Gender-Neutral Pronouns Rant


IMG_20140209_080947Ohey, it’s me!

This is a bit ranty, and I’m not sure if there’s going to be much direction to it or a “point”, but it’s going to be full of words. Talk of misgendering and such ahead.

I stumbled onto a rather unpleasant blog post written about a suit filed by a gender-neutral employee in regard to having coworkers repeatedly go against their wishes by referring to them with feminine pronouns and pet names like “miss” and “little lady”. Actually, the link I provided (the original source material) is the only un-biased, not-super-condescending thing I could find before having to abandon that mission. I won’t be linking to any of the hateful sites because no one needs that triggery shit.

A former catering worker who identifies as neither female or male is suing Bon Appetit Management Co. for $518,000, claiming co-workers referred to the employee as a female though repeatedly being asked to stop.

Valeria Jones alleges in a lawsuit that co-workers repeatedly called Jones “miss,” “lady” and “little lady” despite explanations that Jones “was not a female or a male and that the term was unwelcome.”

Workers also directly said Jones looked like a woman and made female celebrity comparisons, the suit states.

(Emphasis mine.)

I don’t even know where to start with this. Setting aside for a moment that this has anything to do with gender, everything about this qualifies as harassment. The coworkers were asked to stop referring to Jones with feminine terms (terms which I think we can safely deem “hurtful” since it caused emotional distress) and they didn’t. The company didn’t do anything because there aren’t provisions for trans* recognition in the workplace. The coworkers go on to tease this person. Making comparisons to Ellen (“female celebrity”) is a) very, very old and b) extremely rude when you’re talking to someone who clearly doesn’t want to be grouped in with women.

There is so much condescension surrounding this issue that binary-minded people don’t seem to even register that we’re talking about harassment here, regardless of the gender of the recipient. It seems pretty simple to me: If someone asks you not to call them something, you don’t do it, regardless of how harmless it may seem to you.

Since the existence of non-binaries is a totally new thing for most people, I can see how ignorance runs rampant. Many of the sites that have talked about this story seem to think Jones wants everyone to use some “made-up” word to refer to them. I don’t know why, but this freaks people the hell out. (Unfortunately, the small vocabulary of invented neutral pronouns hasn’t made it to the general populace yet.)

I kinda-sorta understand discomfort with trying to adopt alien vocabulary–it’s part of the reason I haven’t personally chosen to use any of the invented gender-neutral terms like “ve”, etc. But, English-speakers use a neutral pronoun all the time with “they/them/their”. It’s used so casually that we don’t even notice it happening.

This whole thing is really thorny for non-binary people because you have people telling you that your gender isn’t even real because there are only two gender options. You have people freaking out about using “made-up words”, then you get others who won’t use “they/them/their” because “It’s plural”.

Segue into the lovely conversation I had with someone on Facebook*. (You’ll spoil the surprise** at the end of the post if you read the full convo right now, btw.) My comments are paraphrased/edited down, M’s are copy/pasted as-is:

Comments:

M: http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/ Though it’s such a foreign concept to intentionally adopt made up words into my vocabulary, I’m willing to try.

Lux: What I’m pointing out is that people often assume that gender-neutral terminology requires use of newly-coined terms. I’m actually just turning a mirror on the fact that people use “they/them/their” without thinking about it. I prefer they/them/their to the new terms because people already use those easily and naturally in everyday speech.

M: But then the question presents itself, how to refer to someone in a personal pronoun. Without these new terms all we are left with is “one” and “it” and I doubt you’ll like either one of those. Him or her shouldn’t be insulting, I refer to you as her because your my friend’s wife, not because I only percieve you as a woman.

Lux: We use “they” to refer to hypothetical people we don’t know, like the drivers of other cars. It’s somewhat of a transition to start using it to refer to someone personally, but I also found that pretty easy to do when one of my friends requested gender-neutral terms be used to talk about them.

To clarify: I’m not insulted by gendered pronouns. It’s more a matter of hurt feelings. I’ve tried to make myself “okay” with “being a woman” and being referred to as such, but I don’t really have a choice about the fact that it makes me feel bad. It took a lot of courage to change stuff online to reflect who I feel I am, and to ask people to switch pronouns. In reality, I almost never ask people to switch, even people I trust, even though it hurts me (out of my control) to be called woman-related terms.

M: No like, I’m not gonna ask: “Hey Chris how’s they/them/their?” I can say: “How’s Lux? Or how’s the wife?” But the English vernacular doesn’t allow for a nongenderized version of him/her. I can use they/them/their when it applies in proper form. But from now on ill ask Chris: “How is they?” See what I mean? Not as simple as it seems, there is no personal nongenderized pronoun.

Lux: How are they. It’s fine to use the plural verb since the context implies that you’re referring to a singular.

M’s first comment proved my point that people’s initial conclusion is to think of the invented pronouns and not the ones we use every day. Then, they made the assumption that I’m insulted by the use of feminine pronouns and immediately told me that I shouldn’t feel insulted because they don’t mean what I think they mean.

Then we see a little more of the imagined issues with using “them” to specifically refer to a singular person, such as switching verb conjugation, which is completely unnecessary. Another commenter pointed out that we juggle singular/plural verb use every day with the word “you”.

Why do people seem to think it’s okay to trample all over people’s gender-related preferences? It seems like every trans* person will deal with someone deliberately misgendering them at least once in the name of “you shouldn’t be offended, it’s not like I’m using slurs or anything”. There are cis people in our lives who seem to feel entitled to choose our labels for us. (And, of course, there are larger structures in place which enable people in power to ignore the requests of people in comparatively disadvantaged positions more generally.)

I do want to call attention to something I mentioned in my Facebook comments: I actually don’t ask people to switch pronouns in my AFK interactions. Online, all of my bios are written with gender terminology and my genderqueerity is one of my primary identifiers in internet interactions; I just sort of expect people to pick up on it and use those terms without my having to say anything. I will occasionally correct people misgendering me online, but usually only because they managed to upset me.

I pretty much never ask people I have face-to-face interactions with to use proper pronouns for me. Even if it hurts my feelings to be misgendered all the time, even though some people misgender me out of ignorance and others out of spite, even though it’s simply incorrect to refer to me with feminine terminology, I don’t ask people to switch.

Why? Because my gender is an important part of who I am and it’s hard to explain and easy to misunderstand. It’s a very vulnerable, raw thing that I’m not interested in submitting to potential injury by lack of understanding or malice. I’m not interested in risking having an integral part of me rejected and/or scoffed at, so only certain people even get to know that I’m genderqueer in my AFK life.

Plus–and this is actually kind of sad–I’m concerned about being imposing by asking people to switch pronouns. I understand that if you’ve never switched pronouns, you have to reprogram your brain to think of gender as a plastic thing in the first place and then train yourself to use the proper ones. You have to retrain the way you think about the person whose pronouns have changed. All those difficulties are tripled when the person requests gender-neutral terminology. I recognize those difficulties, and they weigh in heavily when I’m deciding whether to inform someone of the proper terms to use.

TL;DR

If there are any lessons to be learned here, let it start with: Don’t assume you know what other people are thinking. It’s condescending and rude. Telling someone that they shouldn’t be insulted implies that you have some insight into what they’re thinking and that you know better than they do what does or should upset them.

Further, if you are aware of a trans* person’s pronoun preferences, use them. If you don’t know and you really need to know for some reason, ask them privately. If you have any amount of respect or care for them as human beings, you will do what you can to minimize their marginalization and suffering, and affirm their gender. It’s really just basic recognition of an integral part of their identities that almost every other human being gets to have validated. (Or not integral, in the case of some agender and other people.)

 

*My tweets forward to Facebook. This format was easiest since I didn’t want to take a screencap from Facebook. I’m lazy, sue me.

**The surprise is that I used absolutely zero gendered pronouns in this post. Did it in any way detract from the information provided that you didn’t know M is a cis man?

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Fuck the idea that it is too hard not to intentionally hurt people.

    Fuck it hard.

    Intentionally fuck it til it hurts.

  2. Bicarbonate is back says

    There are many languages in which plural pronouns are used for a single person as a sign of respect. It’s a common language feature. I find it absolutely thrilling to see such a profound change begin to happen in the English language! This kind of thing doesn’t happen every century! Wow and wow and wow again!

    • says

      There are many languages in which plural pronouns are used for a single person as a sign of respect

      Ah yes, the T–V distinction (from Latin tu and vos, for the unaware). In fact, this already happened to English. English used to have thou as second-person-singular, but it was almost entirely replaced by you – which was originally just the second-person-plural – starting in the 17th century. No reason it can’t happen to third-person pronouns too.

  3. lochaber says

    I don’t get the hate for using ‘they’ to refer to an individual. I hear people claim it’s against some grammar rules or something, but they rarely pay attention to other grammar rules.

    Plus, that was an arbitrary rule created, and before the existence of that rule, it was perfectly fine to use ‘they’ to refer to an individual.

    • MarkF says

      The gender-neutral-singular “they” was apparently good enough for Shakespeare and Chaucer. It’s hard to take modern complaints about them too seriously.

    • says

      English grammar and vocabulary isn’t set in stone by a central authority anyways. It’s defined by usage. Enough people start using “u” for “you”, and “you” will become an archaic spelling only found in ancient writings.

      And the use of “you” in singular contexts provides precedent for singular “they”, even if there wasn’t the historical examples of Shakespeare and others.

  4. says

    I refer to you as her because your my friend’s wife

    I read that as “my wife’s friend” first, which gave me a headache. But now I wonder: do you actually consider yourself a “wife”, or is that another instance of someone assuming and you not correcting them? Cuz the latter would be hella circular reasoning, to assume “wife” because of gendering, and then use the word as the supposed reason for the gendering.

    • says

      I don’t consider myself a wife. But, for a lot of reasons, my husband calls me his wife and I pretty much let it slide since it’s just easier that way. (Kind of how I am about pronouns and such in almost every instance.)

  5. says

    Anyway: the harassment described is pretty gross. And there’s no way terms like “little lady” aren’t toxic on purpose; they’d be likely harassing even to someone who is a woman; to someone who isn’t , and who has pointed this out repeatedly? Definitely premeditated harassment.

    The surprise is that I used absolutely zero gendered pronouns in this post. Did it in any way detract from the information provided that you didn’t know M is a cis man?

    I’ve been trying to avoid gendered pronouns in general writing. It seems to me that moving away from marking gender where it’s not salient is a good idea in general (sort of parallel to the way “Ms.” allowed marriage status of women to not be noted when it’s irrelevant to the topic).
    Plus, writing and speaking like that in general makes it much easier to avoid misgendering and to be able to switch to a requested set of pronouns, in my experience.

  6. says

    Small nitpick: Gender-neutral pronouns are used in almost every sentence. Most common are “I” and “You”. You seem to be aiming for gender-neutral third-person singular pronouns (except for “it”).

    • says

      Well, yeah. There’s not really an issue with gendered pronouns when you’re using first and second person pronouns. In English, third-person pronouns are the only ones which have any options re: gender, aren’t they?

      • says

        Sure, there are no issues with gendered first and second person pronouns in English. But just talking about “pronouns” when you really mean “third-person pronouns” is strange to me. But it was just a small nit-pick.

        But still, it might be interesting to play with the idea of gender issues with first and second person pronouns too, at least the singular ones, i.e. “I” and “you”. There are languages that have gendered versions of such pronouns, at least for “you”. In some varieties of Arabic e.g., there are two different singular “you”, one for a man, and another for a woman (propably there is no gender-neutral “you”).

        Let’s imagine a trans person with a female body, who strongly identifies as male. Such a person could (I imagine) feel so strongly about being seen as male, that he not only wants others to use the third-person pronoun “he” about him, but also wants others to use a special male second-person pronoun when speaking to him, perhaps “hyou” (“he” + “you”). The corresponding female pronound could be “shyou” (“she” + “you”).

        Would we have to honour such a wish?

        What if the person is not trans, but a cis male (perhaps even white and middle-aged)?

        This is not argumentative, just some explorative thoughts.

        • lochaber says

          Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you are treading into strawperson territories with these ‘explorative thoughts’. Granted, I’m a cishetmale, so I’m far from an expert on these sorta issues, but I’m under the impression that most of these individuals are just looking to avoid/limit misgendering.

          The whole point is that in US English, third person pronouns are generally pretty gendered, and exclusively in a binary manner. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone, intersex, genderqueer, trans, or any other demographic complaining about first or second person pronouns not suiting them.

          This just reminds me too much of those dismissive of trans folk by claiming that being recognized as a gender different from what they were assigned at birth should be equivalent to being allowed to be recognized as a toaster or an torque wrench.

          • says

            “I feel like you are treading into strawperson territories”

            If I were aiming to dismiss the wishes of trans people to have non-gendered prononouns, then your feeling would be very right. But I’m not. I’m just playing with the ideas. Where are the limits? Whose wishes, what wishes of this kind, should be respected. Could there be similar wishes that we could just dismiss, if they appeared?

            “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone, intersex, genderqueer, trans, or any other demographic complaining about first or second person pronouns not suiting them.”

            You’re probably right.

            What if someone would say that you should not use any gendered words at all when speaking to them, not about them, and not about anyone else either? Do such extreme wishes appear? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

        • says

          I feel like there’s a pretty strong implication within English-speaking trans* spaces that talking about pronouns implies that we’re talking about the third-person ones, but I concede the discrepancy between saying “pronouns” in general and going on to talk about specifically third-person ones.

          That is an interesting hypothetical. I think in most circumstances I would say it’s of the utmost importance to go out of your way to respect a trans* person’s preferences, since they’re going to be systematically denied validation of their gender in their day-to-day lives to an extent that cis people would never experience. In no case do we “have to”, but I consider it pretty basic human decency not to use unwelcome terms to describe anybody.

          • Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

            Given that the third person singular pronouns are the only ones that are gendered in modern English, they are the only ones which can cause a problem.

            No-one can make an assumption about my gender or assigned sex (or anyone else’s) from my (or their) use of first person pronouns, therefore those pronouns cannot be used to mis-gender anyone. Ditto second person singular or plural (the gender-neutral plural ‘ye’ is ubiquitous here in County Cork).

            See what I did there? I used the third person plural pronoun as a neutral third person singular one; a usage which is common in modern English. So common, in fact, that the people who most complain about it being used for people who do not identify as ‘he’ or ‘she’ probably use it that way all the damn time.

            As soon as I realised that it is better not to use gendered pronouns where the gender of the person to whom I’m referring is unknown to me, I switched to ‘they/their/them’. It hasn’t caused me any problems, and was a simple switch to make.

            It doesn’t hurt! =^_^=

            And, try as I might, I cannot imagine the reverse situation, where anyone would insist on gender-neutral pronouns being replaced with gendered ones. It makes absolutely no sense because someone’s identity isn’t being denied by the use of gender-neutral pronouns the way it can be by using the wrong pronouns.

  7. Meggamat says

    I wonder if there are any non binary people in France? Given that binary gender is an essential aspect the French paradigm of ontology, it seems that a non-binary French person would be an oxymoron.

    • says

      Non-binary identified people are still going to exist even though their language is dependent on gendered differentiation. It happens all over the place, regardless of the culture.

      • Meggamat says

        But how would they think of themselves, if their minds were not equipped with the linguistic apparatus to construct the thought? I am reminded of George Orwell’s novel 1984, wherein people had their languages replaced by a tongue which lacked the vocabulary to express concepts of liberty, thus averting public dissent.

        • lochaber says

          Are you being intentionally dim, or do you really not get how someone could feel that a label applied to them by others is incorrect?

        • MarkF says

          Why do some people have this obsession with newspeak? People regularly express ideas for which they don’t have a word. They just use other words, or groups of them. Otherwise, how would anyone ever invent something new or come up with any novel concept?
          Lacking a “linguistic apparatus” is no barrier to human thought.

        • says

          It’s not like English speakers are equipped with a vocabulary of terms to describe gender variance, either. We figure out that we feel differently about the terms which exist and *then* stumble on the very small community of people who acknowledge that gender is not a binary. (usually) Just because a language uses masculine and feminine denotations for objects and ideas doesn’t mean that the people don’t have an innate sense of gender in the same way that anybody else does.

          • Meggamat says

            I was not merely referring to the language, but the ideology behind it. The French most likely do not have words for the concept because they have not conceived of it. Mankind had no word for radioactivity until we knew of its existence whereupon we named it. As you point out, when a new concept is formed, language is extended to encompass it. The fact that the French have not done so with non-binary gender suggests that the concept does not exist for them.

          • says

            Non-binary French people exist: http://genreagenre.tumblr.com/ (Since that page is in French, here’s the page in English where I found it: http://humainsvolants.tumblr.com/post/76059430529/a-psa-on-non-binary-people-outside-of-the-english)

            The concept certainly exists for non-binary people in France. In French, the masculine terms are used as neutral terms as well (pronouns for a group of men= ils, a group of women = elles, a group of men and women = ils), but unfortunately the language hasn’t adapted yet to account for those individuals. (It’ll probably be a while, since you first have to break down the binary view to a broader culture which is going to be resistant to that form of change. Oh and also, there have been times in France’s fairly-recent history where people freak out about the dissolution of French into a bastard language, so they stop adopting new words.)

            I want to stress, again, that the constraints of your language don’t inflict constraints on your identity necessarily. I only knew you could be a man or a woman, and if you wanted to transition you had to go from one to the other. There just happens to be a niche community I found myself in which acknowledges the existence of people outside that binary. Most English-speakers, if asked, would tell you that there is no term besides male/female man/woman to describe the existence of one’s sex or gender, and they would consider male/man, female/woman and gender/sex to be perfectly synonymous.

  8. iasasai says

    On the note of it being difficult to suddenly switch gears and learning to call someone something than what you are used to…

    Most people actually have to do this more than they realize. Many people grow up with some sort of diminutive version of their name being used by family (and friends and acquaintances and classmates and coworkers) yet decide at some point that they no longer wish to use that name, either because they don’t like the diminutive anymore (or never did and have finally spoken up about it, or finally gotten through to others about it) or prefer some other non-full version of their name. Cousins spring to mind. Almost every single one of my cousins has asked me to change how I address them. Sure, it takes some adjusting, but it’s something most of can manage to accomplish, even if it DOES take some honest mistakes* to get there. And this is for their FREAKING ACTUAL NAME, not some dispassionate pronoun used as a placeholder for a proper name. I seriously doubt that I’m alone in having to adopt new names for extended family or even friends from another era in life. If you can make an adjustment to such an important of someone’s identity, a pronoun, of which there are only a limited number, should be even easier.

    * I don’t see a problem with getting it wrong and then correcting myself. I see it as only slightly problematic when getting it wrong and forgetting to correct myself but being corrected by them. Obviously I’m referring to wrong with myself for screwing it up.

    • says

      This is so true! Cis people’s nickname preferences are definitely not treated as shittily as gender-related name changes. My mother went from Sandy to Kacey back to her full name, Kasandra. My husband has started mostly going by his middle name. Cousin “Mandy” now prefers “Amanda”. Hell, even I went from “Liz” to “Elli” back in middle school (before gender was part of it and obviously way before I changed my name legally).

  9. Rosemary says

    Fuck being more concerned with grammar than hurting people. Actually, scratch that, fuck pretending to be that concerned with grammar as a weak-ass smokescreen for close-mindedness, which seems much more likely.

  10. Abdul Alhazred says

    The company didn’t do anything because there aren’t provisions for trans* recognition in the workplace.

    Being repeatedly “mis-gendered” would get on anybody’s nerves. But if it were for example a straight man being called “she”, the outcome might have been more satisfactory.

  11. jesse says

    On language, a little bit:

    – Language that have grammatical gender have nothing to do with sociological gender. To give one of my favorite examples, in French pens are feminine and pencils are masculine. What this could possibly have to do with gender in the sociological sense I am at a loss to explain. There’s a reason that if you were to just translate a word from English into French, (or Russian*, or Latin, which retain the neuter gender) you would have a 1/2 or 1/3 chance of getting it right. You could just as well call the words that are masculine and feminine “Type A” and “Type B” for all it matters.

    *Russian is Slavic, not Romance, but the principle applies.

    – English no longer has a T/V distinction but there’s no reason we couldn’t bring it back. In any Romance language I am aware of the 2nd/ 3rd person pronoun exists that is as far as I can tell gender-neutral.

    – I honestly don’t know how trans* people refer to themselves or others in French, or Spanish, or Romanian (which — someone tell me if I am wrong – I think still has neuter gender) but I suspect it would actually be less of a problem than in English, at least for 2nd person. For 3rd in the Romance languages that I know there’s an equivalent for “se habla” — “one speaks” — that is reasonably neutral. For speaking directly of other people I am not sure, since in Spanish you have “ellos” (they) and “ellas” (they for women) and in French the term is “ils” or “elles” and usually “ils/ il” gets used in “gender neutral” contexts. but I really don’t know what the connotation is. It may well be as gender-neutral as “they” in English. I might add that English has sort-of-gender-neutral “one” also.

    – English used to have three genders in the nouns and three in pronouns. We dropped them in the crazy train wreck between Norman French and Old English that makes English what it is. This is why English is so hard to suss out, grammatically for non-native speakers and one reason why word order is so rigid. :-) “his” was not masculine ca. 1600. (We also had words like “heo” “hir” and such, but I don’t know how gender neutral or not they were to Beowulf and his buddies).

    – Lacking a grammatical gender doesn’t mean that usage can’t be gendered. Japanese has no grammatical gender, but there are obvious usage differences between men and women. (Interestingly, trans* people in Japan have come up with all kinds of interesting ways to negotiate this IIRC). Example: “Boku wa eki e ikimashita” is “I went to the station” if a man says it. A woman would use “Wata(ku)shi wa eki e ikimashita”. This is different from grammatical gender a la romance tongues, tho.

    The issue of language evolution (and the thing we’re all touching on here called the Sapir Whorf hypothesis) is complicated. What isn’t complicated is making an effort to use the pronouns another person prefers insofar as you can do it. Easy enough it seems to me (though I admit I resist the neologisms, but more because I think them unnecessary than anything else). So FFS, is someone doesn’t want to be referred to by a certain pronoun, go with whatever works for them. Duh.

  12. Knabb says

    Coming back around to the invented word thing: What, exactly, is wrong with an invented word? Is there some issue with invention? Do these people think inventions are bad, and that we should go back to before we had invented things like fire and agriculture and wheels? No. So, why, exactly, are words somehow different?

    Then there’s how this “invented word” criticism suddenly vanishes the instant the invented word is about something else. A new species is discovered and named? That’s an invented word right there, but the whining is conspicuously absent. Some new piece of technology is developed? Odds are good that invented words are coming into it somewhere, but somehow we never seem to see people griping about how something like “email” is totally a new invented word and that’s just terrible. A new chemical is synthesized and it’s useful enough that unwieldy IUPAC terminology isn’t useful for every reference? Suddenly there’s a new word to refer to it, and again, there’s an obvious lack of complaining.

    Nobody has an issue with invented words. The entire claim is abject horseshit, and a cheap coverup used because the assholes whining about invented words in the context of trans* people don’t want to admit that their actual complaint is that they are a bunch of bigots who would rather misgender people to their face all the time and inflict whatever emotional pain that does than have to remember to not call someone by the pronoun that first comes to mind – and this is the benign case, as opposed to the blatant harassment seen with the assholes talked about here.

    • Markovitch says

      People hate invented words! New technology gets named using old words — like “electronic mail” or “cellular phone”; the closest we ever come to a new word is when we shorten the old words into something more compact. New vertebrate species get descriptive names using words we already have — like “Lavasoa dwarf lemur” or “Carolina hammerhead”. Names of chemicals rarely make it into common usage — even something as innocuous as ammonia needs to be “Mr. Clean” before most people will buy it.

    • says

      Just to add: People do freak out about other invented words, or at other words being used in new contexts. I’ve had serious arguments with people over use of the word “asexual” describing a sexual orientation (or lack thereof) rather than just biological reproduction.

      I guess the thing in common is that there’s generally a resistance to creating new words or using them in different ways in sociological contexts or to describe behaviors/identities rather than “real stuff” like biology.

  13. georgelocke says

    I am 100% in agreement that this catering worker was being harassed. I don’t think the argument Lux presents is quite sufficient to establish that.

    If someone asks you not to call them something, you don’t do it, regardless of how harmless it may seem to you.

    Suppose I insist that you refer to me as Grand Duke George Locke instead of my name or your highness instead of “you”, “the Grand Duke” or “his highness” in place of “he”, etc. This is an unreasonable request, despite whatever hurt I may feel when people refer to me as “you” or “him”. Maybe you disagree, and you think it’s reasonable. Well, what if I demand to be referred to Grand Duke George Locke, Lord of the Three Rivers and Steward to its people, Baron of the diffuse Kingdoms of Elgaland and Vargaland…

    There is a huge difference between this worker wanting to be called “they” and “them” and me asking to be called “Grand Duke” – there is a difference which makes this worker reasonable and myself unreasonable. It is not that I am insincere in believing terms such as “he” to be inappropriate or insulting or offensive (let’s stipulate that I believe I am a Grand Duke and am insulted when I’m not referred to as such but am otherwise a competent worker).

    So it’s not merely that anytime asks you not to call them something for any reason, all such requests are reasonable ipso facto. Some requests are reasonable and some are not, and this worker’s request is reasonable. The difference is not that they are correct in that “he” and “she” are inappropriate, whereas I am wrong in believing myself to be a Grand Duke. For example, I could change my name into something suitable objectionable, and then it’s in any meaningful sense “true” that my name is Cattywumpusnoodleface Bowchickacowhorse, but still unreasonable for me to ask you to call me by that name.

    No, the difference is something closer this: by referring to them as “her”, I am denying this person’s very humanity. Insisting that I am not a Duke may be insulting, perhaps intolerably so, but the onus isn’t on you to cater to my delusions because it’s probably not in my own interest to remain deluded. I may demand that I be called Cattywumpusnoodleface, but it’s not in my interest to have my immaturity catered to now matter how much I stamp my feet. In neither case are you denying me a fundamental right.

    It’s kind of pathetic how hard it is for me to clearly delineate why my made up examples are different. But anyway, not all “call me X” requests are reasonable.

    • says

      I see your point, but I think it’s a big response to one statement. There’s a pretty clear contextual difference between misgendering and failing to use a cis person’s nickname (though I don’t think it’s a good thing to do that, either). The example you gave is more like a really random person making strange demands, though at the end of the day, respect for their preferences is still important to me. Working out a nickname for something like Cattywumpusnoodleface wouldn’t be out of the question. Or, knowing me, I would run with it. (Kind of like how pretty much everybody calls the KCAC guy “Dr David Burger” even though he is not a doctor–this might be an insider reference that nobody else will get.)

      Anyway, yeah, not all requests are reasonable. That’s pretty much true for any and every instance in which there are requests which are reasonable. Identity-related ones are particularly important.

      • georgelocke says

        Thanks for your reply.

        Yeah, I am over-emphasizing this point. As I was writing that, it looked like a lot of the rest of what you were saying was hanging on that premise.

        I mean, when you take the paragraph where you look at the behavior as harassment minus the gender bit, you again have the problem that if someone was getting upset and getting teased because of something sufficiently absurd, then this person would have no grounds for a lawsuit. So what I’m asking for is an argument that what she was asking for is not absurd. But I guess the article isn’t justifying why the request is so reasonable per se so much as it emphasize that “they/them/their” is a really easy, go-to alternative to him/her. (Yes, people really need to fuck off if they cannot be bothered to make that adjustment.)

        So there’s no need to defend what is obviously a human right in this article, which is tiresome and I’m sure you’ve made that argument many times outside of my hearing and you are not obliged to make it everytime some wanker like me starts JAQing off.

        So I’m sorry, I guess. Gender queerness is something I have yet to really grok. I was reading the article expecting you to answer that question – how do we justify the request – which is something I don’t know how to do easily. So my privilege is showing, basically.

  14. says

    I read this when posted, but didn’t have anything to say at the time.

    Resistance to invented words isn’t necessarily a resistance to people who don’t fit binary definitions of gender. One person in this thread mentioned the archaic second person pronoun “thou”; I was thinking about that word independently, hence why I came back to this. For those who don’t like invented words, repurposing an old one might be the ticket. “Thou” is a word people that already exists and most already know, so there’s no need to invent a word that some people might refuse to acknowledge. I, you, we, they, thou, it.

    As for names and titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.), my way around that is to refer to people by family name only. Some people feel it’s disrespectful not to use titles, but is it really any different or more disrespectful than using a personal name without permission? It’s also common practice for people to introduce themselves by title (e.g. “I’m Doctor Livingstone”), to say how they would like to be addressed. Couldn’t this also become common practice in the trans community, to let others know how they would like to be addressed?

    • says

      I think most trans people introduce themselves by the name they want to be called. Adding titles can be a little awkward since if you don’t have a doctorate most people don’t say “Hello, I’m Mr. John Doe, pleased to meet you.” Adding the honorific title seems kinda unnatural, and if I were to say “Hello, I’m Mx. Lux Pickel” it would immediately be a situation where I have to explain myself.

      Leaving the honorifics aside, sometimes trans people will introduce themselves with their proper name and then other people continue using their deadname behind their backs, thus confusing new people. And sometimes people will dig and seek their deadname to call them that deliberately. It’s a strange phenomenon, but it seems some cis people are determined to undermine the identities of the gender non-conforming.

  15. says

    Oh dear. I’m from Germany, and lately I’ve been raging over the fact that there isn’t actually a gender-neutral pronoun in the German language (besides “es”, which translates to “it” and therefore doesn’t qualify for talking about people imo). It’s kinda hard talking about people who don’t identify as male nor female in German, at the moment I haven’t found a better solution yet than using no pronouns at all and instead say their name every time. Which is annoying but still better than misgendering them; and I wish there was a word like “they” in the German language too…..AND THEN I HAVE TO LEARN THAT ENGLISH-SPEAKING TRANS* PEOPLE WHO ARE OKAY WITH “THEY” STILL HAVE TROUBLES WITH PRONOUNS BECAUSE…”IT’S PLURAL”? Duuuuuh. I honestly didn’t even think about that “argument” >.< Seriously. What is wrong with people. *sighs*

    • says

      Hah, it’s definitely a silly, complicated situation.

      Out of curiosity, is the male set of pronouns considered to be neutral at any point? Like, in French you could say “ils” (masculine “they”) to refer to a group of men or a group of men and women and others, while “elles” is a group of women.

  16. Conny says

    Religion is a fundamental aspect of personality and “humanity” for some, that doesn’t mean it’s right, that doesn’t mean God exists.

    It’s you that’s trivializing a fundamental part of human experience, gender is not a part of your personality and it isn’t something you can cherry-pick.
    It’s an anatomical reality, the fact is we are not only sexually dimorphic, and no that isn’t a simple case of whether you have a penis or a vulva, this has important medical implications and a history of appropriation, male and female bodies ware different and people are given or stripped of privilege according to what body they have.

    So quite simply, cherrypicking gender is appropriation, and don’t start appropriating intersex folk either.

    • says

      I think you’re misunderstanding the fundamentals behind what we’re discussing. I recognize that sex is a physical and biological trait with varying factors. Sex isn’t perfectly binary, and people’s perception of gendered bodies is dependent on a variety of factors, most of which not including the person’s genitals, which I assume would usually be underneath their clothing. Hormones are one of the bigger factors in changing medical needs, from what I understand.

      Anyway, we’re talking about gender, which is a personality trait. It’s a sensation of association with one gender or another or several or none. The only reason we ever need to bring intersex folks into the conversation is when people try to say “You can only be a man or a woman! You either have a penis or a vagina!” We have to say, look, people with physically non-binary sex characteristics exist, why shouldn’t non-binary gender identities exist? But you have to get people to grasp that there actually is a difference between how you align yourself socially and psychologically and how your body is. (Which, again, is the difference between gender and sex.)

      • Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

        This is a commenter who has chosen as a ‘nym the actual name of someone who is so terminally stupid that everyone with at least a half-way functioning brain just points and laughs every time they get up to speak.

        So they inevitably invite comparison.

        Amazingly, the commenter manages, by some hitherto unknown feat of extraordinary derpitude, to come across as even more stupid than their namesake. Well done, ‘Kent Hovind'; you get the wooden spoon.

        • Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

          Sorry, in the re-writing I seem to have lost the word ‘wilfully’ from the phrase ‘so wilfully terminally stupid'; please re-insert in your reading of it.

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