Kind regards,
Alex Russell

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Many of my co-workers have recently started putting their preferred pronouns in their email signatures. This is very nice of them, but has drawn some attention to the fact that I, the only out nonbinary member of staff, have not done this.

The truth is, I have a slight issue with the phrase “preferred pronouns” because I tend to have tiers of preferences. When I’m getting a sandwich, my preference is usually a chicken club; if I can’t have that, I’d take anything else over tuna and cucumber, including plain bread you’ve spat on a little. I try to be as open-minded as possible, but a person has to have their principles.

Similarly, if you ask me what pronouns I use, the answer is that the people I love refer to me using the words “they,” “them,” and “theirs.” But if we’re talking about preferences? To be honest, I’d much rather you make a different assumption and use different words than I be forced to have another conversation about this at work.

I know that your being “one of the good ones” means you want to make every interaction we have a learning opportunity for you, but I’ve done this a lot, and I already know how it will go. You’re going to get it wrong, panic while correcting yourself, publicly make it a much bigger deal than I wanted it to be, then I’ll have to spend the bulk of my break convincing you that you’re still a good ally. I don’t want to sound mean, but I’ve got other things to do. I’m hoping today might be the day where lunch is something more than eating leftovers at my desk, forgetting to taste any of it. I was hoping to check out that little nature trail near the office before I retire.

I have lots of preferences in my life, but few of them are greater than my preference that you don’t bring every piece of vaguely gender nonconforming news to me like a cat dragging an injured bluebird to my inbox. I’d rather be misgendered in every professional interaction I have for the rest of my life than be subjected to one more conversation about what Harry Styles wore. It would be one thing if you had a question beyond “Wha’d’ya think about that?” but we’d have to have several other long conversations where I explain my experiences and what we talk about when cis people aren’t around before you could fully understand my actual unfiltered opinions, and that’s not a conversation I want to have with someone who hasn’t got around to deleting all the tweets that could get them fired yet because they still think they’re pretty funny.

It’s not that I don’t trust you, but let’s be frank: I haven’t gone a full week without someone misspelling my surname the whole time I’ve worked here. My email address is just my name, then the company website. It’s also my display name, and I sign off every email with my full name to make it easier. You see my name in bold before you reply to me and still get it wrong, but you think you can handle not calling me “him”? I’ve got the ninety-third most common surname in the US and England, you haven’t nailed down whether it’s got one L or two, even when it’s put in front of you thrice, and you want to be put behind the wheel of the misgendering machine?

If you have to know, I want you to use they/them/theirs, but not as much as I want to get my work done. The best way for you to be a good ally is to unionize before our managers hear I’m a queer, and maybe let me know where the finance team hides their secret stash of good coffee. Their cups never smell like battery acid, so I know they’re not using the jumbo-sized tub of no-brand instant granules like the rest of us chumps.