Respect and inclusivity are vital in the drama classroom. One way to demonstrate respect and inclusivity is to use students’ personal pronouns correctly. How does a person wish to be referred to in the singular third person in the English language? This includes (but is not limited to) he/him, she/her, they/them, ze/hir, and no pronoun (use my name). Some people use multiple pronouns (she/her and they/them, for example).
You can’t assume what someone’s pronouns are just by looking at them, by what their name is, or by what they’re wearing. As well, pronouns are not necessarily indicative of a person’s gender or other identities. We want our students to be comfortable expressing themselves, and using a student’s preferred pronouns helps foster a more inclusive environment in your drama classroom. Read on for three tips to help you incorporate this inclusive language into your classroom, whether it’s in-person or online.
Start your class with introductions: “Hi, my name is Mr. Taylor, and my pronouns are he/him.” That shows students that you are aware of the concept of pronouns, that you are open to sharing your own pronouns, and that they can share theirs in your classroom. There’s even a gender-neutral honorific: “Mx.” (pronounced “mix” or “em-ecks”), for those that prefer a gender-neutral title.
When preparing for an upcoming production, you can also include a section for pronouns on audition forms in the personal information portion: Name, Age, Grade, Pronouns.
Rather than addressing your students by phrases such as “good morning boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?” choose gender-neutral terms such as “students,” “people,” “friends,” “everyone,” “loyal subjects” – well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea! Be conscious of your words when referring to groups of people. Even seemingly casual phrases like “what are you guys up to?” have gender-specific connotations. As well, avoid dividing students into groups by gender (“girls will work on Scene 1 and boys will work on Scene 2”).
The website www.mypronouns.org is a fantastic resource and a great place to start for more information about personal pronouns. You’ll also want to learn more about gender identity terms such as gender expansive, transgender, cisgender, agender, genderfluid, non-binary, and genderqueer. The website https://pflag.org/glossary is another great resource for learning terminology.
If you make a mistake and use incorrect pronouns for one of your students (this is called misgendering), apologize, and be sure to use the correct pronouns going forward. Find out if the student would like you to use that moment to educate others (for example, explain to the rest of the class what happened, how to use correct pronouns, and why) or just leave it. Each person’s reaction will be different.
Look at films, television shows, and other media to see representation of people using personal pronouns, and how they do it. For example, in the show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the actor Lachlan Watson (who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns) plays Theo Putnam, a transgender boy (previously “Susie”) who uses he/him pronouns. As well, learn more about plays and musicals that deal with gender identity and use of pronouns, such as Head over Heels by Jeff Whitty and James Magruder, Hedwig and the Angry Inch by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, or Hir by Taylor Mac.
Please be aware that there is no universal agreement on terms relating to gender identity and pronouns. Language is always evolving. However, continually educating ourselves on these matters will help us support our students and help them feel safe and respected in the drama classroom, exactly as they are.