That’s what (pronoun) said.
In the case of the modern student, preferred gender pronouns are no longer exclusive to the “he” or “she” adopted from birth.
The University of Tennessee published an internet guide to help navigate what may be preferred pronouns. According to Inside Higher Ed, the list juxtaposed “he” and “she,” with new gender-neutral pronouns, such as “xe,” “hirs,” and the use of “they” as singular. The university claimed it did not mandate usage of such pronouns, but due to backlash, it repealed the guide on September 4.
The pronouns, intended to be gender-neutral, are not exclusive to the Univ. of Tennessee. Students at Harvard University may now indicate preferred pronouns when they register, and students at the University of California may choose between six gender identifiers, according to USA Today.
Though universities have yet to standardize pronoun policy, it is not uncommon for language to shift over time, AP English Literature and Composition teacher Nichole Wilson said.
“Language changes all the time, as we know,” Wilson said. “It changes, it evolves, it grows. I think about even something like ending a sentence with a preposition. There are some people who are really against it, and it’s become so commonplace that I think a lot of people, in spoken language, do that.”
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, commonly known as GLAAD, is a media organization that supports LGBT equality. GLAAD recommends that everyday speakers and allies—non-transgender people that favor transgender rights—listen to the pronouns others use for a transgender individual. If they still cannot infer preference, they should introduce themselves and their own preferences before inquiring.
Some pronoun usage, such the singular use of “they”, may violate conventional grammar. Though this may be forgiven in speech, Wilson said the uncertainty surrounding pronouns should not translate to formal writing.
“All the audiences aren’t the same,” Wilson said. “So if you’re writing, writing especially something formal, then I would expect you to have time to contemplate what the gender of the individual is, whether it is a he or a she, or however that individual chooses to identify himself or herself.”
Linguistic guides such as the Associated Press stylebook have made this contemplation integral to modern style; as of 2013, its guide dictates media to refer to sources via their preferred pronouns—a policy spotlighted during Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation this summer.
According to Public Information Officer Tracey Carson, the Mason school district also endeavors to align its language with a student’s wishes.
“Educators strive to ensure their language respects students and their families’ preferences,” Carson said. “So, for example, if one person of color prefers the term ‘African-American’ while another person of color prefers the term ‘Black’, educators often try to respect their preference. Similarly, if a student’s given name is ‘Jacob’ but the student and family prefers ‘Jake’, schools work to respect that preference. The same also seems true for students and their families’ pronoun preference.”