A forum set up to educate university students and faculty on the proper usage of pronouns based on gender identity and expression was hosted by the university’s gender/sexuality alliance, Spectrum, on March 12.

Frank Curtis, Spectrum’s education chair, said the forum was set up to, “foster an attitude of acceptance on campus for all individuals.”

Curtis began explaining the differences between sex and gender and how there are five characteristics to define sex and how few people fit all five. He said that gender was different from sex and the idea they are the same or dependent upon each other is an incorrect way of thinking.

He explained that sex is the scientific base of an individual’s anatomy and the pronoun they were assigned at birth, either he or she. Gender, he said, is a societal construct.

“Western society has gender codes that adhere to binary set of rules,” Curtis said. “The binary referring to thought of two genders.”

He said that gender identity is the way that people feel at their most basic level, man, woman, etc. That is expressed through gender expression and the way an individual acts on their gender identity.

Many factors can express an individual’s gender, Curtis said. The manner of dress, gestures and actions, speech patterns, body language, hygienic routines and dietary habits. He said there is no wrong way of expressing gender.

“Society explains how someone should express gender through societal norms,” Curtis said. “You shouldn’t wear dresses as a guy. If you’re a woman you should shave your legs. This attitude has to change.”

He believes that change will come when people are educated and begin using the preferred pronouns of people around them.

“Everyone has a pronoun preference and that should be observed and respected,” he said. “You can do whatever you want and respect others’ decisions to do the same.”

Curtis then addressed how to appropriately ask and identify the preferred pronouns of individuals. He said the easiest way is to simply ask in a respectful manner. He warned, however, that “curiosity does not equal entitlement” and to be respectful when approaching the topic.

For more information on pronoun usage, email Curtis at lcurtis@forum.montevallo.edu or visit the Spectrum Facebook page. For a list of gender identities and pronouns visit transwhat.org.