Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who is it?

Before we get this post started, I'm going to say this on the pronoun "it" used for people: Yes, it is way too charged to be a pronoun to use when you don't know what the gender/pronoun of a person is- but it's still a pronoun that some people do prefer being called by. That should be respected.
Now, on with the show.

"Inspector, do you know if the killer was a man or woman?" -Journalist
"Well of course I know that! What else is there? A kitten?" -Clouseau (from 'the Pink Panther 2')

Because apparently the objections to 'it' actually run deeper than I realized, as a person has expressed that even "Is it a boy or a girl?" is dehumanizing. Now, unfortunately, the commenter has no public information on their blogger profile so I cannot send them a message to make sure that I'm not misunderstanding this (I also cannot send them a message asking their preferred pronouns, hence the 'they'- I'll happily fix it if someone who knows this person lets me know the right ones). I did ask in the comments why the person feels that asking "is it a boy or a girl?" about an infant is dehumanizing- but it's a personal blog and a post on an extremely sensitive issue so I can appreciate Helen not wanting to publish any comments she doesn't want on there. So all I've really got to work with is what the comment says, which is this:
I know that “it” starts bloody early (“is it a girl or a boy?” – whatever sex a child was assigned, they’re not a fucking ‘it’) and I hate “it”, it’s a cheap and nasty way to de-humanise someone.

This person is making it clear that if this child's preferred pronouns are 'it', which does happen, then that is unacceptable. The kid isn't even crawling yet- and already this person is setting limits to what its gender can and cannot be, what is and is not acceptable (along with the rest of society, so I'm hardly shocked). But, this person is also doing it while accusing other people of dehumanizing the child by using pronouns that express a lack of knowledge as to the child's gender or preferred pronouns (although the question does lead to the kid's gender and identity being heavily policed). So, basically, this person is complaining about other people being dehumanizing while possibly dehumanizing the child by saying its gender and pronouns are inherently insulting. (in this hypothetical the kiddo grows up to prefer 'it'- why not, I know enough people who have) And that's actually why I have an objection to people who get so angry whenever anyone calls anyone else 'it' and claim it's "dehumanizing" no matter what (even when a person calls itself 'it'- which was just busted).

But the question is dehumanizing, just not for the same reasons that this person has in mind. Asking "Are you a [wer]man or a woman?" implies that it's an either-or question, there are only two options and all humans must fit into them. So, yes, it is dehumanizing- it dehumanizes everyone who is not a werman or a woman by implying that they're less human. However, I do not see how using 'it' for children is in any way dehumanizing, especially since they're using it as a non-specified pronoun until they know what the assigned-sex of the child is to go by that. Which is cissexist, binarist, bigoted, and limiting- but not dehumanizing. Generally people ask that in the middle of cooing over what a sweet, precious miracle of life it is before realizing they haven't yet enacted their right to know the genitals of everyone and must remedy this. People who ask this rarely have a sneer of "your baby is such a gender confused freak" or anything else that would indicate the question is dehumanizing. Any objections to the infant's clothing would be directed at the parents, they wouldn't be attacking a person who can barely hold its head up on its own for its fashion sense.

So, just because, here are a few other times when it is not dehumanizing to humans.

  • 1. Who is it?

A common reply when there's a knock on the door or a person says you have a phone call. This in no way denies the unknown caller/visitor of its humanity. This is actually a pretty awesome example of 'it' used as a gender-non-specified and it's pretty damn accepted. Admittedly, it is not used when speaking to the person- then "Who is this?" is used, but "who is it" is not dehumanizing. It's expressing that you know absolutely nothing of the caller- not even its gender.

  • 2. "It's [you/him/her]"

I remembered this one when thinking about a song from the Shrek soundtrack (it rocks- I don't care what anyone else says). Specifically, the Dana Glover song "It is you (I have loved)". The song is basically the singer/narrator explaining that zie finally realizes that zie loves the person zie's singing to- saying "It is you I have loved all along". 'It', the subject of the sentence, refers to the person- in this case, a person of known gender- and is, again, not implying the person is less human, it is not degendering the person. There is absolutely nothing in the song to indicate that zie feels the person zie loves is less than human or deserves no respect or anything else. Generally, in healthy relationships, people feel that the one zie loves is very deserving of all those things and very much human and the humanity is, in fact, very much respected- as are the genders and pronouns of everyone involved.

'It' is not always dehumanizing. So, seriously, stop saying it is.

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