Home > Uncategorized > Hello, I’m here to talk to you about pronouns

Hello, I’m here to talk to you about pronouns

So, this is my breakout post. But I find introduction posts to be rather boring, I’m going to figure out the pages thing so I can make an “about” page here if you want to know basic information about me. Instead this will be an easy issue post. Let’s talk about pronouns.

As a person of trans experience and a language buff, this debate is very near and dear to my heart. Pronouns are a big deal within the trans community, particularly in the non-binary portion where the stress is not on getting people to call you by the correct pronoun but on finding one that doesn’t make you want to vomit. The bulk of this post will be putting my two bits in on the unfolding debate within the community (and occasionally involving those outside the community) and a summary of the debate as I’ve experienced it for those who are new to the concept.

First, however, we need an explanation of why. Aside from just being groovy, referring to people respectfully in the way they wish to be referred, and not telling other people who they are, of course (though those should be sufficient reasons, right?). In personal experience, being referred to by the wrong pronouns is confusing. It always takes me a moment to realize I’m being spoken to when someone calls me “he” (or less frequently “she”) or some other gendered word such as “sir”. You’ll get a lot better mileage out of conversations with and about me if you just call me what I ask you to. However, if I’m already having a bad day (stress, anxiety, and depression turn a lot of little annoyances into serious triggers for me), or you specifically and obviously chose a word you know I don’t identify with, it can become a serious problem that causes me great anxiety or exacerbates whatever is already wrong. The triggering effect of incorrect pronouns varies from person to person, and ranges from ambivalence to serious trigger every time.

The choices:

He or she: These are the standard English third person pronouns used to refer to people. If you are not familiar with them, well, you probably can’t read any of the rest of this so it doesn’t matter. The main issue with these is that, while covering cis people and much of the binary identifying trans people, they aren’t sufficient to cover all gender identities (such as my own). Some non-binary trans people feel comfortable with one or both of these pronouns, but many of us have other preferences.

It: OK, so this appears to be our other choice. In the recent story Norrie May-Welby, some groups believed that it was the only other option and referred to zem as such (an explanation of the pronoun I just used will come later in the post). This is not a perfect solution however. Think of how offended parents get when their babies get referred to as “it”, or some people with their pets. It is a gender neutral pronoun, but it is also usually an inanimate pronoun referring to things not people. There are those who prefer this pronoun, but many others will become very offended if you use it, so it should not be your default pronoun.

They: This is the most contested choice. The issue seems to be born out of high school English classes that cater to prescriptivist grammar that proclaim that they is always plural and to use it otherwise is incorrect and confusing (these are the same people that say multiple negatives and ending sentences with prepositions is incorrect and confusing, but I don’t have no problem with none of it and I don’t really know who they’re talking to). People use singular they all over the place. Say you’re going to the doctor’s office, but you don’t actually know which doctor you will be seeing, and thus whether the doctor is male or female (or not, though in a professional setting people tend to pick one or the other) and you don’t want to say “the doctor” over and over while talking about it. Now, some people default to “he”, but assuming your medical professionals will be male is huge patriarchal ass-shit so don’t, others will use “they”. Pay attention, you’ve used it, trust me. Plus, “you” is both singular and plural, and no one has any problem with it (it’s also handy; I can say “you” in this post and be referring to just the one reader or all readers at once. Actually, it’s probably a little sad that I get excited about that…). So, unless you’re one of those people who wants to bring back “thee”, you’re not allowed to use the “no singular they” argument with me. Don’t make me start quoting Chaucer (I hate appeals to authority, but it’s sometimes the only way to show people that “they” has been used in this manner for centuries). The problem here is that “they” is generic. That doctor in the example is being referred to as “they” because we don’t know them or who they are. When you finally meet them, you will begin speaking about the experience referring to them as he or she. Again, some people prefer this one, others get irked by it. So that leaves…

…Neologisms. Making up words is a big part of the non-binary experience (at least, as far as I’ve seen). Genderqueer, androgyne, bigender, trigender, polygender, neutrois, all words with lovely red underlines in my word document. So it makes sense that our pronouns are made up as well. Wikipedia has a nice selection, and I’m sure others come into being all the time. Zem, the pronoun I used above to refer to Norrie, is an example (the declension being z[i]e/zem/zeir), and, incidentally, the pronoun I prefer (also zeir preference, note the crapfail in the article by drawing attention to the use of the unusual pronoun).

The general rule should be, just ask. Honestly, if you don’t know a person well enough to have determined their preference and they haven’t brought it up, ask. Some people may get offended, but it’s better in the long run if you know and don’t assume.

  1. chartreuseflamethrower
    July 17, 2010 at 10:26

    It also seems like the article on Norrie ignored the proper declension of zeir preferred pronoun. I also don’t like the title, which basically makes it seem like genderless=asexual. Which Norrie isn’t- Norrie seems to be more androgyne/genderfluid, so genderqueer=genderless=asexual, even worse! And are those even Norrie’s preferred pronouns? Is there anything where Norrie specifically says? I haven’t seen anything…

    (these are the same people that say multiple negatives and ending sentences with prepositions is incorrect and confusing, but I don’t have no problem with none of it and I don’t really know who they’re talking to).

    The double negative thing I can agree with if it’s “I don’t know nothing” to indicate that you don’t know anything- because you’re basically saying the opposite of what you mean (but everyone knows what the person means, so just don’t use it where “formal” language is called for). But against multiple negatives in general is really weird, because “I don’t not like this” means something different than “I like this”. And when you get into more of them- you can have silly word play.

    Also, singular they has a different reflexive- themself (instead of themselves). I don’t know how grammar works, is that enough of a difference to consider it a different pronoun? Or does that not matter to “them”

    So, unless you’re one of those people who wants to bring back “thee”, you’re not allowed to use the “no singular they” argument with me.

    My favorite argument.

    I believe thou initially rhymed with ‘you’, not ‘how’, so part of me feels like going with that. I’m also in favor of bringing back ‘ye’ (I/me/my=ye/you/your.) I’ve actually started doing the ‘thou’ thing online because “generic you” gets me in trouble when people think I’m referring to that specific person when I’m using it generically, in the same sense you’d a person would use “one”. It’s a very stubborn habit.

    Is it contradictory that I want to bring back thou/thee/thy but am happy to use singular ‘they’?

  1. July 28, 2010 at 18:39
  2. April 26, 2011 at 06:15

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