When You Put Preferred Pronouns in Your Email Signature
Updated: Aug 23
Dear Work Colleague,
I wanted to write and tell you how I feel when I see the preferred pronouns you’ve put in your email signature. I’m not able to speak to you directly, I am not able to speak to my manager, or speak to anyone in my place of work because women who have spoken about this are treated badly. Women are no-platformed, they are sacked and on social media they are threatened with threats of death and sexual violence. There is a climate of fear and I am scared of speaking to you directly and explaining how I feel. The only way I can do it is behind the shield of anonymity.
Before I explain, I want to say I completely agree with you that trans people as all minority groups should be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace and in society. I like you feel strongly about that. I too am from a marginalised group and know the pain of growing up being ‘othered’ and cast out. I don’t want anyone to feel that. But the pronouns in your email hurt me and if you listen, I will explain how.
Placing your preferred pronouns, I think, started off as a statement of inclusivity, a statement that you wanted everyone at work to be free to express themselves without fear of embarrassment or shame. But now it seems that pronouns reflect a political statement one that also subscribes to the oft chanted statement that ‘transwomen are women’. It has now become a political ideology that holds sway in parliament, in policy decisions and in legislation. Most of all it has influence in how we are allowed to use language, who is allowed to speak and how we are allowed to describe our reality.
My story is that I experienced sexual violence at the hands of a family member throughout my childhood. The pain and suffering of this have been crippling throughout my life. But last year I confided in my inner circle, summoned the courage and reported these crimes to the police.
Over the years some of the sharp edges of the trauma have softened and I have learned ways to manage the pain. But by the end of the police interview I had become undone. Each of my traumas was excavated and re-examined through the forensic lens of a police question. The questions the police interviewer asked - the details they wanted were excruciating. Each question made me delve deeper and deeper back into the memory, back into the fear, the pain, the shame, the panic. It felt as if my body was being forensically post-mortemed whilst I was still living and breathing. At the end of the interview my trauma was a live, swirling torrent of shrapnel cutting me up from the inside. The pain was almost unbearable. I was questioned for five hours.
To try and soften the trauma of being interviewed I requested to be interviewed by a female police officer. She was kind and as gentle as she could be with me while drilling deep bore holes through my protective layers. She was non-threatening to me, and I felt she understood my discomfort and vulnerability in a way only another female person can. But currently the Metropolitan police, under the advice of Stonewall have a policy of self-ID. This means that any police officer, with or without a Gender Recognition Certificate, with or without any medical transition is treated as a woman by the police if they say they are one. This means a fully intact male can conduct searches, even intimate body searches on women. This means that when a woman comes forward to report sexual assault and wants a female police officer she can be interviewed by a male-bodied person who identifies as a woman.
Because of my trauma background my body and my physiology are hardwired to respond with an overwhelming fear response in certain situations. For instance, when walking in a deserted street alone after nightfall and spotting a lone male in my proximity, when submitting to an intimate medical examination or when strange men invade my personal space. My heart quickens, my lungs inflate, I feel a pressure in my chest, my hands go clammy the blood rushes from my face and my panic-stricken thoughts flap in my mind like a flock of birds caught in a net. I am overwhelmed. I am not able to make decisions or speak in an intelligible way. I freeze and become compliant. This is what I learned to do when I was being abused and this is how my innate survival mechanism manifests when I’m under threat.
I knew that if I had been interviewed by a man my fear response would have kicked in and I would not have been able to do it. I don’t choose this response. I don’t like to be constantly on the alert to threats. This is what happens when a child is sexually abused for the majority of their childhood. Transwomen, to me, look like men wearing dresses, wigs and makeup. Some transwomen say they are broadening the bandwidth of what it is to be a woman and retaining full beards claim to be lesbians. If I had been presented with a transwoman police officer at my interview, regardless of pronouns, I would have still seen and heard a man. My body would have reacted in kind. My fear response would have been activated. I would have frozen. I would have been unable to tell my story. Or I would have tried, hindered and inarticulate, my story would have come out jumbled and the pain, the shame, the humiliation I would have felt would have been many times worse.
When you put pronouns in your email signature you align yourself with the position that ‘transwomen are literal women’. And the follow through of this is that you are asking victims of sexual assault to deny our reality, you are asking us to ignore our internal physiological fear response and you are asking us not to speak of our pain because what is most important here is a male bodied person’s need to be affirmed. These are the same dynamics that were in play when I was being abused. My reality was denied, my fear was denied, my voice was suppressed because a man’s needs had to be met.
And here is the rub. Here is the clash of rights front-line. Do pronouns prevail and do trans identified males have the right to be treated as literal women above all else? Or do I have the right to speak freely? Do I have the freedom to describe my reality choosing whichever words I wish without fear of consequence? There is no place on the fence. There is no nuance. You cannot stand by us both.
You may think this is a non-issue but only recently the right of rape victims to request a biological woman medical forensic examiner was debated in the Scottish parliament. That is, the right of a rape victim to experience less fear and trauma was up for debate. Do you know how painful it is when our right to be treated with anything, but the upmost compassion is a question of parliamentary debate? When you put your pronouns in your email signature you disregard our pain, and you align yourself with trans rights above all others. You may have the luxury of not experiencing these things. You may have the luxury of not thinking about these things. You may have the luxury of not looking too deeply into this debate. But I your work colleague do not have that luxury. I sit next to you, I work with you, we joke together and we make tea for each other. But do you really know me?
I respect your right to hold any political belief you wish. I would still respect you and your right if, even after hearing my story, you thought sexual assault survivors should not have the right to ask for a biological woman when interviewed about their assaults. That sexual assault survivors should have to swallow their trauma response, swallow their pain and be used to affirm someone’s gender identity. But every time I see the pronouns in your email signature it hurts me. It's a symbol and constant reminder that mine and other women's sex-based rights are under threat.
It would not be acceptable for me to state my political belief in my email signature (gender critical). So why, in our place of work, is it acceptable for you to state yours?
Your anonymous work colleague