Last week my boss asked if I was willing to extend my part-time consulting contract for one more year. He very nicely told me how grateful he was that I had come back to work in the subway schedules department, and how I had provided invaluable assistance to the staff by trouble shooting their software problems (the important, but unofficial, part of my old job). After I agreed to one more year, he told me that he was very busy and asked me to write the memorandum to request that the state Board of Ethics grant me another waiver so that I could continue working.
In theory, writing the memo was no big deal. One paragraph stating why they hired me back in the first place, the second paragraph with a flowery description of what I’ve done for the department, the third paragraph outlining what they expect me to do in the next year (oversee the installation of a new proprietary software program), and the fourth paragraph closing with why it is important that the contract be extended. Standard bureaucratic drivel.
When I was in charge of the department, I wrote a hundred similar memo’s to HR to hire and promote managers. The memos were slightly formal and stilted.
I got hung up on the first sentence. The one that started with “The purpose of this memorandum is to request that Ms. Jamie Ray’s Contingent Temporary Employee contract be extended for an additional year.” Four paragraphs of writing about myself in the third person with Ms. and she used collectively eleven times. It was a strong and convincing memo, but it sounded off-key to me. I’m not that person any longer. I don’t think of myself as she or her or Ms.
I copied the text into a new document and tried to tone down the gender references. I realized that this was not the right time to change pronouns and honorifics at work. If I am going to do it I need to do it the same way I changed my name. I need to talk to my closest co-workers and my boss, ask for their support, and then let everyone else know and hold them to it. It isn’t good form to ask my boss to sign out a memo, under his name, using Mx. and they, if I’m not already using gender neutral pronouns and honorifics in the office. I substituted they or Jamie seven times, and I left in two Ms. and two shes. One in each paragraph. It flew under his radar and he signed it out.
The last time this specific problem came up was over two years ago, when I drafted the “therapist’s letter” for Dr. Weiss for my top surgery and ended up using she and her (but not Ms.). I am merely annoyed by other people referring to me as she/her, but it is torture for me to do it to myself. I’m not doing it again.
I never think or talk about myself in the third person. I don’t use or select Ms. on address forms. Thankfully, first person pronouns are not gendered, except in a very small handful of languages (including Thai and Welsh). I’m happy referring to myself with Jamie, me, I, my, and mine.
Outside of trans spaces, I’m still reluctant to ask anyone to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t have a good answer when I’m asked what my pronouns are. I’m likely to say that I prefer they/them, then hedge it by saying that most of the people in my life use she/her. I don’t feel entitled to make a fuss about it. It is as if I’ve tethered new pronouns to taking testosterone (what is the point of using they/them if I’m not on T). Increasingly, however, it feels contradictory for me to come out as trans while tolerating she/her pronouns. I don’t think I’m headed for he/him, but I don’t think I can tolerate she/her forever.
Notes: While using gender neutral pronouns has been in the news a lot, I could not find anything regarding using they/them/their pronouns in business writing, e.g. resumes, CV’s, and professional bios. I did, however, find a great article by Dennis Baron called “The Words that Failed: A chronology of early nonbinary pronouns“.
I last wrote about this issue in an alarmingly similar way about two years ago in a post titled “Grammar, Preferred Gender Pronouns, and I“. It also references an article by Dennis Baron.