I don't think any of those are ideal.
- Do people actually read these, even when they're present? I'm not certain.
Are any of these perfect solutions? Obviously not. They're imperfect and context-dependent. Besides, I'm an engineer. I don't actually believe in perfect solutions -- just better ones, and continued improvement. So, you know, keep thinking?