gender awareness, pronouns (PAPER STORY)

Editor’s Note: Rafael Mari Meneses Pimentel uses the rolling pronouns he, she and they. This article will alternate between these pronouns when referring to Meneses Pimentel.

When Rafael Mari Meneses Pimentel first arrived at the University of Georgia, none of his classes required introductions with pronouns. Now, all of their classes do. 

Meneses Pimentel is a nonbinary fifth-year environmental economics and urban studies major at UGA. When her professors ask everyone to introduce their names and pronouns, Meneses Pimentel said for now, he just uses he/him or he/they pronouns in class. In their personal life, Meneses Pimental uses rolling pronouns, which alternate between their preferred pronouns he, she and they.

“At school, I definitely tone it down a little,” Meneses Pimentel said. “For me, that just seems like the simpler way to go about classes. … I just don’t feel like explaining myself or having to deal with unnecessary questions.” 

Over the past decade, awareness for gender identities other than cisgender have increased alongside increased usage of gender neutral pronouns and more than one gendered pronoun. For example, nonbinary people don’t fall into the category of strictly masculine or  strictly feminine.  

Because of this awareness, workplaces and schools such as UGA are implementing more resources and practices to help transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students feel more comfortable. 

A process for changing one’s preferred name that doesn’t require a legal name change, transgender-affirming training and identifications of names and pronouns during classroom introductions are three ways transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming students, faculty and staff can feel more comfortable in the classroom and workspace. 

Starting with the introductions

Though more professors are asking for pronouns in introductions, Isaac Wood, a freshman transgender man majoring in ecology, said pronouns can seem like an afterthought brought up when he enters a room since he’s androgynous-presenting. 

“It’s very alienating, and I mean, it’s happened in many situations,” Wood said.

Wood said automatically requiring pronoun introductions can help take the pressure off of gender-nonconforming students to let people know their gender and pronouns before class. Wood said to prevent being deadnamed or misgendered in class, he sends each of his professors an email before classes start to clarify his name and pronouns.

Deadnaming is when a person is called by the name they were assigned at birth, not the name they use on a day-to-day basis that is more gender-affirming.

Getting a preferred name changed in the system at UGA can be difficult, Meneses Pimentel said. She said it took her about two months to get their name changed in UGA’s system. Meneses Pimentel said in a text with The Red & Black that after filling out the preferred name change form on the Office of the Registrar website, the system went back to referring to them by their deadname, so he had to call and get it changed.

“I’m a very confident person. I feel very comfortable doing phone calls, but I know plenty of people are not,” Meneses Pimentel said. “And for them, that’s a barrier, so they get stuck with their deadname on eLC and stuff like that.”

Meneses Pimentel thinks UGA should do more to make transgender and nonbinary students more comfortable, like making preferred name changes easier and providing training to faculty and staff on gender.

The UGA Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offers trans-affirming practice training, and the UGA LGBT Resource Center offers training sessions on transgender allyship correlated with each year’s Transgender Day of Rememberance. 

When asked to comment on how UGA is addressing these issues, UGA referred The Red & Black to the LGBTRC website.

Spreading the word 

In her application letter to UGA, professor of graphic design Annika Kappenstein disclosed that she was trans-feminine nonbinary. 

“[I was hired] maybe because [I outed myself], maybe although I had outed myself,” Kappenstein said. “So, if anything, it’s not a big deal. Maybe it’s even kind of a plus for the diversity.”

Kappenstein has been a professor at UGA since August 2020, and in her time instructing mostly online, she said she hasn’t seen many pronoun introductions, unlike Meneses Pimentel. She has seen growing awareness, though, through people putting pronouns in their Zoom handles. 

Both Meneses Pimentel and Wood said UGA has good resources for transgender and nonbinary students but doesn’t do a good job of advertising them. Wood went through the LGBTRC Housing Liaison to avoid the obstacles of gendered housing. Meneses Pimentel mentioned UGA’s trans-inclusive health care and trans support groups. Both Meneses Pimentel and Wood said they had to search for these resources or heard about them through friends.

"I’m, you know, a professor of graphic design, and I happen to be transgender. It's not that that has anything to do with each other."

-Annika Kapenstein, UGA professor 

“I think they could do a better job of posting these up on MLC or Tate or whatever, like put something out in the newsletter, or having a table,” Meneses Pimentel said. “They can definitely do a better job of including us in those spaces … just so people know that these resources exist.”

Wood said professors should understand students look to them to establish guidelines on how to approach transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people in class. He said asking students to introduce themselves with their names instead of doing roll calls, which can deadname students, and being diligent about using students’ correct names and pronouns can help everyone feel more comfortable. 

Kappenstein and Meneses Pimentel both think acceptance will come when people stop fighting change. Kappenstein said she hopes one day acceptance of all gender identities and pronouns will be the standard. 

“I’m just a complete open book about it, but I’m not actually advertising because I’m, you know, a professor of graphic design, and I happen to be transgender,” Kappenstein said. “It’s not that that has anything to do with each other.”