To pronoun or not to pronoun: that is the initial question

To pronoun or not to pronoun: that is the initial question
Photo by gar1984 on Bigstock

A reader writes to ask:

Recently, I noticed that your ms format models now feature a gender identifier on the line with the writer’s name. (He/him in my case.) Is this something new? I was once advised to use my initials only when submitting to certain pubs (such as feminist-oriented pubs) to avoid gender bias. If this identifier is required, that strategy seems to go out the window.

Yes, adding preferred pronouns to your contact information is a relatively recent development,¬†but it’s not a mandatory one. As I say in my guidelines, include your pronouns if you like. It can be a handy way to ensure that a publication refers to you correctly in bios, correspondence and other materials. Even if your name seems unambiguously gendered, providing your pronouns can help to normalize the practice and make it more accepted for writers of all identities. I know of no publication where it’s a requirement, though.

As for the practice of publishing under initials, there can be commercial¬†reasons for it, but in the instance you cite it strikes me as an attempt to infiltrate a publication by representing yourself as something you are not. True, writers throughout history have used pen names or initials to hide or obscure their gender—George Eliot, C.L. Moore and James Tiptree, Jr., spring to mind—but these are cases of women trying to have their work taken more seriously in a male-dominated publishing environment. Attempting the reverse in this, or any, age is probably not a good look.

So, unless a publication’s guidelines¬†encourage submissions under initialed bylines, or unless you publish under one generally, my advice would be to avoid doing it. The backlash when you’re found out can be fierce—as in the case of Michael Derrick Hudson, the white poet who had been publishing under the name Yi-Fen Chou to make his submissions stand out from the pack.

To sum up, no one is twisting your arm into providing your pronouns, but do try to ensure that any omission of them is not deceptive.  

Dog in disguise
Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash


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