UT gently prods ‘genderlessness’ onto tips of Tennesseans’ tongues

The University of Tennessee’s Pride Center seeks to bring common parlance into the new era of genderlessness. (Photo University of Tennessee)

The University of Tennessee’s Pride Center seeks to bring common parlance into a phase of genderlessness. (Photo University of Tennessee)

[Our text is not intended to create in your mind a spell of fun-making at those who “struggle over identity” or live outside the “gender binary” that is a corrupting influence from the physical world and its division into sexes, male and female. The linguistic fight to queer the tongue is just beginning: Language must be purified of a false paradigm. Mankind must show courage to defy the tyranny of creation and remake itself one soul at a time. The effort has to start with academia, and after several generations of labor wiggle its way down to farm family dinner tables, life in the home, factory district Waffle Houses and the obituary desk at the daily newspaper. For the gender confused, the war within language and its conversion into neutrality — he becomes ze — is exhilarating, defiant, self-affirming and tricky — for old habits of “she” or “her“ die hard. I would like to do my part to further this effort by turning over this website to UT’s office for diversity and inclusion for training purposes. — DJT]

By Donna Braquet

With the new semester beginning and an influx of new students on campus, it is important to participate in making our campus welcoming and inclusive for all. One way to do that is to use a student’s chosen name and their correct pronouns.

We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems. Transgender people and people who do not identity within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth.


In the first weeks of classes, instead of calling roll, ask everyone to provide their name and pronouns. This ensures you are not singling out transgender or non-binary students. The name a student uses may not be the one on the official roster, and the roster name may not be the same gender as the one the student now uses.

This practice works outside of the classroom as well. You can start meetings with requesting introductions that include names and pronouns, introduce yourself with your name and
chosen pronouns, or when providing nametags, ask attendees to write in their name and pronouns.

Gender-neutral pronouns

We are familiar with the singular pronouns she, her, hers and he, him, his, but those are not the only singular pronouns. In fact, there are dozens of gender-neutral pronouns.

A few of the most common singular gender-neutral pronouns are they, them, their (used as singular), ze, hir, hirs, and xe, xem, xyr.

These may sound a little funny at first, but only because they are new. The she and he pronouns would sound strange too if we had been taught ze when growing up.

How do you know?

How do you know what pronoun someone uses? If you cannot use the methods mentioned above, you can always politely ask. “Oh, nice to meet you, [insert name]. What pronouns should I use?” is a perfectly fine question to ask.

The more we make sharing of pronouns a universal practice, the more inclusive we will be as a campus. When our organizational culture shifts to where asking for chosen names and pronouns is the standard practice, it alleviates a heavy burden for persons already marginalized by their gender expression or identity.

— Donna Braquet is director of the Pride Center at UT in Knoxville.

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