"If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." – Lila Watson

Archive for November, 2011

Gender-Neutral and Non-Binary Preferred Gender Pronouns 101

Gender-neutral or non-binary pronouns are used when a person doesn’t know the gender of the person about whom they speak OR when a person requests a non-binary pronoun in reference to themself.
Typically, when someone does not know the gender of the person, “they” and its variants are used. There is a debate about the grammatical correctness of the singular “they”, but many argue that it is, indeed, a correct singular pronoun. In this post, I included resources about that debate, so I will not get into that here.
When someone uses a non-binary pronouns because “she” or “he”, and their variants, do not fit their needs, there are a lot of options that can be used! However, many people do not know these options, so I thought I would compile some resources for you!

  • Wiki: includes some examples from languages, including historical English
  • Wikitionary: List of protologisms by topic/third person singular gender neutral pronouns” —- includes this chart with usage examples (at the page, to which the chart links, the image is not in image format, so should be accessible).

  • Aether Lumina: expansive FAQ on gender-neutral pronouns and examples
  • wiseGEEK: just some more info about what gender-neutral pronouns are and their histories
  • Gender Neutral Pronoun: includes the below chart  (at the page, to which the chart links, the image is not in image format, so should be accessible) with the most commonly used pronouns. Also includes further descriptions of pronouns and this page (which includes several further resources and networks).

To be respectful, it is always important to use the pronouns someone prefers. If you don’t understand them, learn! Pronouns may not seem like a big deal to you, but they may be to someone else.

cross-posted to Tumblr

How my experiences with feminism and the church are similar in the worst way

I grew up a Christian. When I was 11 years old, I decided to go into ministry, and I did. I worked with all ages and studied Religious Studies at a Baptist University, with a concentration in Christian Education and a minor in Youth Ministry. I was a queer person. Like other queer folk, I was going to change the Christian establishment from the inside out. I know queer ministers. At the time, I believed what they believed – in concepts like liberation theology, standing on the side of the oppressed, etc. I could brush off hate and say that bigoted Christians weren’t “real Christians”, because they aren’t biblically based. Eventually, however, the hatred and bigotry that was thrown my way, the awful things I experienced, the abuse in the name of “the love of God”, was too much for me. I left ministry, the church, and eventually lost most of my connection with the faith. That’s okay with me, today.

Sometime during my time at the Baptist school, I learned about feminism, and when I transferred to a public university and began studying social work, I dove right into it. It connected with me. The social justice overlap between my academic work and feminist activism was just what I needed to regain hope in humanity. I volunteer at an abortion clinic, but I also work for racial relations, queer rights, class and labor issues, immigration, etc. To me, that all made sense, especially since I jumped into Tumblr at the same time I jumped into feminism. It told me that this is what feminism is: working towards justice for all people and fighting against institutional structures of privilege and oppression. Eventually, I was told by enough older feminists that we are taking something away from them by making feminism about equality for all, not just about reproductive rights. I have seen so many feminists turn to cissexism, classism, and racism, even on my beloved Tumblr.

Like Christianity, I can say that those people aren’t “real feminists”, but at the end of the day, there is no feminist “Bible”, so there’s nothing that they could be straying from. Bigoted feminists represent feminism as much or more as those of us who are fighting for equality for all. I am fighting to not lose my connection with feminism, and maybe I am fighting for the wrong reasons – to not lose my social justice network. Part of me believes that claiming a network like feminism means that I have a larger community from which to work – the larger and more united our group, the more we will be heard, even if we don’t all agree. Something in me foolishly believes that the bigots will one day stop being bigots, especially if we keep educating them. At the end of the day, though, that education is a waste of energy and time that could be spent with progress.

I don’t want to focus on changing feminism from the inside out, I want to focus on social justice and leave the unchangeable bigots alone. I want my work to be about the work, about progress. What that means for me and my relationship for feminism I guess only time will tell.

How to Use “They” as a Singular Pronoun

As a non-binary trans* person, I have been very apologetic in my life about pronouns. That’s my own issue, thinking that non-binary pronouns are too difficult for cisgender or binary-identified trans people to understand. I didn’t give those people enough credit.

I have no personal pronoun preference as of this point in my life, as long as those pronouns are non-binary. (I have said that I prefer male pronouns over female pronouns, just to show that there is difference between my assigned gender and identity. Male pronouns are still a way lower preference from me than non-binary ones.)

For a while, I chose to use “they”, because I felt like that was easier for some people, because it was at least a word they’ve heard before. You should never feel pressured to choose a pronoun because it’s easier for others to use, but I did, especially because I felt like I had to, based upon my gender presentation.

I quickly realized that I was wrong; “they” is surprisingly difficult for people to use in the singular form, especially after they’ve seen someone. Something about our culture means that, unless there are visual “clues” that you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth (or even if there are clues), you will be given a pronoun based on your appearance.

[Edit: of course there are issues with grammar, which is why I’ve included resources in that arena.]

But, until we see someone, or have been told other pronouns to use, “they” comes naturally (unless of course it’s involving a profession or otherwise where we use sexism to assume the male default).

Example 1: 
I have to go to an internist about my blood work. I wonder what they will say. I need to have them send a letter to my endocrinologist, stating their opinion on my how my medications interact. I hope they’ll do that soon.

Congrats! You’ve just used “they” in the singular form!

Example 2 (courtesy of my friend, Ethan; this takes place behind the counter at a grocery store deli): 
Mike answers the phone. It is his first day at work, so he passes the phone to Cameron: “I have a customer on the phone who would like to order a cake.” Cameron replies, “Okay, just ask her …(corrects self)… them what they would like on it.” Cameron corrected himself because he realized he doesn’t know the customer’s gender.

Cameron used “they” in the singular.

So why is it so difficult to use when people request it? Because you’ve seen them. That is beyond hurtful to non-binary identified people. When people request a pronoun, even if they give you another option, go with the one they prefer. Always. You can do it, with practice.


(cross-posted at Tumblr)