As the number of individuals who identify as someone more complex than male or female continues to increase across the country, traditional gender-based pronouns "he" and "she" are being updated at several US universities.
While some of these individuals identify as transgender — having been born as one gender but now identifying as another — many do not identify as either gender. Genny Beemyn, who works at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said this was particularly true of younger people:
"One thing that we're seeing here and what other schools across the country are seeing is the majority of our trans students today identify as nonbinary," Beemyn said.
UMass freshman orientation offers students the ability to select between a number of identifiers, including man, woman, trans, or another identity. Beemyn noted that 75% of incoming students last year who did not choose man or woman chose to identify themselves as nonbinary, writes Chris Lindahl for The Daily Progress.
As the director of the Stonewall Center, a UMass LGBTQ resource hub, Beemyn identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronoun they/them. They said that many universities across the country, including UMass, are beginning to see how important it is to allow students to select their own pronouns outside of the traditional options.
The University of Iowa has also announced plans to begin allowing students to be referred to be pronouns other than "he" or "she" through the introduction of gender-neutral options "ze," "zem," "zir or hir," and "zirs or hirs."
The school is also suggesting that students "update their names and pronouns" so that their preference is noted on the school registration system. "Have students create name cards in class or meetings with their names and pronouns listed," recommends one of the participants in an instructional video posted to YouTube.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has introduced a chart on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center's (LGBTRC) website that includes 12 acceptable pronouns as a how-to guide for students to help them refer correctly to other students and professors. The site stresses that these are not the only pronouns that may be used, adding that some students may wish to use their name as a pronoun, or the plural "they," writes Jenna Lawrence for Campus Reform.
Other colleges across the nation are also beginning to allow students to choose their own gender pronouns, including the University of Tennessee, Harvard University, Boston University, University of Vermont, University of Massachusetts and Scripps College.
When those who identify outside of the binary are referred to by the wrong pronoun, it can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of being boxed in.
"When you use he/him pronouns or she/her pronouns for me, you are erasing who I am,' said Aubri Drake of Easthampton, Massachusetts. "You're seeing what you want to see, you're seeing what you imagine I am supposed to be."
Schools aren't alone in beginning to offer individuals the option to identify as non-traditional pronouns. In 2014, Facebook began to allow its users to select from 58 different genders. It has since replaced this option with a fill-in box. Meanwhile, online dating sites like OKCupid offer 22 gender options, including genderqueer, pangender, transfeminine, two spirit and Hijra.