Shane Whalley, MSSW ’03, served as education coordinator for the UT Austin’s Gender and Sexuality Center for seven years before joining Via Hope in 2014. For the past ten years, ze has also been an adjunct faculty at the School of Social Work, where ze loves to teach courses on social justice. We asked Whalley why should social workers care about gender-neutral language, and this is what ze shared.
- “The 2008 NASW Code of Ethics establishes that social workers should obtain education and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to gender identity or expression. Simply put, caring about gender-neutral language it’s part of our code of ethics as social workers.
- “Beyond that basic obligation, for me is about being respectful and inclusive of the people we work with, for, and on behalf of. Our names and by extension our pronouns are at the core to who we are, and they deserve respect and inclusion.
- “I often hear that gender-neutral or, as I prefer to say, gender-expansive pronouns are hard, don’t make sense, or are just made-up. Well, we are inventing new language all the time –we didn’t have LOL in our vocabulary a few years ago – and people are learning new things everyday. As a social worker, being respectful and inclusive means that I learn your language even if I have to struggle to do it. And by the way, the Oxford dictionary has just added the gender-expansive pronouns ze and hir and the salutation Mixter and Mx.
- “Tip for practice: Don’t assume pronouns. When I run groups, I ask people to give their pronouns with their name during introductions. Otherwise, what happens is that we only ask people when we think we don’t know, which means we are tagging them. I appreciate when people ask me what pronoun I use because people make all kind of assumptions based on my appearance.
- “It’s okay to make mistakes but it’s not okay to dismiss the issue or avoid the work required to learn someone’s pronoun preferences.
- “Below is a simplified guide to gender expansive pronouns (be aware that there are other options). There is no good substitute for Sir/Madam. It’s best to say, ‘Can I help you,’ ‘Good morning,’ and ‘What would you like today?’ instead of mis-gendering someone.”
Instead of He or She you may use Ze / They*
Instead or Him or Her you may use Hir / Them *
Instead of His or Hers you may use Hirs / Theirs *
Instead of Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. you may use Mx. / Mixter
*They, them, and theirs are used in singular form, and seem to be the most favored nowadays because they are familiar words and we already know how to conjugate them. More about gender and pronouns in this New York Times article.
By Andrea Campetella | Spring 2016 | Ask the Expert