During remote schooling, our social interactions are limited; all of us show up to class as just a floating head on a small screen or a voice through a microphone. For transgender and gender-nonconforming students, these virtual classes are yet another way for misgendering to occur. With fewer opportunities to make personal connections, it’s easier for professors to make assumptions about a student’s gender, leading them to use the wrong pronouns. And what student wants to correct their professor in a 200-person Zoom lecture?
To combat this, many students, both cisgender and trans or gender-nonconforming, have started including their pronouns in their Zoom display names. Similar to recent trends of including pronouns in your social media bio, having pronouns in Zoom display names helps to normalize sharing them. This way, there doesn’t have to be any awkward conversations with professors or peers in breakout rooms, and misgendering is likely to decrease.
Torrye Torrance, a first-year student at UO, said that they disclose their pronouns in their Zoom display name because they want others to understand them right away, especially those who haven’t met a nonbinary person before.
“Everyone has pronouns, not just trans folk,” Torrance said. “So normalizing the display of them is one step closer to moving past the stigma around being genderqueer and trans.”
Torrance also brought up that if a person’s pronouns are already being displayed, they can be understood right away. This eliminates some people’s discomfort about introducing themselves with their pronouns vocally; it also serves as a reminder to others, avoiding situations of accidental misgendering and discomfort.
While these benefits can hold true, disclosing your pronouns in your Zoom display name as a trans or gender-nonconforming student can, for some, run the risk of being outed. Not everyone is comfortable with displaying their pronouns to a bunch of black squares on a screen that represent individual students with their own opinions about gender identity and pronouns.
Personally, I choose to not disclose my pronouns (which are they/them) in my Zoom display name. Although I am out as trans/nonbinary, that doesn’t mean I want to be outed to a class of over 200 strangers, the majority of which don’t turn on their cameras. Since most of my interactions with professors and GEs are one-on-one, I feel more comfortable with privately disclosing my pronouns to them since they are visible and, in my experience so far, respectful.
Not disclosing my pronouns on Zoom is a way for me to avoid possible ridicule or someone making it a bigger deal than it needs to be. Torrance also acknowledges this risk as a reason why some might be hesitant to display their pronouns.
“It's always unclear if someone in the Zoom call will be transphobic, and whether they'll be vocal about it,” Torrance said. “Since it is over Zoom, it may not be as dangerous, but it is never an easy thing to deal with.”
In the end, comfort levels are the biggest factor. Not all trans or gender-nonconforming individuals are ready to disclose something that causes others to make assumptions about their gender identity. But as we get through a period of time where remote learning is the norm, maybe we can use it to eliminate the stigma. Those who are comfortable with disclosing their pronouns on Zoom can continue doing so, creating a safe space for others and taking steps toward a more inclusive future.