Language and semantics are important to me. I quibble over the use of "quantify" versus "qualify". I get hung up on "ostensibly" versus "presumably". I get into arguments with the monkey who claims I cannot use the word Grok if I have not read the book it references, or who complains about my use of "if I was" versus "if I were". We argue over qualifying the words "unique" or "prime". The monkey balked at my use of the word "clueful", which in my brain is just what you'd assume it is: the opposite of "clueless" especially when relating to a particular subject.
Unfortunately, it's caused a few issues.
I know several people who are Trans or Genderqueer, at least one other person who wants to be rendered basically asexual, and at least one other who is an "asexual girl" who embraces her girldom, wears rainbow-rings, but can't imagine intimacy with anyone, and there's a semantics issue.
To relate, recently one of our friends commented on a story about Pop, a swedish child who is being brought up gender-neutral, and who is not being forced into any sort of gender binary norms. Our friend said something on a message board vaguely like "I wish him well". (I did not read the statement, I only heard of this from the Monkey). And oh did the excrement hit the rotating air circulator. Her statement -- a supportive one even, was turned into gender-bias by other commenters, who immediately pounced. The sentiment was lost in the semantics.
Upon hearing about this, and after having similar arguments with the monkey, I simply concluded that my option would be not to comment; that any opinion I would care to share would simply be conveyed to the person directly. To our friend's defense, simply stated, Pop has a male connotation in the US. It was an innocent mistake, and the community needs to get the fuck over it. Countless people are going to make the same mistake, to Pop's face, and Pop will get used to it, and chances are, Pop will be far less up in arms over it than the trans community seems to be, and will be much happier to have regular concerns like homework, grades, college, and being happy. Ultimately, one of two things will result from this: Pop will choose his or her own gender, and stick with it. (Optionally, Pop may spend years in therapy, since Pop is now unlike any of his friends, who will latch onto "this is different, let's hurt it" and may likely prove to be Very Fucking Cruel, and Pop may opt to just choose some other things too, like which far-from-home countries to consider living in when Pop hits 18.) Alternatively, pop may stay fluid, and be like the monkey is.
The monkey is GenderQueer. The monkey rejects the binary definition of gender. Reads feministing and watches "target women" (which is hilarious) but loves bond films and the song "99 problems". The monkey is a ball of contradictions, and some crueler people would say "confused". There are days when the simple act of getting dressed is a stressful thing involving 4-or-more complete changes-of-clothing (I call them wardrobe changes), body-dislike, and near-tears frustration for him. Hating his tits, battling PMDD regularly, and crying because of the fit of a given shirt. I have related feeling troubled at not having a semaphore to know if he is feeling male, and in truth, it's worse: more often than not, even the monkey does not know.
Anyone who's read this journal for more than an entry or two knows that I use pronouns to refer to the monkey: I simply use BOTH pronouns, interchangably.
Several people have commented that this is confusing, and that it makes it seem as though there are more than two people, which led us to create the additional standard: if I'm talking about someone else, and haven't mentioned them by name or initial, I'm likely talking about the Monkey. Sometimes for readability I will constrain the use of pronouns to one paragraph or another.
But, that only helps me in the context of this blog.
I have no problem in calling a person by their chosen gender. If my friend Simon wants to be "he", then that's what he is, and I'm proud of him for reaching this point. I may slip and use the birth-gender from time to time, and it gets more awkward when he's not fully transitioned, and someone else asks about "her", but I graciously accept corrections.
There's a greater problem. And that's how to refer to someone who is, in fact, both genders, or is in process of transitioning, who is genderqueer, or gender neutral, or even asexual, like the Monkey.
Sie and Hir are awkward. The monkey insists they're the correct way to do this, but I feel it's the same argument as a person. Kindergarteners know "he" and "she". There are college graduates who wouldn't know the words Hir or Sie if they read them or heard them used. I've been active with herm/trans fans for a long time, and even I only recently heard "Sie" pronounced "Zee", instead of "See".
I feel, when a word like this is used to a person who's not trans-aware, it would serve to instantly derail the conversation, or worse, first impression, into "what was that you called [perception-biased gender pronoun]?" It removes the focus from the sentiment, and places it on the semantics. If in doubt, imagine introducing your genderqueer friend to your grandmother.
Make no mistake, if I were to introduce my f2m friend to my grandmother, it would be as simple as "This is mike, he's staying with me". That's not what this is about. I've come right out and described the monkey as trans to my mother (and I did so while coming off a general anaesthetic). I did it because, damnit, I wanted the monkey to be HE, right then and there, and my mother questioned it.
Using the full name is awkward too. I mean, aside from the fact that same names are inspecific anyway (for example, there is a male comedian with the
Monkey's given name, both common and last), and other names are not, it gets tedious. Sure, if your name is a one-syllable thing, it's easy. But I'm
reminded of the Birdcage, and the character "Agador-Spartacus" (he always insists on being called by his full names!). It gets awkward, and annoying,
in both speech and writing. Even if YOU use the full name, every time, someone else won't. Then you have to break and explain that pronoun problem.
And you have to KEEP explaining it, over and over.
I mean, if you like, there's a couple of outright-offensive and accepted-nowhere terms, like "it" and "he or she" or "he slash she". Oddly, while those are offensive to trans people, saying "he or she" might be something I'd expect a doctor to do, talking about a yet-unsexed baby (either undeveloped or undetermined). Ironically, I was recalling to the monkey that a long time ago I had been reading a book for prospective mothers (I have no idea why), and the doctor writing the book took the time in an author's note to point out that "yes, I call your baby 'he', it is less callous than 'it' and less awkward for myself and my editor than 'he or she' every time." (I'm paraphrasing that.) In chapters referring specifically to sexual development he was more specific, but in general, it was to be understood to the reader that it was a placeholder: stop fighting the semantics and read how to actually take care of the thing.
The monkey and I disagree on what I feel is the most logical term: "They". It's a common part of speech, often used to imply a "party of one", doesn't turn any heads or cause any awareness. This actually came up a long, long time ago with my friend who was fighting his way through coming out of the closet. People would ask about his date for a dance, and he'd say "they don't go to this school". Totally acceptable, no warning signs at all, nobody questions it.
The best example I give of gender-inspecific examples is when the person is not even around to pass or not-pass. A good example of syntax is on the phone:
Phone rings "Hi, is Chris there?" "No, Chris isn't here." "Okay, do you know when he will be back?"
At this point, the caller has just chosen and assigned a gender to the person. Is that more or less offensive than me leading them on with "they"?
(And let's face it, the caller may not know). What word would the caller likely use, speaking most naturally? "Okay, do you know when he or she will be back?", "...when Chris will be back?", or "...when they'll be back?" It's one of the four. It's easy to survey to figure out. (And I know several people on another journal that have done phone/answering service work that I could ask).
On the same note, if I'm at a restaurant with the monkey, and the monkey is dressed neutrally, it is HIS option to pass or not pass, because he's fluid. If the waiter shows up and asks what kind of drinks we want, "I'll have a coke, they'll have a water." is my answer.
I'm male. I've always been male. It's simple for me, I guess. I reflect that 75-95 percent of the population of the entire planet probably identifies as one of the other, but I can certainly respect that. I'm involved in it, so gender's fluid for me, too. However, I've been mistaken for female, both on the phone, or in person. I get it on the phone about 30 percent of the time with a person I've never spoken with before. I have had a teeny-tiny little slice of what it's like to "pass" or be "made", to not be mistaken as my preferred gender, entirely by accident. It bothers me a lot.
I'm involved in the Fur fandom. We have a LOT of trans people, a lot of bisexual males, and a lot of people who've got soft features and who have tits, despite having had no hormone therapy and NOT being trans. We also have a LOT of people who use completely nonstandard names, that give you no gender clue.
In short, if I'm introduced to someone whose gender I don't know, "they" is the only option, because any OTHER option denies that person their right to tell me what they want. (See how "they" makes perfect sense in that sentence?) Do I feel like more of an ass calling a person "THEY", or mistaking them completely for something they're not?
Pronouns are a part of speech. They evolved from the need for simplicity. We use them because names are syntactically awkward, long, and come from a number of not-phonetically-spelled languages. If I use "they" in a casual setting, and someone jumps at me, I'm quite sorry. Pronouns are simply a reference; a way to communicate about you to third parties, a portable substitution for the actual value of an otherwise anonymous variable.(*) It's semantics.
I'll say this, though. Once I know you, once I've met you, you're the same person you always were to me, you're my friend. I may use "they" over "Sie" (but not over a definitive He or She) and it may offend you greatly, but in reality, the only pronoun important to me is "you".
(*) Yes, that's a perl reference.