As Instagram adds pronoun option to profiles – why do people state their pronouns?

·3-min read
 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Instagram has added a dedicated pronoun section to users’ profiles to allow people to share their pronouns– including but not limited to he, she and they – alongside their name and photograph.

Previously users could choose to add their pronouns, but only in character-limited fields like their bio or location settings, and it was not explicitly labelled.

The social media platform, owned by Facebook, said in a statement on Tuesday: “The new field is available in a few countries [including the UK], with plans for more.”

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In March, LinkedIn was another high profile platform to allow users to add their pronouns– either from a predefined list of He/Him, She/Her, They/Them, or a customised option that offers more freedom.

In 2020, instant messaging service Slack told a Twitter user it was still “actively looking into a pronoun field”, while offline, NHS workers have campaigned for the introduction of new badges that not only feature their first name but also state their pronouns. Investment bank Goldman Sachs reportedly issued pronoun guidelines in November 2020.

In recent years, a number of high profile celebrities, including singer Sam Smith, have announced they will no longer be using binary he/she pronouns and instead have adopted they/them.

A study by The Trevor Project in 2020 found 25 per cent of those surveyed (40,000 LGBTQ+ people between 13-24) were not using he/him or she/her. And Merriam Webster dictionary even made “they” its word of the year in 2019 because of a rise in interest in the term: searches had increased 313 per cent year on year.

So as pronouns– and explicit references to them – become more visible in day to day life, why do people choose to state their pronouns on places like Instagram and how does it help gender diverse people?

Kirrin Medcalf (he/him and they/them), head of trans inclusion at Stonewall, tells The Independent that doing this helps avoid gendered assumptions based on people’s appearance and mistakes being made in misgendering people.

“We can’t tell what someone’s pronouns are just by looking at them, so it’s fantastic that Instagram has created a place for people to list their pronouns on their profile if they are happy to,” says Medcalf.

And this isn’t just for trans or gender diverse people to think about. Having a culture where everyone feels they can more widely share their pronouns means it becomes more normalised and accepted as part of getting to know someone.

[It] is a great way to help trans, non-binary and gender diverse people feel comfortable being themselves

“Getting used to telling people what our pronouns are – on your social media profile, on your email signature, or when you meet people – is a great way to help trans, non-binary and gender diverse people feel comfortable being themselves,” says Medcalf.

Mermaids, a British charity that supports gender variant and transgender youth, previously shared some advice for employers looking to be better trans-allies, which includes promoting pronouns in email signatures for employees.

“Have a ‘transitioning at work’ policy, purchase and roll out gender awareness training, have gender neutral facilities and trans inclusive policies, include pronouns in your email signatures and have trans pride visuals up in public,” the charity suggested.

There is a lack of robust data in the UK on the size of the trans population, but the government estimates there are approximately 200,000 to 500,000 trans people in the UK. Stonewall says the “best estimate” is that around one per cent of the population might identify as trans, a statistic which includes non-binary people.

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