Do you recall the first time you saw an email address or a web URL associated with a program on television?
The general public first became aware of the internet with the launch of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. I remember a year or so after that seeing a news program on TV where the announcers were talking about the internet and email. As part of this, they were debating the meaning of the ‘@’ symbol and how one should pronounce it in conversation.
I also remember how, for the next couple of years, people on these shows would explain the meaning of the email and web addresses shown at the bottom of the screen.
How things have changed. I just had a root around the internet and found the original video, which was from an NBC News program circa 1994/1995.
As it says in the blurb for this video: “Go back in time with these NBC News archive clips from 1994 and 1995 when the ‘World Wide Web’ and Internet were mere mysteries. See what Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, Tom Brokaw, and Bill Gates had to say so many years ago.”
The reason I mention this here is that someone just contacted me about something on LinkedIn. Let’s call him “John Doe.” The thing that caused me to pause for a moment was that their username was actually shown as “John Doe (he/him/his).”
Although I am, of course, conversant with the concept, this is the first time I’ve actually seen someone express their preferred gender pronouns in this way.
Just to make sure we’re all tap-dancing to the same drum beat, we use pronouns to refer to ourselves or other people without specifying them by name. As opposed to saying, “Max took Max’s pet walrus for a swim,” for example, we can use the possessive case of the singular personal pronoun to say “Max took his pet walrus for a swim.” (We can but hope that Max doesn’t name his pet walrus Max, and that the walrus doesn’t have a treasured toy called Max, otherwise things could quickly become complicated.)
As a society, we tend to make assumptions about which pronouns to use. If someone appears to be male, we would typically use pronouns like he, him, and his; if someone appears to be female, we would typically use pronouns like she, her, and hers.
“Gender expression” refers to the way a person appears in terms of gender. By comparison, “gender identity” refers to the way a person identifies internally in terms of gender. Sometimes these two aspects of that person don’t match up. In this case, the person in question may express which set of pronouns they prefer the rest of us to use, where these pronouns may include the gender-neutral they, them, and their in the case of someone who might not identify as being either male or female.
My wife (Gina the Gorgeous) is of the opinion that I bumble along through life without having a clue as to what’s going on around me. To be honest, this isn’t far from the truth. Although I may appear to be paying attention to what someone is saying — including grunting at appropriate junctures (it’s a skill developed over the years) — oftentimes my mind drifts away to visions of Max’s World, where the butterflies are brighter, the birds sing sweeter, the flowers smell nicer, and the beer runs plentiful and cold.
Personally, I think we live in a world that is rife with confusion and it’s all too easy to say the wrong thing or to offend someone unintentionally, so I appreciate any “heads-up” people care to give me, including alerting me to their preferred personal pronouns. What say you?