If you are a member of the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh and have not received the latest “Gender-Inclusive/Non-Sexist Language Guidelines,” be forewarned. Not only must you be prepared to memorize — and correctly pronounce — a litany of new personal pronouns, including “zi,” “zim,” and “zir.” You also need to be sensitive to the fact that gender identities of your students are subject to change presumably from one day to the next. Translation: Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.
The guidelines, distributed via the Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Study Program, were co-authored by linguistics professor Scott F. Kiesling and visiting English/Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies lecturer Julie Beaulieu. The document opens with a question that, sadly, is being taken increasingly seriously in liberal circles, which include academe: “Have you ever been called by a name or gender that you don’t identify with?”
From there it wanders off into the realm of nonsense words:
Misgendering someone is disrespectful and dismissive. One way to misgender is to assume you know someone’s gender via their appearance and to call them a name or pronoun that they don’t identify with. Misgendering can also occur when you teach as if your entire class is male. The best practice is to use words daily with intention and care.
To avoid unintentionally creating a sexist and homophobic classroom environment, during discussions do not limit yourself to male examples or heterosexual examples. Teachers can and should honor the breadth of experience and potential in students’ lives by discussing women, gender non-conforming, and LGBT-identified people. For example, avoid giving examples that assume that all doctors are men.