Queen’s professor releases guide to pronouns

Gender: Your Guide looks to navigate changing gender culture

Dr. Lee Airton is an assistant professor at Queen’s.
Image supplied by: Supplied by Lee Airton
Dr. Lee Airton is an assistant professor at Queen’s.

On Tuesday, Queen’s professor Dr. Lee Airton released Gender: Your Guide to help navigate pronoun use in today’s evolving society. 

Airton, an assistant professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies in Education at Queen’s, has a background in beginner-oriented work and undergraduate teaching relating to sexual and gender diversity. 

“All of my undergraduate teaching is with people who know they have some kind of responsibility towards students who don’t do gender like other students, but they don’t always know what to do,” Airton said in an interview with The Journal.

“When I started using they/them as my gender pronoun, there was nowhere I could send anybody. There’s a lot of places that offer excellent arguments for why it’s important to use people’s pronouns—the ‘why,’ but not really the ‘how.’”

Since 2012, Airton has been working on their blog, They Is My Pronoun, which focuses on gender-neutral pronoun use. Included in the book are revised entries from the blog, as well as stories and exercises Airton has used while teaching. 

Although the book draws on research, Airton said it’s not an academic work—it’s written for everyone. 

“It’s really a starting place for people to have more and more personalized conversations.”

To Airton, the most important—and potentially challenging—element of the book is encouraging people to work to make the concept of gender less rigid. They argue this is “equally relevant to people who are transgender and people who aren’t.”

“Doing whatever you can to make gender more elastic in the spaces where you spend time, that isn’t just a good thing for  people who are trans,” they said. 

“Everyone, I like to say, is not quite who everybody else has in mind.”

The book has attracted attention since its release last Tuesday. Airton appeared on the CTV Your Morning show and has multiple other TV appearances lined up in coming weeks.

To Airton, the book’s appeal to large outlets indicates the demand for this kind of resource. 

“I’ve been reflecting on getting ready for much more visibility because that is a very challenging thing about 2018,” they said. 

Airton’s also currently studying discrimination protection for gender expression in Ontario schools. 

“My main project right now is exploring how Ontario public school boards, Catholic and secular, are helping us to construct what gender expression actually means,” Airton said.

They state while there are protections in Ontario from gender and identity-based discrimination, those are limited to transgender people—not allowing for people who don’t fit the definition to also be protected under the term. 

“I’m very interested to see the ways in which [protections] are delimited to transgender people alone,” they said.

“If we allow the delimitation of those protections to transgender people alone then we’re also going to create a very static and rigid idea of what a transgender person is.”

As of now, there are no events on campus for the book’s launch. However, Airton hopes to plan something for the Kingston community soon. 

Gender: Your Guide is available through the Queen’s Library Service.

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