Greater NW Pride: Preferred Gender Pronouns and LGBTQ+ People in the Church


Preferred Gender Pronouns and LGBTQ+ People in the Church

When growing up in modern American society, I remember as a young adult—who was identifying as white, cisgender, straight, male at the time—I would get letters addressed and sent to me as “Mr. Brett Mitchell.” The young woman I was engaged to at the time would get letters addressed to her with “Miss.” When we got married in 1978, soon letters were sent and addressed to us as “Mr. and Mrs. Brett Mitchell.” As she pointed out to me that while before marriage she had letters sent to “Miss.”, with her whole name, now she was reduced to simply “Mrs.” The rest of her identity was consumed by the title “Mrs. Brett Mitchell.” To remedy this, a bit, we hyphenated our last name to “Webb-Mitchell.” “Ms.”, replaced “Miss.”, and “Mrs.” But the mail still was sent to “The Rev. Dr. and Ms. Brett Webb-Mitchell.” It was better, but not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The change of “Miss.”, and “Mrs.”, to “Ms.”, was a small act but with bigger implications as to how one saw or addressed one’s self in the world in which one lives.
Since second grade, I started to learn my pronouns for being a cisgender male. I learned to call myself “he, him, his.” In recent years, I learned that while, on the face of things, while I thought I knew everyone’s preferred gender pronouns, that is not necessarily the case.  You can’t always tell someone’s preferred gender pronoun simply by looking at a person or hearing another person’s voice. When a person is referred to by the wrong pronoun, this can make the other person feel misunderstood, disrespected, and marginalized. And if one cannot figure out or is unsure of someone’s gender identity, one can be straightforward and ask the person which gender they identify themselves with. One can ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?” in private. Or in a group setting, you can play a game, “Hi All!  Everyone share their name, a silly fact about themselves, and their preferred pronouns, like what do you like to be referred to with. For instance, I'm Brett, I like chocolate, and my preferred gender pronoun is he, him, his.” And remember: it is OK to stumble and make a mistake.  Simply apologize in private and move on. What matters most is we are all trying to be aware of the personal preferences of others when it comes to personal pronouns, including in a church. 
What kind of pronouns can be used?  Well, there is, for those who identify as male, “he, him, his.” For those who identify as female, there is “she, her, hers.” Others may choose the gender-neutral pronoun like “they, them, theirs.” Still others do not wish to use a gender preferred pronoun, and would rather a person simply use one’s name, like “Brett.” 
So, when you gather together this coming Sunday in your church, just try to be aware of your own personal preference regarding pronouns, and sensitive and aware of others.  Feel free to include it in your signature piece on emails, too, like “The Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell, (he, him, his).” And when opening a meeting with those you may not know, for that first time in meeting one another, make time to share personal preferences with pronouns. Or maybe even at our United Methodist Church Annual Conferences, with our name tags, we could simply add and write in our preferred gender pronouns!
Just like the letters addressed and sent to me, it is these small acts that have a big impact upon our lives!

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!