Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pronouns- An explanation and Request

"For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six -- and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that." - Mark Twain
"I've grown certain that the root of all fear is that we've been forced to deny who we are.” - Frances Moore Lappe

Something that I'm sure annoys/confuses the hell out of some people who try to learn about non-binary genders is that it's a bit like learning a new language. Binary transgendered people generally use terms understood and accepted in society- Transition, Surgery, Hormones, Op(eration), Sex, Man, Woman, Gender, etc. They might use them a bit differently, but they're still accepted English words. Maybe they'll get into andro/gynephile, but I rarely see that. When you get into other genders- you get those words, sure. You also get Bigender, Androgyne, Neutrois, Intergender, Genderqueer, etc. All of which my browser is telling me with angry red dots are not English words. And then there are pronouns.

Pronouns are a big deal for transgendered people. Calling a trans man (female to Male) 'she' is at best misinformed and at worst purposefully hurtful and can be a very painful thing. Calling a non-binary 'he' or 'she' is just as inaccurate, which brings up another problem- the English language isn't equipped for gender neutrality. It's extremely difficult to use gender-neutral pronouns without inventing a new one or being grammatically incorrect. Let's go over the current options.

'It'- I do know people who prefer others to refer to them as 'it' and I'm all in-favor of reclaiming it as an acceptable pronoun to use for people. BUT: Most of the time 'it' is used to dehumanize. If someone is androgynous, they get sniggers and a cruel "I wonder what it is". 'It' is typically reserved for inanimate objects and non-human things, some people get annoyed when a person refers to an animal as 'it'. Not a very good pronoun if you're trying to be respectful.

I think with most GNPs (gender neutral pronouns), part of the point is to have something to use when you don't know what gender the person is. Say you find a wallet on the street- how do you say "I want to return it to the owner, I wonder who ___ is"? He/they (are)/she/she or he? In this situation- 'it' just doesn't fly because 'it' is not an acceptable pronoun to use on someone unless that person wants you to. You could argue that any pronoun a person doesn't want you to use is unacceptable, and this is true, but 'it' is extremely dehumanizing in ways that most others aren't.

'They'- is plural. While I do favor the singular they, it's a confusing pronoun. People get confused over who and how many you're talking about. I've also had a few people get on my case for using 'they' to be singular because it's grammatically incorrect.

'S/he or She/He'- A couple of things. First- it looks annoying, I really never liked it in appearance. Second- when you say it it becomes "she or he". A bit long-winded. Finally- it reinforces the binary. She or he. One or the other. Even "she and/or he" would be a bit annoying (I'm neither, not both) but it'd still be better. It also implies you don't know which the person is. An androgyne knows what zhe is- there is no confusion or questioning at that point- to say "she or he" is ignoring who zhe knows zhemself to be. Calling non-binaries she/he suggests that we're just fence-sitters who need to figure out who we are.

'She' or 'He'- In english we have "generic he". In other words- 'he' is a neutral and a male pronoun. There are some gender equality problems here- it can imply that male is the 'original' or 'default' gender and female is just some mutation or add-on. To counter this, some people say 'fine, then so is 'she'' and use a "generic she".
This can be a valid option some of the time . Some people are more okay with one pronoun or the other. I'm alright with 'he' and male terms if you have can't use neutral ones. But not everyone is- and you can't assume which one the person is okay with. Using 'she' on a man is wrong, using 'he' on a woman is wrong, using either on a non-binary isn't magically right just because we don't want to acknowledge someone's gender.

Some people will switch between male and female (example: "She's my boyfriend" "That girl forgot his coat") but this has the same confusion as they of 'who and how many are you talking about?'. It does work for people who prefer that, but in a way it's misgendering the person twice at the same time- and two wrongs don't make a right.

Which leaves us one choice: Inventing pronouns. Which in its own way is grammatically questionable and confusing as hell, but it's still the best option- and some people identify with their pronouns.

Pretend that you've never even heard of non-binary people before. You always thought that s/he was fine because everyone's one or the other. If you know the person's gender, you know which pronouns to use because the two options are more than enough. If this is true of you- then you'll have an easy time imagining this. Then you come across this-
Jesse just got back from band practice. It went alright, but sie messed up a few notes and almost broke hir friend's violin.

I'm sure some questions come to mind. "What or who is 'sie'?" "Is 'hir' 'her' misspelled? Or 'him?" "How do you even pronounce that?" Weren't we talking about Jesse- what happened to him/her? (answers- 'sie/hir' are gender neutral pronouns, I believe the most common ones. I believe it's pronounced 'sigh/hear'. Sie/hir refers to Jesse)

A bit confusing. I've been dealing with gender neutral stuff for over 2 years and I'm still not quite in the swing of these pronouns- I can understand them, but I'm not very good at using them. Walking into this as a complete newcomer must be like walking into an advanced class in a language you've never taken- you're sure they're trying to communicate but you have no idea what they're saying.

And now for the request:

Admittedly, if you don't know anyone who uses GNPs (gender neutral pronouns) then you could probably ignore them. Most people can live a long and happy life never hearing 'Xe asked me to go, I can't wait to see xem'. But when you do come face to face with it- please don't shrug it off in an attempt to justify ignorance. Just because it's unusual doesn't mean that it's only a pathetic attempt to "make English politically correct" or that "no one actually uses it" so you can dismiss it out of hand.

For non-binaries, gender neutral pronouns are a big deal. Some people identify very strongly with their pronouns, and using something else on them would be like calling a woman 'mister' and 'him' even after she corrected you. It's inaccurate, insensitive, and overall wrong. I think a bit of confusion at first is understandable- but there's a difference between "this stuff is all so new to me, I'm having trouble understanding it" and "that's weird so I don't have to learn it".

Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment