Growing up, Heather Dexter didn’t feel like a girl, but tried to ignore that feeling and fit in. Until it became impossible to do so.
"I had to be my true self and be authentic,” said Dexter, a TD Bank store manager in Gorham, Maine. “I do not identify as a woman and I do not identify as a man. I am non-binary. I have felt gender expansive or genderqueer my whole life."
Dexter started using the gender-neutral personal pronouns they, them and theirs personally about two years ago and professionally within the past year. Dexter said they see gender as a spectrum rather than two distinct identities.
As part of the Bank's ongoing efforts to help support diversity and inclusion, colleagues and customers at TD have a number of ways to share their pronouns.
Since 2021, Canadian Personal Banking and Business Banking customers have been able to use their preferred or chosen name, pronouns, gender neutral honorifics and gender marker, whether in branches, by phone and when using ATMs at TD.
Dexter believes it is important for everyone – including cisgender individuals, whose gender is the same as their physical sex at birth – to share their pronouns to avoid assumptions, show respect for everyone’s gender identity and avoid putting the onus of inclusiveness on members of the transgender and non-binary community.
“I find it important to share pronouns because no matter how someone looks, pronouns cannot be assumed,” Dexter said, adding that people can’t know someone’s pronouns until told.
“When everyone’s sharing their pronouns, it takes that responsibility off the transgender and non-binary community.”
If transgender and non-binary people are the only ones sharing their pronouns, they may be outing themselves unintentionally, Dexter said.
"While gender identity outside of the binary is not new, this has always existed, it is just now being more widely discussed and bringing awareness to this topic," Dexter said.
Authenticity, respect, and inclusion
Alex Gysen is a regional manager for 2SLGBTQ+ business development in the Prairies Region of Canada, based in Calgary. Gysen uses he/them pronouns and sees the use of pronouns as a path toward authenticity, respect and inclusion.
“People use pronouns in order to describe a part of their identity," he said.
"Being able to display our pronouns along with our own names allows us to bring our whole selves to work as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. It is also an effective way to ensure that you do not misgender somebody before they are able to share their pronouns directly with you."
Gysen said the most inclusive way to use pronouns is to default to a gender-neutral pronoun, such as 'they,' unless the individual has shared a gender-specific pronoun that they have chosen. For those individuals who use more than one pronoun, such as Gysen, it's important to ask how they would like their pronouns to be used.
“It will also avoid potentially embarrassing mistakes during written communications when you are writing to someone whose name you may have never encountered before, or if someone has a gender-neutral name,” he said.
Gysen believes that everyone should be encouraged to display their pronouns.
"Openly sharing your pronouns on email signatures, at the start of a call or meeting, when meeting someone for the first time, and on name tags will help us to normalize the sharing of pronouns in professional and personal environments to create a more inclusive environment," he said.
"Displaying your pronouns also serves as a great reminder for those around you to think of the way people around them have chosen to be addressed.”
Gysen said it’s important to remind anyone reluctant about sharing their pronouns that ultimately it is their choice whether or not they choose to keep them private and that they’ll be respected regardless of what they decide to do.
“We should look at the sharing of pronouns as an invitation to others, rather than an obligation," he said.
"People could have one or many reasons they do not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns: they are currently unsure of their own pronouns, they are not ‘out of the closet’ about their pronouns and also do not want to lie to their peers, or do not use pronouns at all, among other reasons,” he said.
“If you are ever unsure of how to refer to someone, using their name is always a great start.”
A path to authenticity
Dexter, who’s worked in banking for 16 years, including the past three at TD, said they were drawn to TD because of its focus on diversity.
“I am loud, proud and out and I won't hide who I am, and it's really important to me to work for a company that supports my authenticity, and at TD, one of our sayings is ‘bring your authentic self to work,’ and I feel very supported and welcome,” they said. “I haven't always been comfortable being my whole authentic self at previous companies.”
In their TD office in Gorham, Dexter displays a rainbow pride flag.
“I've had so many customers comment on it, that they can feel comfortable in my office,” they said. “It’s nice to see someone who’s part of your community when you go into a business.”
Not everyone Dexter meets at work is accustomed to using gender-neutral pronouns, but Dexter said their colleagues are doing their best to learn and adjust.
“I know that some people are adjusting and I appreciate the effort."
If a colleague were uncomfortable about disclosing their pronouns, Dexter said they’d be supportive and available, and point the person to the many internal resources for the 2SLGBTQ+ community available to TD colleagues. Dexter has received the support they needed from the 2SLGBTQ+ community at TD and encourages others to do the same.