Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. Start your free two-week trial today.
Q. State your pronouns: We occasionally attend a very liberal church. Recently, it has become the expectation that everyone state their pronouns, put it on their nametag, etc. I feel utterly ridiculous doing this. I feel like my gender is very obvious due to my name and appearance. Moreover, I feel that the people who are questioning may not want to announce or discuss that with the world at large. While I am certainly supportive of anyone that wishes to clarify their preferred pronouns, is it really necessary for all of us to do so in order to be “good liberals”?
A: I think it will be good to free yourself of the idea of being a “good liberal” and rather ask yourself more nuanced questions about what you expect from your church community as an occasional churchgoer and what you feel comfortable offering it in return. These are not deep relationships, and you can certainly decline to wear a nametag if you’re only attending services a few times a year and aren’t deeply entrenched in the church’s common customs. I don’t think pronoun check-ins are the only or even the best way to support trans and nonbinary people, but the general principle behind the idea is the democratization of asking for someone’s pronouns, so the burden doesn’t just fall on people whose gender may not appear “very obvious” due to their name and appearance. I’m inclined to agree with you that more often than not, someone who’s going through the process of questioning whether they’re trans is going to feel put on the spot and anxious; it’s not a perfect solution that serves everyone equally. I’m not sure there is yet a perfect solution that serves everyone equally when it comes to reference, address, identity, unconscious assumptions, and community! But there’s a case to be made for not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I don’t think writing the word he or she next to your name on a nametag makes you look ridiculous—or at least no more ridiculous than anyone might feel wearing a nametag.
But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to attend the occasional service without declaring yourself. If you prefer to worship without a nametag, don’t fill one out.