pronouns

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: G is for “grammatically incorrect”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

G is for “grammatically incorrect”

This one is mostly specifically about non-binary people, rather than trans people in general. Those of us whose pronoun is the singular they, (and possibly those of us who use neo-pronouns of various kinds) are all tired of hearing that our pronouns are ‘grammatically incorrect’. I’m tired of talking about it at all, myself but it’s all I could come up with for G, so here we go nevertheless:

I’m going to side-step the actual question of grammatical correctness here, to be honest. It’s been done, and done, and done again. And again. And again. You get the idea? The thing is, though, that it shouldn’t fucking well matter.

You hear me? It. Doesn’t. Matter.

It doesn’t matter whether a person’s pronouns have historical precedent. Of course non-binary people’s pronouns don’t have a true fucking historical precedent in English, because the culture in which English has grown and evolved has not historically made room for any genders beyond the binary. That’s the thing we’re trying to change ffs.

It doesn’t matter whether you find a person’s pronouns aesthetically pleasing. Probably there are people that find your name aesthetically displeasing, but hopefully they’re decent enough people to keep that shit to themselves (if they haven’t been, then I’m sorry you had that experience). In any case, surely you don’t think that your aesthetic preferences are other people’s problems to accommodate?

It doesn’t matter why you think someone else’s pronouns are ‘wrong’, at all, ever. If you refuse to even try to use them, you are the asshole, and you are the one in the wrong.


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Write a poem about being Genderqueer: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 27

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Write a poem about being Genderqueer

Oh dear. I don’t know how I’m going to do with writing a poem on demand. I usually only do poetry at random when things spring into my brain. I will try anyway, but first, here’s some poems I have already written about being genderqueer:

Singularity

I am genderqueer

Singular they.
Singular them.
Singular their.

People are quick to tell me

They are trying
This is hard for them
They’re doing their best

Plural they.
Plural them.
Plural their.

And
I am also trying
This is hard for me, too
I’m doing my best

But I’m always out-numbered
So they always win
And ‘they’ never will


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Being a ‘good’ transqueer

There is a thing that sometimes happens, when I get accidentally misgendered by someone who knows I am genderqueer. It’s not what happens all the time – plenty of people are capable of smoothly correcting themselves, or if I have to correct them, they are good at just apologizing and moving on with a promise to try harder.

But sometimes. Sometimes the person is just. So. Sorry. Y’know? And they want me to know how sorry they are and they want me to confirm that I am aware that they are sorry. And they want to make sure I know that this is just hard for them you know?

And the thing is, I do know. The habit of unconsciously gendering people in a binary way and automatically using the corresponding pronouns with them is so deeply ingrained from such an early age that we don’t even realize we’re doing it most of the time. And changing that is a thing that actually requires work – it’s not a thing you can just decide to do and then do without putting actual effort into it.

I even know that changing the pronouns you use for a person (let alone changing to a pronoun set you’re not accustomed to using, or not accustomed to using to refer to a single, specific person) is actually harder for most people than it is for me, because the way I process language, especially when I’m talking, is not super automatic and I am naturally aware of each and every word I am using most of the time. And not everyone works that way. I get that.

So I tell them yes, I know it is hard (even though I know it’s almost certainly not as hard as they are making it out to be). And they thank me, and they applaud me for being so reasonable and cool about it.

And then I feel gross. Because the unspoken clause in these accolades is always that they are glad I’m not being like those *other* transqueers, the thin-skinned ones who don’t accept that their kinda-trying-but-not-really approach is the best they are willing to offer. The ones who freak out and aren’t doing themselves any favours by alienating so many people who definitely don’t mean to hurt them, after all. Thank goodness I am not like those people, right?

But those people are my people. And I feel the same pain they feel when I am misgendered. And I am angry that so often, when I am still reeling from having been misgendered, again, by someone who knew better, I wind up having to do the emotional labour of consoling them about it, of telling them that everything is ok, that they are not a bad person, even though I was one the one who was hurt here, and even while they offer me nothing to indicate that they will actually do better next time, or ever really.

And I don’t quite know what to do with that. But I have started pushing back in small ways. When someone minimizes the impact of their words on me, or when they tell me it was a just a reflexive mistake, even while I am reassuring them that I know that, I take the opportunity to point out that the fact that reflexively misgender me is in fact the real problem. It tells me that they still see me in the gender I used to pretend to inhabit, even after all this time. It tells me they have not done the work to change their perceptions of gender (which is something we should all do, all of the time, regardless of anything else).

It is hurtful that there are people who have known me through my transition, that still see me as a woman. I know that it is true, really, and I’ve never expected anything else, but it is still shitty to be reminded of it. It hurts me. I am hurt by their lack of effort, and by their unconcern. And from now on, I am going to make sure that they know that.

Hopefully it will help.

Gender Perspectives, Vol. 15

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.]

My Gender is Like a Rose (The Importance of Context from a Linguistic Perspective) | A³
The author of A³ explains their agender identity through the lens of language’s fundamental arbitrariness:

…why is it “wrong” when I say “I am agender”? Why do people snap judgement at me for using a word we have assigned meaning to when I feel it most accurately describes my experience? Why do people say I am “confused” and spew shameful language at me in an attempt to poke holes in my statement? Am I not like the poet and just trying to put into words, arbitrary words, my abstract feelings and experiences and shape them into a recognizable metaphor? How else am I supposed to describe the detached feelings I have with the gender binary?

The Flow of Gender Fluidity | Queer Asterisk
T talks about the process of discovering and coming out with thier genderfluid identity:

I took 12 months to let people in my life know that I’m not actually a woman and waited to see what the impact of this revelation would be. Here are some of the reactions I have heard from various peoples:

“Makes sense.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know what you mean, but I know I love you.”

“This seems like it’s just another one of your phases.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just related to your body image issues?”

“That identity isn’t real to me.”

“Your pronouns are grammatically incorrect.”

“You just look too much like a woman to be trans.”

I don’t really expect non-fluid people to remotely understand that concept… it’s hard to understand from inside the flow! All I know is that my identity flows; it is a dance. It’s a dance with myself, with my environment, within relationships, and within spirit. I flow like a stream or a current of air and even I’m not sure where I will end up.

Why I’m Nonbinary But Don’t Use ‘They/Them’ | Wear Your Voice
Ashleigh Shackelford dissects her personal experience of the intersections of blackness and non-binary identity, and her decision to use she/her pronouns:

Throughout my life, I was experiencing so much of this journey called Black Girl/Womanhood while also experiencing a denial of gender conformity. This complicated internal struggle led me to a very difficult realization as I grew up and found more resources, language and tools for navigating my gender identity: I felt disconnected from the notion of seeing myself as a Black woman, yet I also felt uncomfortable saying that I didn’t identify or experience Black womanhood. So much of the trauma and violence I moved through, and resilience and power I embodied is that of Black womanhood and Black femininity. In acknowledging that, I chose to use she/her pronouns because those pronouns were not afforded to me and they are a derivative and gift of the time I spent in crafting my Black femme-ness in a world that denied me to do so. They represent the work and fight I put into my Black girlhood/womanhood within my alignment of gender expansiveness.

I’m a Trans Guy, Not a Guy: Maintaining Queerness While #datingwhiletrans | Life Writ Large
Germaine de Larch provides a perspective in which transness is an inseperable and essential part of gender identity (though, as the post states, it must be stressed that this is not the experience of all trans people):

…while them calling me ‘boyfriend’ is heart-fillingly-soaringly affirming and seeing of who I am, it is important to me that I am seen as trans, and not a man.

I am not and will never be a man. I am, and always will be, trans. And this is an important distinction.

This being seen-ness as trans and queer is essential. Because anything less would be not seeing me for who I am. It would be an erasure of me.

Questions from the search terms: “what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?”

Someone recently asked a search engine the following: what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?

That’s a good question! When someone refers to as single person as “they”, it could be for one of five different reasons:

  1. That person’s pronoun might be the singular ‘they’.
    Lots of non-binary people (that’s people who aren’t men or women) prefer to be referred to as ‘they’ because it is a gender neutral pronoun, and options like ‘he’ or ‘she’ misgender them, by suggesting that they are a gender they aren’t.

    Some non-binary people also use other gender neutral singular pronouns, like ‘zie’ or ‘fae’, but you should always use whichever one they have chosen.

  2. The person speaking may not know the gender of the person they’re talking about.
    Sometimes people will say ‘they’ to avoid misgendering someone when they don’t know the person’s gender. This happens in conversations like this:

    Person 1: I went to see my doctor today
    Person 2: Oh yeah? What did they say?

    In this case, Person 2 may just not know the gender of Person 1’s doctor, and doesn’t want to assume the doctor is a he or a she, so they used ‘they’ as a placeholder. Because ‘they’ doesn’t indicate a gender at all, it is not misgendering to use it in this way.

  3. People often also use the singular ‘they’ when talking about hypothetical people.
    I did this a whole bunch of times in the point above. I referred to Person 1 and Person 2 as ‘they’, because they could be men or women or non-binary people. In fact, you did this in your own question (“someone” became “they”), so you are at least implicitly already aware of this usage. This comes up in sentences like:

    “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, they should ask for a hall pass.”

    Unless you area at an all boys school, it would be weird to say “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, he should ask for a hall pass”, because the hypothetical student isn’t necessarily a ‘he’. ‘They’ is also a better option than ‘he or she’ here, because ‘he or she’ still assumes that the hypothetical student is either a boy or a girl, and they may not be either. ‘They’ is just the most inclusive option.

  4. The singular ‘they’ can be used to help obscure the identity of the person they are talking about, in situations where anonymity is important.
    So if I were to say, “someone reported that they were harassed at our last meeting,” I may be deliberately avoiding identifying that person’s gender in order to make it harder for people to narrow it down and figure out who reported the harassment.

    This can be important, because there is often backlash against people who report bad behaviour in groups.

  5. Finally, the singular ‘they’ still occasionally gets used by closeted queers playing ‘the pronoun game’.
    Sometimes when someone in a same-gender relationship is afraid to ‘out’ themself as not straight. So, for instance, a lesbian who is about to refer to her partner but doesn’t want the person she’s talking to to know she’s a lesbian may use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘she’. It is often possible to do this without the other person really noticing, thus avoiding potentially awkward conversations. Although she could also avoid this by simply saying ‘he’, this feels far more dishonest than the neutral ‘they’ (actually lying rather than simply avoiding the full truth), and it also misgenders the person’s partner to call her ‘he’, and many people do not find it acceptable to do that.

I think that about covers it! The singular ‘they’ has a bunch of different uses. (Readers: please also let me know if I missed any!)

What to do about babies and gender

[Content note: reference to adult-child related sexual creepiness]

As a person who intends to have kids at some point, and as someone who is very aware that you can’t tell what a person’s gender is (/what their gender is going to be or whatever) when they’re born, I have to deal with the question of what I’m going to do about my future babies and gender.

I mean, hopefully it’s obvious that I have no intention of imposing any sort of gender norms or expectation on any kids I have. And I will listen to them about their own gender as soon as they are able to tell me about it. But there is still the question of what to do about pronouns etc until they’re able to do that.

In an ideal world, I would lean toward using neutral pronouns – either the perennial ‘they’, or something specific as more of a placeholder (I remember reading a long time ago about someone who referred to their fetus using the ‘ou’ pronoun, and I like the idea of using something that isn’t so clearly linked to non-binary/genderqueer identities, since that may carry a lesser version of the baggage involved in traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns.)

But living as I am in an entirely un-ideal world, I’m not sure this is what I will actually end up doing. I may very well wind up simply using the pronouns assume the baby is cisgender (unless they’re intersex, in which case, gender neutral pronouns it will be until I can hear otherwise from them), as a sort of default/educated guess (since there is a high likelihood that they will be cis), for a few reasons.

The main one is, I just don’t know that I have the energy to have all the conversations that would be involved in refusing to gender my baby. Although I am not going to adhere to gendered expectation with clothing, toys, etc with them, I know that people would push back harder against gender neutral pronouns than other things, simply because it makes them uncomfortable to use them. Which is a terrible reason, obviously, but still. I have enough work on my hands doing this for myself, and people are more upset by gender neutral pronouns when they are applied to children, and more prone to inappropriateness or downright violence (or trying to get me to lose custody of my children even, probably) than I am prepared to deal with.

Which, on some level I feel like maybe I should not have kids unless I am willing to fight for that for them. But on the other hand, I don’t think that placeholder pronouns alone are going to harm a kid who is otherwise raised as much as possible without gendered expectations. I don’t think that ‘he’ or ‘she’ is somehow inherently a more harmful placeholder than ‘they’ or ‘ou’ could be anyway.

My other fear, though, is not about me and my own energy, as much as it is about my child. A baby who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns may attract some really unsavoury behaviours from people who really really need to know the baby’s ‘real’ gender. I am quite sure that refusing to indicate a binary gender for my baby would make a whole lot of people suddenly really interested in changing that baby’s diaper, or helping them with their bath, or something. And that level of creepiness is not something I want a baby or toddler subjected to.

I am also afraid that being quite to obvious about my gender neutral approach to parenting would result in other adults trying to over-compensate for that, and my children being subjected to even more over-the-top, explicit gender policing than they otherwise would.

So, I dunno. I don’t know what the least harmful route to take, really. I’m just going to do my best and what feels right, I guess.

What have you done or plan to do to socially transition? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 9

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: What have you done or plan to do to socially transition? Pronouns, name, coming out, etc.

I’ve written about most of this stuff pretty extensively as I’ve gone through the transition process, but here’s the cheat sheet:

The first thing I did when I came out as genderqueer was changing my pronouns to they/them. This was an immediate thing that I did at the same time that I told people I am genderqueer.

My initial coming out wave involved sending out a handful of brief group messages to my closest social circles, that were mostly the same, but tailored in minor ways to the groups themselves.

I started changing my name socially more than a year later – as in, I decided I wanted to be called Kasey, and I changed my facebook name and let people know this was my name now.

It was at this point that I decided I could no longer put off coming out to my parents, and so I also sent them a long email explaining the situation re my identity, pronouns, and name, all together.

It wasn’t until a year after that that I changed my name professionally (and as some of you will remember, this was an absurd debacle), and it was another six months before I finalized the legal name change.

At this point, the only question hanging over my head with respect to social transition is whether I will ever decide to come out at work about my gender, and whether I will ask to be referred to as they.

On the one hand, I am in a very secure position as a union employee in a place that recognizes gender identity and expression as a human right (and explicitly acknowledges non-binary identities under that protection). Even if I have problems if/when I decide to come out, I will have nearly invincible back-up.

On the other hand, I have chosen a career in a very public-facing occupation and a great deal of my workday is spent interacting with strangers or near-strangers. So it is unclear whether the effort of coming out at work would be worth the relatively minor reduction in potential day-to-day dysphoria in my work. So for now I am (mostly) content with things as they are.

So, that’s my social transition process!


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!