Posts Tagged ‘pronouns’

Question MarkI’m catching up, but still behind. Today we have two short letters that I have some thoughts about, but that I am unable to answer with much certainty, so I hope that readers can give these writers some additional information.

A reader writes: “I found your website while googling around on gender-neutral pronouns. My question, in brief, is this: Is it just me, or are gender-neutral pronouns mostly sought by people who were assumed to be cis women at birth?

“I love the idea of genderqueer and have happily appropriated the parts that work for me and read a fair amount of queer theory over the years. It occurred to me today that most of the third-way writing I have read is by people who no longer want to use girl-pronouns after being assigned she/her at birth, where as trans women tend to love getting access to (and perhaps ideally only using) the girl pronouns versus seeking some third way.

“I googled a bit hoping to find some evidence to the contrary, but didn’t find much. Perhaps I’m insufficiently thorough. Thanks in advance for your reply, and also for your patience with my question and any parts I may have phrased inelegantly or insensitively.”

I don’t know whether or not this is true, but it appears to me, as well, that the majority of people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns are those who were assumed to be female at birth. I do know some genderqueer-identified people who were designated male at birth who use “they,” and I know some who use “he” and “she” interchangeably. But again, the majority of people who I have found to use “they” or “ze” were designated female at birth.

I’m not aware of any statistics on this, or whether or not any surveys or studies have been done (if anyone knows, please fill us in), so my answer is coming from personal experience.

If my personal experience transfers to the larger culture (and I don’t know if it does or not), and I had to give my thoughts on why this might be, I would say that I think that the “gendered” life experience is different for those who are designated female at birth and those who are designated male at birth, and this causes potentially different responses to any feelings of gender incongruity. (more…)


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Question MarkA reader writes: “I am a parent of a teenager who just last year, at the age of 17, shocked me with the announcement that she was transgender and would be starting the transition from FTM as soon as she turned 18.

“Up to that point, my husband and I had no idea her gender identity was in question. She was definitely a ‘tomboy’ (as was I most of my life), and never played with dolls, etc., but we never put two and two together. We did think she was a lesbian, however, but even that we were unsure about, because she had gone from one phase to another over the years (emo chick, athlete, etc.).

“So I am trying to find a place where I can be educated that will help me not only believe this, but accept it, embrace it, and eventually advocate for my child. I am having a very difficult time ‘transitioning’ my own mind to believe that my daughter of 17 years is not a female. I cannot get the word ‘him’ out of my mouth, and I cannot get myself to call her (him) by this new name.

“Does this make me a mean, closed-minded, unaccepting parent? I just tried to call my husband ‘babe’ or ‘honey’ the other day (something I’ve never done), and that felt so incredibly awkward coming out of my mouth. How in the world will I call my child ‘he’?

“I cannot seem to find good information on how to change myself, and my husband and my 12-year-old son’s mindset on the fact that ‘Jane’ is now ‘John.’ Not to mention, my husband is not at all willing to change the name. He does not even believe that this is happening. Knowing nothing at all about transgenderism and totally unwilling to educate himself at this, I am at a loss!”

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way right up front – you are not mean, closed-minded, or unaccepting. You wouldn’t be writing to me if you were. So stop beating yourself up about that, and let that one go.

Next, let’s put your husband on the back burner for a moment, because it’s not your job to make him accept his child. Don’t worry – we’ll come back to him later. Right now, we are going to focus on you, because how you deal with this will likely eventually influence how he does, and how your 12-year-old son does. (more…)

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Question MarkBelow we have three letters with a common theme: a desire to medically transition, the inability to do so, and the problems that can create. Each is a little different, so I’m hoping that readers will have some thoughts about one or more of these situations.

A reader writes: “I’m writing because I went to my Kaiser trans specialist yesterday. She said that they now offer SRS and breast implants to trans women who work for certain companies. I replied that it was fine, and I’d happily take a genital reworking once my company was among the fold.

“However, to meet the requirements of WPATH, I would need (and want!) to live full-time for a year prior. To facilitate that, I asked, could I get electrolysis and/or facial changes that would enable me to live comfortably as a woman. She said that Kaiser won’t cover those procedures. My PCP added that she remembers when they didn’t offer ANY trans surgery.

“So I feel caught in a Catch-22. I can get bigger boobs, but not a chance to live comfortably in my skin, relatively free from harassment. And I should be grateful. Argh! I have a small income and no savings. What do you think? I just feel frustrated.”

It is frustrating, because some of the very basic procedures that trans people need – sometimes more than extensive surgery itself – are not considered medically necessary. Things such as electrolysis and facial surgery are considered “cosmetic,” although they can be the foundation of living socially in the gender that matches a person’s identity.

And social presentation can be just as important – and sometimes more so – than parts of our physical body that are generally private. How we are seen by others, and how others interact with us, can be essential to how we see ourselves.

In my opinion, the things that allow for appropriate and successful social adjustment in transition should be considered just as necessary as any larger medical procedures that trans people might need. However, my opinion has yet to be taken into consideration by the powers who make these decisions. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I am a junior at a socially conservative high school in Atlanta, GA. I have a transgender girlfriend, two of my closest friends are genderqueer, and I identify as a pansexual, so I am much more aware of gender issues than the vast majority of my peers (my girlfriend/friends are in college, and I am one of only two openly queer students in the entire school).

“I have debated using singular ‘they’ pronouns for multiple reasons: I want people at my school to be aware of genders outside of the binary, I personally don’t want to be part of the binary system, and I want to be judged by my self, not by my gender.

“However, I am cisgender and readily identify as female, both outwardly and internally. As much as I want to disassociate myself from gender-binary classifications, I don’t want to appropriate terminology that doesn’t apply to me as strongly as it does to people who really don’t identify with a traditional gender.

“Is ideological justification enough to use gender-neutral pronouns, or does it just become offensive/trivialization if I still self-identify as a female?”

This is an interesting question, and I can see both sides of the issue. There are some people who might see that as appropriation, because as a cisgender person, you have a choice. You don’t have to use a gender-neutral pronoun, and you will get along just fine if you choose not to.

That is part of the “cisgender privilege” that has gotten so much press in our community lately. For you, it would be a choice. For some trans people, or gender diverse people of any kind, it is often not a choice. Having to use a gender-binary pronoun would literally make some people miserable every moment of every day.

I hope that those who see this as appropriation, or as wrong for any reason, will let us know what they think in the Comments section. Because I’m going to say that I think it’s okay. (more…)

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Question MarkBelow, we have two letters regarding allies (the second one is a stretch, but I figured it could loosely go with an “Ally” theme). And here they are:

A reader writes: “I am a cis teenager who tries her hardest to be a good ally. Recently, I was talking with someone I’d just met (‘Bob’) who attends my school. We walked past another student, who is trans (we’re in an intersectional feminist club together and he’s talked about it). Bob referred to the trans kid using female pronouns.

“I know that the trans kid only transitioned last year, and Bob had met him before his transition, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know that the trans kid had transitioned. Instead of confronting Bob, I continued to talk about the trans kid using male pronouns. Bob got the memo and then used male pronouns.

“Was that the right thing to do? I wasn’t sure if I should have confronted him more directly (‘Actually that kid uses male pronouns’), but I didn’t want to out him, even though he’s out at school as far as I can tell. I also didn’t want to just let it slide and use the wrong pronouns. In case this situation comes up again, do you have any advice on the course of action that I should take?”

This is a tough one and an easy one. It’s a tough one because, as an ally who knows this person from a particular club only, you might not necessarily know if he is out everywhere. If you refer to him by male pronouns outside of the club, and he is not using male pronouns outside of the club, then you will out him. But if you refer to him by female pronouns just because someone else does, then you will disrespect his identity, whether he’s out or not, but particularly if he is out everywhere.

The easy part is that you can ask him. You’re in the club together, and even if you don’t know him well or have never talked to him directly, there’s nothing wrong with approaching him and saying, “Here’s the deal. What do you want me to do from now on?” (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “Our good friends have a daughter, Linda (I changed the name that the reader sent in, because I didn’t know if it was real or fictional).

“Linda dresses and carries herself in a very masculine way.  She has done this for as long as we’ve known her – five years or so. She shops in the men’s section of clothing stores and seems to identify more with being a male.

“Several times we have all been out for dinner and the server will refer to Linda as ‘he.’ It’s not surprising and I can see why they mistake her for a man.  However, what confuses me is why no one speaks up. My husband and I want to say something to correct the server.  We feel like we should defend Linda, but we don’t say a word. Linda doesn’t either – and doesn’t seem fussed by the mistake. And her parents don’t acknowledge it in the moment or afterwards. We all just go one as if nothing has happened.

“I feel like we are not being honest. I want Linda to know we love and accept her. She may be perfectly okay with being mistaken for a man. Still, I wonder if it is best to keep quiet and say nothing. Her parents seem to be in denial. I am most concerned about Linda and want her to be able to express herself fully.

“She still lives at home and seems to be pretty isolated from people. I want to be supportive, but it feels like we’re all silently dancing around the situation. Maybe it’s none of my business. Bottom line, I care about Linda and want the best for her. Her parents may have difficulty, so I don’t feel comfortable saying anything to them.

“I wanted to get your input on how/if I should say anything to Linda or her parents.”

First of all, thank you for your concern in this situation. It sounds as if you care a great deal for Linda and her parents.

Second, the short answer is: No, you should not say anything to Linda (at least not at the time) or her parents, and no, you should not correct the server on Linda’s behalf.

There could be so many things going on here that it’s impossible to list them all, but I will throw a few out there, and, in all of these cases, you are better off keeping your mouth shut: (more…)

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Question MarkI have two letters with relatively short answers (for me!), so even though they’re not related, I put them together into one post. And here we have them:

A reader writes: “I’m a queer cis femme, and I have a number of close friends who, over the past few years, have come out as trans (FtM). I consider myself a strong ally, and I have had no problem adjusting to their preferred names or pronouns, but there is one issue that I am unsure about.

“In many cases, these friends and I share mutual friends and/or acquaintances who may or may not know of a trans friend’s past. When telling stories about various adventures or experiences with a trans friend who, at the time, did not identify as trans, which pronoun should I use?

“I don’t want to accidentally ‘out’ them to people who don’t know (or don’t need to know) the whole story, but I also want to stay true to my friend and true to the story. If we did something together – let’s say, went camping – then should I say, ‘She and I went camping last summer’ or ‘He and I went camping last summer’?”

The best thing to do, particularly if you are talking about relating stories about this person when he is not present, is to ask the person. You will need to ask each one of your friends, individually and privately, what he prefers if you happen to be talking about him to others when he is not present, particularly when those people don’t know that he has transitioned.

However, as a general rule when talking about a trans person’s past, whether he or she is present or not, the following two things apply:

1. Always use the pronoun that the person currently uses, even if everyone in the room knows that he or she is trans. For example, when referring to a trans man friend, you would say, “He and I went camping last year,” “He and I grew up together,” or “I’ve known him since he was five.” The same rule applies with trans women. You would always use “she,” regardless of the time period you are talking about. If the person uses a pronoun other than “he” or “she,” then use that one.

There’s nothing more aggravating than reading a news story about a trans person and seeing that the writer uses both pronouns to refer to the person, as if the writer’s sole purpose was to confuse the public: “She was a nuclear physicist prior to her transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut.” Huh? No, he was a nuclear physicist prior to his transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut. (more…)

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