Monday, October 10, 2011

gendered pronouns

Here's the thing: I hate pronouns. Hate them with a passion. Think they are idiotic. Wish we could eradicate them from the English language.

Okay. I realize that's a little strong. And not actually true. Pronouns are very helpful and I appreciate the convenience they afford me in my speech. But the fuckers have no right to go and be gendered! It's ridiculous! It's unfair! And by god, it makes me fighting mad that I have only two choices and an insult when trying to speak about people who inevitably are a thousand times more complex than he, she or it.

My overall hatred for them is why I have a hard time asking people to use a specific one for me. Cuz wtf? I shouldn't have to choose which of two inaccurate ways I want people to talk about me. And I don't like that they have to either. But I would prefer to let the speaker choose whichever one feels most correct for them at the time, as long as they are actually thinking about which pronoun is the most appropriate at any given moment.

But it seems that can lead to laziness on some people's part; not feeling like switching it up cuz one choice is more familiar. And, because I don't feel like getting totalitarian around this, and proscribe one option (or prescribe another) I let it slide. At least for some people. Usually ones I have known for a very long time, and, not so incidentally, ones who are cis-gendered females.

And yes, I know how much of a double standard I am creating, and also how gendered my own thinking is about trying to break gender stereotypes, but it's true. I feel less annoyed when a woman I know uses 'she' for me than when a man does. And of course this goes back to gender roles and misogyny and my specific experience of always wanting to be one of the boys but never quite making the cut, but I honestly can't help it. And it was brought to my attention today so I thought i'd explore it here.

Being a part of a community of women has always been bittersweet for me. On one hand, I think it's really great to share experiences with other people that carry a female body thru this world, who were socialized on the feminine end of the spectrum, and who inevitably deal with being basically an outsider in a man's world (cuz this is still more true than anyone wants to admit). But on the other hand, you get enough women in a room together and get them talking, and soon i'm gonna feel uncomfortable/unwelcome to the point of being driven from my seat. Because I also feel a strong connection with the masculine point of view, I chose to pick up enough of the male socialization that my brothers were given, and I have enough internalized misogyny to keep me from feeling accepted/safe in all-women spaces.

(yes, I know how shitty this phrase can sound, but it's true:) some of my best friends are women. I connect with women (usually in a one-on-one situation) in a very real and comfortable way because I learned this skill in order to function as a 'girl'. But also I have always been emotionally accessible, thoughtful and interested, and very good with verbal communication. And building relationships with people by listening to them and talking with them is very important to me. So, yes. Because women are taught these skills more than men are, I know how to function in relationship with them very well and have become close with many of them. And thank god I have.

Because of all of this history that I have with my female friends, I take it as a bit of a compliment when they want to count me as one of their members by using 'she' to describe me, even though it feels remarkably inaccurate right now. However, it is also true that if they were to use the word 'he' for me, I would be even more flattered. Here's why: because if my friend has taken into account both our history of feminine bonding in our friendship, and where I am in my life and what i'm trying to accomplish in my interactions with others, to the point of figuring out how to be comfortable using a masculine pronoun for me, I will count it as a huge compliment. Partially because it feels like a real vote of confidence that she is willing to use a word that describes a group of people that historically have not been good at understanding her group, without actually lumping me into that category (at least I assume non-lumpage, given our closeness). And furthermore, if she is talking to someone I don't know particularly well, it feels like i'm being given even more of a gift since she is allowing me to choose for myself when I want to divulge my personal gender profile to that other person.

And yet, somehow the opposite is true for men. Well, not the opposite cuz there is no opposite, but kind of. If a man that I have known for a long time uses 'she' for me, it feels both familiar, because it means we can fall into the more accepted 'male/female' interactions, and somewhat insulting, because it means he is setting us up to fall into said gender roles. In fact, it feels a bit like being ghettoized. Boxed in. Trapped in a habit I don't want to be a part of anymore. And, because of my internalized misogyny, like i'm being lessened or trivialized by this label. Like I said earlier, a lot of this is my own shit about never feeling fully accepted as one of the guys. Therefore, if he uses the word 'he' for me, I feel instantly as if I have been brought into the fold. It's an incredible compliment for me and makes me feel awesome. It means he has thought about me and how I want to be seen and possibly allowed some part of my personality to resonate as being masculine enough for that word to sound like it might actually describe at least something about me. That feels exactly like success in my book; that something about me feels masculine enough for a guy to see me as at least partially in that club. (yes, I hear the faint sound of a younger brother looking to be let into the cool kids' club. I have an older brother and that experience is deeply embedded in my psyche as the way to acceptance. Whatever, don't judge.)

All of this is why I am a bit harsher with the men in my life around the use of pronouns for me. Because for women, I can feel the love on both sides of the coin, and for men can only feel it on one.

now, the tricky part is when the guy I have known for a long time has also been a love interest in the past, cuz that makes things at least five times more complicated. Cuz now we are dealing with my feelings for him (past and present), my feelings about my gender&sexuality, his feelings for me (past and present), his feelings about my gender&sexuality and his feelings about his own sexuality. (my feelings about his sexuality are only a part of this equation if he makes them so. Cuz in my head, how I identify doesn't change my understanding of how he identifies. But in his, it might.)

The one I think has the most pitfalls would be: his feelings about his own sexuality. Say a cis-gendered hetero guy I know and love decides to use a masculine pronoun for me. Now, if he doesn't want to flat-out deny any history of intimacy we might have had, he is going to have to assess how he feels about using a masculine pronoun for someone he has made out with, and then decide what that means for his understanding of his sexuality. It could mean nothing. It could mean everything. Depends on where he is with his homophobia and his ally-ship.

I understand that this could be difficult, which is why when a guy friend uses 'he' for me, I feel so grateful. Cuz I myself wouldn't want to deny any part of my relationship with him, but given that i'm okay with being a bit of a fag, it doesn't change my sense of myself in any way to accept it. And that's cuz i'm queer. For me, being queer means identifying as broadly as possible on the gender spectrum as well as being attracted to as broad a spectrum as possible. This is the problem with identifying as a heterosexual: it puts you into an either/or situation. And I think a lot of people, especially men, are there by default. That though they may be somewhat attracted to men (as well as women, i'm not gonna talk about closeted gays here), they have found it a lot easier to just stick with the 'opposite' gender for sake of simplicity or convenience. Flipping a coin is a lot easier than finding the right section of a sliding scale.

But a coin doesn't actually work in this situation. I won't allow it to simply by existing how I do. My gender is a journey, not a static thing. And that means other people have to get on board the train or never change their idea of me (however historically accurate) to fit where I am now. Hence my abhorrence of gendered pronouns.

Which is why i'm going to ask you, dear reader, a favor: try boycotting them. Just try, for like, 2 minutes, the next time you speak of me (whether i'm there or not) try to eschew the use of any gendered pronoun in reference to me. Believe me, I know what i'm asking you to do. I've been doing grammatical acrobatics in order to make this work for years now (when talking about others) for this exact reason, and I know how hard it is.

I'll give you two pointers: 1) sometimes, if you structure the sentence right, 'they' doesn't sound completely ridiculous and unclear as to the number of people mentioned, and 2) my name is one syllable, it's not that annoying to repeat it more times than usual in a sentence, or even a paragraph.

maybe some of you have already done this for me, maybe you already do this for many people in your life. if so, I readily and heartily thank you. If you haven't, know that I and a vast number of my genderqueer ilk will be eternally grateful to you for just making the effort.

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