Zoom In: Pronoun etiquette for virtual spaces and beyond

Part One

 ~Written by: Benny Llamas NIC (Benny,They)

A year into the pandemic of 2020 and things have progressed (or regressed) depending on where and how you’ve been working. An undeniable tool of convenience or possibly frustration that has helped us as we’ve made the transition from in-person to virtual work has been the almighty Zoom.

Black and White Hands

Fear not, intrepid interpreter

We, as interpreters, have had such a great opportunity to have prep information given to us that we may not even realize or were ever afforded in the past. In Zoom one can change their name and ideally, their pronouns to whatever it is they wish. It’s here in this seemingly innocuous tagline that a savvy interpreter can pick up on a multitude of things. Gone are the days of not knowing our Deaf consumer’s name, how to spell it, and their pronouns. With something so readily available, we give ourselves the ability to focus more on “The Work” and quell any sense of anxiety we might feel related to the aforementioned prep. This makes you a stronger interpreter and a less anxious one as well.

You know what they say about assumptions…

How many times have you been in an assignment and assumed someone’s gender because ASL doesn’t give us gendered pronouns beyond what could be on the Deaf consumer’s lips? Have you ever assumed or inferred someone’s gender incorrectly when voicing, only to have to go back and repair it when you guess wrong? These are the instances in which we can use the gender-neutral term “they” as a way to not exert the extra mental effort while focusing on what is being signed. This practice also makes you more culturally competent to work with Deaf consumers who are also not cisgender (Identify with the sex they were assigned at birth).

A little bit of empathy

Cisgender people don’t usually understand what it’s like to be misgendered. There’s a sense of frustration and hopelessness that evolves into apathy and numbness the more you hear it. To get this from colleagues, strangers, and even family members on a daily basis can be so damaging to our self-esteem and well-being. We typically correct people whose relationship we care to further and cultivate, so please understand that we correct because we care. When corrected, say “yes/right, thank you” and don’t apologize profusely because it puts the onus on us to say “it’s okay” when it’s not. This takes time and practice, so we don’t expect you to perfect it overnight, we just ask that you try and remember that we exist.

We are your colleagues, consumers, family, friends, and so much more!

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