An Identity in a Word — Air Force Now Allows Gender Pronouns

Greg Markley


Last week, I stayed at Lackland Air Force Base, where AF recruits go for basic training. The newspaper JBSA Legacy had a curious headline: “Signature block pronouns now allowed for Airmen, Guardians.” The Air Force writing guide now allows personnel to include gender pronouns in signature blocks. To some this may be pure political correctness but I regard it as another instance of the Air Force “aiming high.” The civilian world has adapted, why can’t the military?

“An inclusive force is a mission-ready force, and I’m thankful to the LGBTQ Initiatives Team for helping us realize this opportunity to be a more inclusive force,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones. She is co-leader of the LIT Transgender Policy Team.

I know there are those who will mark this as another indicator that conservative values are being sidelined. But parents can still have a huge say in whether their children use gender pronouns in later life. As a matter of communication and identity, these simple changes have merit.

Master Sgt. Jamie Hash, the other LIT Transgender Policy Team co-lead, said the explicit permission to use pronouns, a practice already common in the civilian sector, gets the DAF further along in “explicitly acknowledging the existence and dignity of non-binary military members and civilians.”

This modification also makes things less confusing for those with non-Anglo/Western or gender-neutral names. Pronouns such as he/him, she/her, they/them are now authorized but not required. (Non-binary is a term covering a wide category of functions rather than a single separate term for gender identities that are neither male nor female; or for ‌identities outside the gender binary.)

“It’s not just about one person it’s about thousands of people,” said Caitlyn Jenner upon receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2015. “It’s not just about me it’s about all of us accepting one another. We’re all different.”

Jenner, a gold medalist in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, is now a prominent trans.

Intolerance and hate reared their ugly heads last week. First, in a small city near Dallas, 11 hostages luckily were freed and not hurt after a 12-hour standoff. A hostage rescue team intervened at the Jewish house of prayer and the suspect is dead. He had been demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who tried to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. It was likely a case of Antisemitism.

Second, in New York City, a 40-year old Chinese woman was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming train. She was shoved onto the tracks and struck by a southbound R train, a police spokesperson said. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The assailant turned himself in. It was not immediately known if the woman was targeted for her Chinese identity.

In a Bush/Kerry presidential debate in October 2004, the moderator asked “Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?” Senator Kerry said being gay is not a choice, people are born with it. President Bush said: “I don’t know, I just don’t know.” Bush’s answer was not a dodge — it was appropriate and politically astute. It made people realize that some “culture war” issues are not as complex as others.

Without gender pronouns, sometimes people make mistakes. For instance, in writing to a person unknown to you, it is embarrassing if you see the name Carol and address the individual as Madam and it’s instead a he who spells his name the same way as female Carols do. I have seen monikers such as Gail and Taylor as first names for both men and women.

Accidental comments on identity with gender, race, nationality and personal characteristics are trouble enough in today’s America. An Asian student is met by, “you are Asian, so you must be an excellent student.”

It is noted when a very tall African American man is told, “I’ll bet 8-1 that you are a basketball player.” Not everyone very tall and African American plays competitive basketball — there are many others who do not play hoops.

Soon the Chinese and the Russians may mock our use of gender pronouns. Yet, will the next war be against our fellow Americans? Won’t we join together as before to stop our rampaging foes and fears? If we need to adjust signature blocks in correspondence, let’s do it. Lackland AFB and Joint Base San Antonio are as good as anywhere to combat confusion about gender identity of persons who send you a letter, email or Tweet. (I myself go by he/him.)

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here