As a writer, I have been thinking about preferred gender pronouns (PGPs) and the best way to reference an individual within an article without using a name every time. PGPs are third-person singular pronouns like he/she, which assume the subject’s gender. Should I always pick gender-neutral pronouns? Or maybe I should ask an interviewee what pronoun they prefer as part of the standard interview process?
Several recent experiences have opened my eyes to this issue. When I watched the video of Lana Wachowski (world-renowned movie director) speaking at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign awards, I was intensely saddened by the emotional (and often physical) trauma that transgender people face every day. Wachowski described the pain of growing up transgender and the need to seclude from the world but became visible to serve as a role model for the transgender community.
Last spring, I attended a local high school Gay-Straight Alliance community event, and we had the option of putting our PGP on the name tag. It was both enlightening and fun to see the students’ choices and think about my own personal preference. I realized that I am pronoun adverse, which also makes sense from the perspective of supporting women and diversity in the sciences. We are fighting for policies that limit gender bias (e.g., blind peer reviews), so removing gender-specific pronouns is a logical step in that direction to provide equal opportunities for every man, woman and transgender person.
I would love to know what others think about this issue. Do you have a standard PGP or another way to avoid gender references in speech and writing?