gender-neutrality

Gender-neutral and/or non-binary alternatives to fangirl/fanboy

I found myself thinking recently about the lack of gender neutral or non-binary language for the terms fangirl and fanboy. I understand that ‘fan’ is actually gender neutral, but it doesn’t transfer to the verb form very well – ‘fanning out’ doesn’t quite work like ‘fangirling out’ does.

Anyway, a combination of googling and a call-out to my friends on facebook produced some pretty great options, and I wanted to share them here!

I only found one specifically non-binary term, but I’m ok with that because I kind of love it:

  • fanby. It’s a portmanteau of fan and enby, and I think it’s lovely.

Even given that, though gender neutral options are useful for talking a collective groups of fanbies, fangirls, and fanboys. So here’s the highlights of what my awesome friends (plus google) turned up:

  • Fanbody. I’m not even sure what I like about this one, but it definitely works. Fanbodies works too.
  • Fanchild/Fankid. I like that these linguistically matches boy/girl to some extent. They also seem to be what my enby friends use for the most part, so! I find fanchildren weirdly hilarious, and definitely like fankids as well.
  • Fanfolk. Or alternatively, fannish folk. This is only useful in the plural sense, I think, but I quite like it for that.
  • Fanpeep. So cute! Fanpeeps is also fab.

What do y’all think? Any other ideas?

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 9

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

The author of “this is a gender blog” writes their narrative of coming to a gender variant/androgyne identity:

There isn’t a real narrative in how I came into terms of my gender identity. More than anything else, it was something that grew on its own separate accord – an asset of myself I’m still growing to accept. This was all a result of my influences, social and cultural. Interests weren’t so much of a contributing factor, even though I likened to both typically masculine and feminine parts of Western culture, be it toys, TV shows, comics, what have you.

Even though my gender has a firm definition, I’m technically still exploring myself.

Eliot does some thinking about what sorts of things cause a person to be read as one gender or another. (Of course, it’s never the things that cissexist assholes insist are definitive of gender.)

As someone who lived for a long time as a girl and now dresses quite masculinely, I am most frequently read in public as a butch girl/a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian. Just that I’m not one (and also, not all lesbians wear plaid button-downs and loose jeans.) And this is despite the fact that I can be wearing entirely “men’s” clothing–from underwear and socks out to shirt, pants, sweater, and jacket. When I wear a chest binder, I have a flatter chest than lots of cisgendered men do. When I wear a packer (a prosthetic phallus), I’ve got a bigger dick than most cis men do, and because of the way men’s pants fit on people with exaggerated hips, it’s also more prominent than a lot of cis guys’ packages. But I still get read as a woman. Similarly, my trans sisters can wear all kinds of makeup, pink dresses and hose and high-heeled shoes, and still get treated as a “man”.

The pros and cons of using traditional versus gender neutral/otherwise alternative parent titles:

Now my biggest issue with the current set of gender neutral titles is that society doesn’t understand and recognise alternative family structures. At the time we were having this discussion, neither of us had the language for describing ourselves in terms of genderqueer or non binary, which resulted in us framing our family in the most socially obvious framework. Lesbian parents. We chose to use mommy (me) and mama (spouse) as these words have a societally weighted meaning. The relationship of mommy or mama to child is obvious and doesn’t require explanation. Using those terms becomes shorthand for “we are a family, these are our kids” without having to educate people on our family structure.

In hindsight I am disappointed that I bought into the heteronormative structuring of family. I feel awkward that I put so much weighting on the opinion of society to give validity to our little family unit. Why do we have to be a mommy and a mama to ensure credibility in our roles as parents?

Reflections on femme identity through a gaming lens:

In real life, I plan my outfits before going out, and when I put them on, I have memories about my previous experiences. A certain dress will be the one I wore when my friend said I love you. My bunny rabbit flats are often complimented for being cute—and cute is what I aim for, so I keep on wearing them. When a random dude on the street harasses me with some transphobic bullshit, wearing cute shoes, a cute dress, having freshly shaven legs, and knowing my makeup is at least half-decent all give me a fairly good armor score, so I can be bothered a lot less.

In Splatoon, the more you wear any given accessory, the more abilities you unlock. I’ve seen similar mechanics in other games, but never something that seems to so directly work as an analogue for the way I experience clothing as powerful items that gain in power with more use and care. Sure, you can use a snail shell as a shortcut, but can’t you say the same about sewing on a patch or adding rivets, bedazzling, or so on? Nobody in the Splatoon universe tells you how cute you look, but nothing needs be said.

And reflections on gender neutral identity through Pokemon

I never had outlets for my gender identity or expression growing up, and most of the avenues I did find were highly monitored or criticised, either by my family or my peers at school. Instead I buried myself in books and gaming, with Harry Potter and Pokémon becoming my main forms of self-expression and validation.

Ralts represented in the Pokémon world everything that I unconsciously felt about my own body and gender: that it was completely ambiguous and devoid of gendered presumptions.

Further Notes on Calling Binary-Identified People “They”

There’s a minor addendum I’ve been meaning to make to my post on whether referring to a binary (i.e. male or female) person as “they” constitutes misgendering that person. The short version: No. It isn’t.

There is an important clarification that I need to make here, though. Because, while calling someone “they” is simply a case of avoiding gendering them, and thus can’t possibly be misgendering them, it can definitely still be a form of oppression and a microaggression against that person.

bus_stopPeople tend to be pretty attached to their gender identity, and refusing to acknowledge that aspect of who they are can definitely be a damaging and mean-spirited thing to do. In the extreme, the insistence on referring to all people as “they” all the time is tantamount to trying to use “color-blindness” as an approach to anti-racism. A person’s gender, like their race, (and their class, and their sexual orientation, and many other things) is a part of who they are, and it has shaped their life experiences, and the ways in which they can and do navigate the world, and to erase such essential parts of people’s personal narratives is not in any way ok.

What I had intended to address in the original post was more the concern people have about continuing to use the singular “they” in its more traditional sense, to refer to people when we don’t know their gender. An example of this would be if someone says something to you about their doctor, and you want to ask whether she/he (but you don’t know which) is accepting patients, or whatever else. Actually stepping out of the conversation in order to as k about the doctor’s gender simply to be able to form that sentence seems a little silly, and might make it seem like your curiosity about them was dependent on their gender. Easier then, to go with “they”. And also, not a case of misgendering, not a refusal to acknowledge gender, so long as once your friend says “Oh, I don’t know if he/she is or not,” you switch to using the pronouns your friend did.

I do sometimes also advocate the use of the singular “they” when talking about people whose gender we do know, though. This is the example I talked about in the original post, where when I am relating a story in which the gender of the person I’m talking about is simply not relevant, and if I’m concerned that revealing it will colour the response of whomever I’m talking to. People tend to respond differently to the same behaviours in men and women, and if I’m telling a story about some asshole customer, I don’t want other people’s responses to that story to be coloured by sexism, so I might prefer not to give them the opportunity to view the story through that lens.

This is, of course, a relatively low-stakes example. However, I would be interested to see what would happen if, for instance, HR departments started enacting policies to discuss job interviews with each other in gender neutral terms, thus getting less biased input on interviewees behaviours.

The other case when it can be important to use non-gendered pronouns for binary people can be simply for the purposes of protecting identity. Using “they” instead of “she” or “he” increases the pool of people about whom you might be speaking, and further obscures the identity of the person you are talking about. This can be especially important in contexts where there is a very unequal distribution of male and female people. In my department at work, for instance, there are 30+ women, and less than 5 men, so if I were to tell a story about an unidentified employee, and identify that person as “he”, it might be all too easy for someone to figure out who I had been talking about.

TL;DR: I stand by the use of “they” to refer to individual men or women in some cases. But I also want to add that refusing to acknowledge a person’s gender ever is a fucked up thing to do, y’all. And I am aware of that, even if my initial post did not make that entirely clear.

Curiouser and curiouser: Family relationships, language, and gender

One of the aspects of language around genderqueerness that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot (at least compared to the amount of attention that pronouns get) is the other inherently gendered words we use to talk about people. The thing is, if someone is talking about me, it’s probably going to be because they have some sort of relationship with me (even if it’s just “this blogger I follow”). And sometimes describing this relationship can become a bit of a gender minefield.

In particular, today I have been thinking about the words we use to describe familial relationships, and how some of those are more easily translatable into non-gendered forms than other.

Here’s a brief over-view:

  • Father/Mother = Parent
  • Daughter/Son = Child
  • Sister/Brother = Sibling
  • Wife/Husband = Spouse (or Partner)
  • Niece/Nephew = … well, there isn’t a “real” word for this, but “Nibling” is a more than adequate solution here.
  • Aunt/Uncle = I really have no good answer to this one. It’s… I just don’t know how to refer to a non-binary person who is someone’s parent’s sibling.
  • Cousin = Cousin. Conversely, the English language actually doesn’t have gendered terms for someone’s parent’s sibling’s kids. I find this amusing and fascinating, especially in juxtaposition with the uncle/aunt dilemma.

I have a lot of theories about these discrepancies in the way we deal with implicitly talk about gender with respect to familial relationships. Having gender neutral terms for relationships that are sometimes described in terms of mixed-sex groups is simply more efficient. (Talking about your “siblings” and instead of your “brothers and sisters”, and your “children” instead of your “sons and daughters” is just easier.) But if efficiency was key, we should have an actual word to talk about “nieces and nephews,” shouldn’t we?

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that we don’t really talk about our nieces and nephews as much in groups – like, maybe we will brag about the achievement of an individual nibling, but they’re simply not central enough to most people’s lives to make the inefficiency of referring to them much of a problem, I guess.

Alternatively, it could be that gender neutral terms became more common for the kinds of relationships that are legally defined, and have legal implications. For instance, we mostly only hear the term “spouse” in legalistic or other formal contexts. Having non-gendered terms reduces some of the wordiness of legalese, and has the added benefit of making laws equally applicable to both (or rather, all) genders, which is nice.

This would explain why terms for nieces/nephews, and uncles/aunts never developed. But it still leaves the mystery of “cousin” entirely untouched.

I kind of want to make some sort of theory about this that somehow relates to taboos and customs around cousins marrying one another. Something about how it is important to be clear when one refers to one’s closer family members what your relative genders/sexes are, so that people can evaluate whether your relationship has an appropriate level of intimacy. But if that is less of a concern for cousin-relationships, because cousin-sex was considered unproblematic (as I believe it was for a good deal of (Anglo) human history [citation and/or refutation needed]), then this might somehow explain why gendered forms of the word never developed.

All of this, of course, ignores the potential influence of taboos against close same-sex relationships. And I really am not an anthropologist, so I don’t know how strongly these various forces, customs, and taboos I am discussing may have influenced this kind of thing.

So, I don’t know. Maybe this is a lot of navel-gazing. Can you help me come up with a Grand Unified Theory on the Gendered Nature of the Language around Familial Relationships (GUTGNLFR)? Or even just a better name for my theory?

Also, there is a high probability that I will have a nibling within the next couple of years, and I currently have no idea what said nibling will call me? IS there anyone out there who can solve the uncle/aunt conundrum?