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Monday, 20 June 2022

Respecting gender identities

CREATING SAFE SPACES: Dr Nyx Mclean, a Research Associate at Rhodes University, regularly consults on policies which seek to be gender and sexual identity inclusive. CREATING SAFE SPACES: Dr Nyx Mclean, a Research Associate at Rhodes University, regularly consults on policies which seek to be gender and sexual identity inclusive.

National Research Foundation-rated researcher, Dr Nyx Mclean, who specialises in LGBTIAQ+ identities and communities, and their use of digital technology to form publics and counter-publics to resist the status quo was recently hosted by the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences (FBMS).  

Speaking at the event, the Dean of the FBMS, Prof Paul Green said that although South Africa is working towards a society which is free of discrimination, “We also need to be aware of the privilege afforded to certain members of society whilst members of the LGBTIAQ+ community are often marginalised”.  He said: “We need to ensure that we are respectful of an individual's affirmed gender identity, name and pronouns, as knowing and using a person's correct pronouns fosters a culture of inclusion, makes people feel respected and valued, and thus affirms their gender identity.”

Mclean, a Research Associate at Rhodes University, regularly consults on policies which seek to be gender and sexual identity inclusive.  They engaged over 180 staff members and students in an inter-active conversation driven by questions posed from the audience and started the conversation by identifying with their pronouns, being “they” and “them” and invited the audience to share their pronouns.

The former CPUT academic said it’s important to be comfortable with your identity and provided details of organisations which could assist. They emphasised that gender is not “clear cut and is fluid”. Mclean further stated that often cisgender people assume that their gender identity is clear cut, and are not aware that there is gender diversity, and the use of the incorrect pronoun causes hurt, which could be intentional or through a lack of understanding.  Mclean also referred to a social media drive creating awareness as to gender expression and the normalisation of pronouns.

They responded to a myriad of questions as to how to address people with the correct gender pronoun. Mclean said: “It is safe enough to ask the person, and you might find it uncomfortable, as in our society we are generally taught to unconsciously or consciously categorise people based on what we have learnt”. They informed that this is referred to as gender attribution. Mclean also emphasised the importance of the tone being one of kindness when enquiring.

Mclean said that their world view is advocated through an intersectional and inclusive lens, and ethical university.  Senior Lecturer and Chairperson of the Transformation Forum in the Faculty, Mandie Richards said academic institutions, organisations and civil society need to work towards a culture of acceptance and respect, which is inclusive of all people.

“Our world view may often be influenced by a narrative which is uninformed and intolerant of people who have different viewpoints and who do not fit into a box, and so creates a disruption to the status quo with which we are familiar,” said Richards. 

She stated that the institutions need to address policy and academics need to reflect and provide an inclusive curriculum which integrates content which reflects the diversity of students and communities in which they live. 

Human Resource Management Department Lecturer, Taryn Kroukamp emphasised the need for people to understand that discrimination happens “all around us”.  Kroukamp said: “The freedom we fought for, should include our freedom of expression and gender identity terms.”  She stated that respect and inclusivity “is key for us to move forward”.

Written by Aphiwe Boyce