gender expression

The honest mistake: On being a pronoun beginner

Recently, I Tweeted this little two-part message:

I’m thinking a lot these days about the space in between ‘no big deal’ and enough is enough. Readers likely know that last fall I founded the No Big Deal Campaign. NBD aims to encourage folks who are new to transgender people and issues to go ahead, take the plunge, and use someone’s unfamiliar or unlikely pronoun to the best of their ability.

nbcbadgerev2

Alt text: the NBD Campaign logo with “I’ll use your pronoun, no big deal” and the URL: nbdcampaign.ca.

I founded NBD for many reasons, one of which was the recognition that while many people are willing to do this, the stakes attached to an error have become so high that the consequent fear might prevent people from even trying. What’s worse, I was seeing anti-transgender commentators swaying the public and some in the media with a harmful falsehood: that transgender people and our allies are intent on grievously punishing people for an honest mistake, in pursuit of ideological purity. Incoming protections for transgender people in Canadian federal law have been characterized by some as legislating both purity and punishment. To that, I say:

corgi srsly

Alt text: a Red Pembroke Welsh Corgi being wilfully obtuse with SRSLY in meme font.

As a non-binary transgender person, I need people to try using my pronoun and I know that there will always be a first time, a second time, and so on. I also know that this will necessarily involve mistakes. After all, when transgender people learn that a friend or acquaintance has changed their pronoun, it takes us time to get it right, too. This also means making mistakes. Shattering any false image or goal of perfection is, I believe, essential for producing greater everyday acceptance of gender diversity and reducing anti-transgender microaggression. It can build trust with willing yet nervous folks when we’re real about how, yes, transgender people mispronoun each other sometimes. As a movement, I believe we need to create a space that people want to step into. And while I whole-heartedly embrace the notion – both personally and in my academic work – that intentionality has little to do with the impact of our actions on others, as a teacher I also know that people need their intentionality to matter. Because I am a singular they user, I can say that it does matter: an honest mistake feels like an honest mistake.

However.

The ethic of “no big deal” is not a free pass to keep on making mistakes, over and over again, even honest ones. It’s also not a free pass from consequence. And recalling my Tweets up there, it is no guarantee that you won’t lose a transgender friend or colleague or date or family member if you keep on making that same old (even honest) mistake. When I teach about barriers faced by gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) users (many of which are experienced by transgender people regardless of their pronoun), I explicitly talk about this dynamic even as I work to create a space where mistakes are expected as part of the learning process:

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 5.41.25 PM

Alt text: PPT slide on resistance as a barrier faced by gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) users, including invalidation (mis-gendering by people who have been informed of one’s GNP), active refusal (saying no) or passive refusal (just using someone’s name, saying ‘this is too hard,’ or a forget/apologize dynamic that doesn’t change.

As a form of passive refusal to use someone’s pronoun, a forget/apologize dynamic that doesn’t change can be attributable to many things. It could be that a person just doesn’t encounter enough opportunities to practice (the solution being to ask for and seek out opportunities or advice). But people are generally more complicated. If something matters to us, we do our best. We remind ourselves before we see someone that this is something they need (be it a cupcake, an accessible washroom, or freedom from talking about an unpleasant topic). If we continually forget a person’s need, it might help to pay attention to that forgetting and learn that there is something about the need that we don’t understand or agree with. We aren’t convinced that this is legit. We have questions, we need answers.

This is an honest place, a starting place. One can both know that it is a social good to engage with transgender people in a way that respects our gender identities, and be honest that one is a beginner. A beginner is someone who knows that there are things they need to look up, to Google, or to practice. Beginners expect practice and expect their own mistakes. Beginners take pride in improvement over time.

The No Big Deal Campaign is for everyone, but particularly has the beginner in mind. I believe that there must be a place for beginners in any movement to benefit transgender people because transgender people need institutions – and the people who are/in them – to do a better job in relation to our needs. Chances are those people are just beginning to engage with and understand anything to do with transgender anything, and that’s both okay and unavoidable.

So, be a beginner. Occupy that space with your whole heart. Work at it and take pride in getting it right when you do. Have compassion for yourself when you don’t. But like every beginner, know that you aren’t a beginner forever. And if you find yourself still making rookie mistakes long after the fact, be honest with yourself about your own resistance, be curious about where it comes from, and ask a coach.

On resistance: Singular they and wearing one’s “anti-transgender underpants” on the outside of one’s clothes

On Tuesday I had an op-ed published in the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s national newspapers. My op-ed was in response to prominent Canadian newspaper columnists Christie Blatchford in the National Post and Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, who are in turn responding to a fiasco in which U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson proclaimed that having to use someone’s gender-neutral pronoun would be an attack on his freedom of speech. In other words, being compelled to use, say, my own pronoun (singular they) is a restriction on his freedom and this is dangerous. In so many ways, this is just a new flavour of the classic liberal debate: which freedoms trump which freedoms?

In their support of Prof. Peterson’s position, Blatchford and Wente (in my view) wildly inflated the situation by invoking the rhetoric of war: that Peterson is ’embattled’ (Blatchford) by his mythic struggle against ‘pronoun warriors’ (Wente).

To my knowledge, there has been one particularly inflamed protest on campus in which people on both sides clashed (mostly in verbal ways). But that’s it. And so, my goal in the op-ed was to show that gender-neutral pronouns are not actually a ‘battle’ but part of everyday life for users and the people around us. Prof. Peterson and people like me are not warriors raising a standard of some kind as we ride into the melee. None of us get to be that heroic or that fancy. In short, I wrote that:

I’d like to throw a wet blanket on this smouldering conversation, and suggest that using someone’s gender-neutral pronoun can be no big deal.

Since the op-ed’s publication, I’ve had lots of positive interest and inquiry through social media and email. However, the comments below the op-ed are, at best, less than constructive and tend to claim a grammatical basis for rejecting the idea that people like me exist and deserve to have our needs respected. I imagine that a minority of folks who actively, stridently resist singular they are truly concerned about grammar. But what about the others? Talking constantly with others about pronouns for the past 72 hours has led me to a new theory.

Particularly in Canada, respect for diversities of all kinds is fast becoming the status quo; I do not mean that Canada is a problem-free paradise (it most certainly is not). What I mean is that it’s becoming ever more gauche, awkward or frowned-upon to say prejudicial things in public life. I think that when things like “I’m not racist but…” and “have you had the surgery?” and “why can’t they get a job?” become cringe-worthy instead of crisis-worthy (i.e., more easy to dismiss), that’s a sign that the dominant culture is shifting.

Canada is, however, a politically-diverse country with many people who are not, say, on board with Bill C-16 (which would add ‘gender expression and ‘gender identity’ to federal human rights and hate crimes legislation) because they are not generally on board with transgender people a) being real or b) deserving special protection. There also are many Canadians who believe that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a waste of time and that indigenous peoples in Canada deserve no special consideration, or that there is no racial profiling by police in Canada’s diverse cities (or worse: that it’s warranted).

Now, if someone believes these things, they can easily refrain from stating their beliefs in public (e.g., online, at work, at school). They can maintain their privately-held beliefs and make choices about where and when they are aired. They have the right to air them (with the proviso that same is not hate speech), but also to protect themselves from unwanted scrutiny by choosing where and when this happens.

Which leads us to singular they, and being required to use someone’s preferred gender pronoun. As I frequently point out on this blog, learning to use singular they for someone takes some effort and some practice (tips). I’ve also suggested that someone’s seeming inability to use one’s preferred gender pronoun might be less about the pronoun and more about the quality of relationship between user and refuser; this suggestion is based on my own experience and the many experiences shared with me by readers over the years.

Let’s imagine someone who, as above, is not generally on board with transgender people a) being real or b) deserving special protection. Perhaps they air these beliefs in private but not, say, at work, because this would be frowned-upon. Under Bill C-16, however, they will be required to use a colleague’s preferred gender pronoun, and their employer will be required to provide an environment free of discrimination and harassment on the grounds of gender expression (which includes pronouns). This may become an issue of the individual’s job performance, as a result. So, they both hold these anti-transgender beliefs and would have to put in some effort and practice to use a (likely transgender) person’s preferred gender pronoun.

This is an extremely conflicted individual. I can empathetically put myself in their shoes and imagine their fear: that others will find out, because they keep on making mistakes and can’t bring themselves to make the effort to change. After all, social media and newspaper comments can be anonymous. Our own spoken words cannot.

Crucially, “just don’t talk about it” isn’t a viable solution to this conflict because pronouns are an everyday part of speech. Unlike other kinds of beliefs that are not skewed towards the acceptance of diversity but which can be privately-held, then, the pronoun issue may require people to wear their “I’m anti-transgender” underpants on the outside of their clothes. I can see why this exposure might produce fear, and I know how fear can become many other worse things.

Decades of psychometric research on attitudes towards sexual minorities (e.g., gay, lesbian or queer people) has found that actually knowing a gay, lesbian or queer person reduces homophobia. Interestingly, recent studies like this one are showing that the extent of personal contact with gay, lesbian or queer people affects heterosexual participants’ attitudes towards transgender people, too. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a study yet showing that contact with transgender people reduces transphobia, but it’s coming (say both the Queen and the polar bear on my wagered toonie). Basically, if you get to know us, research suggests that you might like us a bit more.

However, let me say loud and clear that TIMP and I are here for you to learn how to use singular they for any reason, regardless of the beliefs that you hold or whether you like transgender people. I receive and answer questions in the spirit of practicality, and I operate TIMP from the principle that askers need operable information (what to do about this pronoun), and not from a place of adjudicating why they need it.

So, if you are worried that you might get it wrong – regardless of why, and I really don’t care why – head on over to my Tumblr where I accept anonymous questions, and ask away.

 

TIMP in the Globe and Mail!

I have an Op-Ed today in the Globe and Mail (one of Canada’s national newspapers), where I offer a perspective on gender-neutral pronouns which, in my view, has been missing from recent Canadian conversations about this issue. Namely. that using someone’s gender-neutral pronoun doesn’t (have to) have the high stakes that it has been given.

We Are They, Episode 2: Morgan

Welcome to the second episode in the new TIMP Series We Are They, where I interview and profile people who have a range of unique relationships with this pronoun. In Episode 1, I interviewed Helene about her decision to raise her kid, Avery, in a gender-open way that includes using singular they as Avery’s pronoun.

In this episode, we meet Morgan. Morgan is a graduate student and university instructor who identifies as non-binary and uses singular they. Interestingly for TIMP purposes, Morgan is also someone whose gender expression has varied considerably over time.

I begin our conversation with a predictable question: why does Morgan use singular they? “I think that it’s the best way of communicating how I feel about myself outwardly,” they reply. “It’s a way of challenging binary genders and a way of carving out space for people like myself – or unlike myself – who also want to move beyond the pronoun that they were assigned at birth.” Although Morgan identifies a political potential of using singular they, for them it’s mainly personal. “It’s tied to how I understood myself when I was younger,” they explain. Although Morgan was assigned a female gender at birth, they experienced their childhood as fairly gender-neutral, from their given names to clothing to toys to their bedroom walls (yellow) to the activities encouraged by their parents. “It’s not to say that everyone has to follow that ‘I’ve known since I was a child!’ narrative. But there was a piece that I think I’d been trying to make sense of.”

Like me, Morgan uses the term ‘non-binary’ to describe their gender identity. I learned about this term from writing this blog and interacting with younger people on Tumblr, and it still feels new. Morgan tells me that they “came to this identity through a process of elimination. Like ‘I’m realizing I don’t identify with gender A, and I don’t identify with gender B.’ So it wasn’t like ‘I do identify with this thing!’ It was just like ‘I don’t identify with those things.’” This resonates. For me, ‘non-binary’ captures my sense that nothing else fits quite right.

“It’s like a sigh.”

At its most ordinary, being mis-pronouned can feel like bumping shoulders with someone on the sidewalk: an interruption in the flow of your day. Morgan beautifully describes the opposite – someone using their pronoun correctly – as being “like a sigh.” Imagine a long, slow exhale as the body begins to relax. “It’s such a relief to have someone use a word that doesn’t just feel jarring every time. Someone recognizing my pronoun is a sign of mutual understanding. In that simple act, it’s a moment of ‘I see you.’”

“I would absolutely be read as a woman right now.”

Being seen, correctly, as non-binary is uncommon for Morgan. I ask them to describe their gender expression these days. They answer quickly and emphatically: “I would absolutely be read as a woman right now. There’s no question.” This hasn’t always been the case. “There are periods in my life where I think I passed as a man in several instances, and then there are moments where I present what, for me, is high femme…” (Morgan raises a self-effacing eyebrow, making me chuckle) “…which is not actually high femme,” they say with a laugh. “Particularly this summer I was just feeling very drawn to feminine presentations.”

When Morgan’s gender expression has been more masculine, they have experienced harassment and violence. In middle school, this included death threats. “At the tender age of 12, you internalize that. So, not only is presenting as feminine how I have felt valued within my platonic, sexual, and romantic relations, but there’s also so much fear in giving that up.” While the privileges of masculinity are commonly acknowledged in LGBTQ communities, Morgan also feels safety and thus a kind of privilege in presenting as feminine.

But the other side of this privilege coin is not being accurately seen. Morgan says they’re generally unrecognizable as non-binary when presenting as feminine. “In fact, I really find that unless I have short hair there will never be a possible reading of me as other than a woman.” Morgan feels that having a more feminine gender expression makes their pronoun harder for others to accept and consistently use. “Especially when that’s the way you’re being read, to ask for a neutral pronoun to be used, I think that people dismiss it a lot more easily than you say people do with yours,” Morgan says, referring to reflections I shared on being a ‘visually’ or perhaps more obviously non-binary person. As my mum might say, I ‘look like a they’ – whatever that means – whereas Morgan doesn’t, at least not right now.

“I feel unworthy of taking up that space or that time.”

Almost every transgender person has to ask our people to work on changing their language and behaviour in some way. For non-binary folks, feeling entitled to others’ hard work can be an ongoing struggle given that we may not have had a ‘transition’ that the cis-gender world can understand. Although Morgan would “absolutely” be read as a woman these days and my gender is read with ambivalence, we are both non-binary transgender people who choose not to pursue any medical intervention. We wonder together how this may affect some non-binary peoples’ sense that our requests – for other people to work on accommodating us – are legitimate. “I don’t know whether I’d call it guilt, but there is definitely something going on where I feel unworthy of taking up that space or that time,” Morgan muses.

Morgan has experienced this in their own family: that ‘binary’ transition takes less effort for folks to understand. Thinking that their dad may not be able to make the requisite changes, Morgan hasn’t come out to him as non-binary, let alone as a singular they user. However, Morgan (consensually) outed their partner to their dad as a transgender man by talking about the partner’s hysterectomy, which their dad seamlessly accepted. I ask Morgan why this positive reaction doesn’t prompt them to come out, too. “This person is making a binary transition from one gender to another,” Morgan replies. “They are doing it by a medical means, therefore it is legitimate,” or seen to be that way. By contrast, Morgan’s own gender “is too far from that. It’s not even comparable in a lot of ways except that it comes from this feeling of ‘I am not this gender and I want to do something about it.’ You see that all the time: those invalidations that come from not taking that normative transition route.”

Invalidation vs. non-validation

Interestingly, Morgan shares that coming out as a singular they user can open them to up to more invalidation than just being she’d all the time. They use the term ‘non-validation’ to describe getting she’d by people who just are not aware that the woman-passing person they see might not identify that way. “I consider it a non-validation if I haven’t made that explicit request. Then it’s just like ‘oh yes, this is just the system of gender that we inhabit.’ Versus ‘I have made this specific request, you have dismissed it in some way and are continuing to use the wrong pronoun,’ which is a different feeling. That feels like an invalidation.”

It just might not be worth it to make the ask when invalidation is so much more sticky- and heavy-feeling than non-validation. “When I’m communicating a pronoun, I’m communicating a pretty intimate way that I feel about myself,” Morgan says. “Especially up against my presentation. It’s not readable. This is actually something that has to do with how I feel in my body and how I feel in relation to other people. I’m disclosing a lot.” Perhaps stating a pronoun preference is, at bottom, always going to be more fraught for people who aren’t visually apparent as non-binary. It’s kind of a big reveal, whereas people usually see me (them) coming.

“When is it emotional labour that I can’t do?”

Unsurprisingly, then, Morgan’s decision to ask people to use their pronoun involves a kind of deliberate cost-benefit analysis. “At what points am I going to really assert myself versus when is it not worth it? When is it emotional labour that I can’t do?” Morgan finds an analogy in their own experience of chemical sensitivity. Deciding whether to come out about their pronoun feels like asking someone not to wear a strong perfume. How bad will it be if this person keeps on doing what they’re doing? Will it mean not hanging out with them anymore, or can Morgan just bear it and get by? If Morgan decides to make the ask, “it always starts with an apology. ‘Oh sorry, I use this, I need this.’ And it shouldn’t have to be about making that other person comfortable but so often it is. And if you don’t do that comfort work you’re seen as…” They trail off, and I suggest a word or two. ‘Killjoy’ doesn’t seem to quite fit this feeling, perhaps because ‘killing’ is too strong. Maybe it’s like stubbing someone else’s toe: not life or death, but unpleasant enough to be avoided, if possible.

The always, the no-go, and the fuzzy middle

After we’ve been talking for an hour or so, I observe that Morgan seems to have compartmentalized their gender life into different zones: where they will always ask for their pronoun to be used, where they won’t bother at all, and the fuzzy middle. Morgan emphatically agrees. In queer or transgender community contexts, Morgan will generally make the ask even though they (and others) still see a lot of transphobia there. In predominantly straight and cis contexts, Morgan usually doesn’t bother, even when people there are long-time friends. “I have found it a really difficult process – especially outside of queer circles – to say ‘actually, I use they’.” Morgan offers that this might be unfair. “I’m making a lot of assumptions about how people will respond to things. I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt.”

I push a little, asking Morgan about the reaction that keeps them from doing so. Their answer leads us to another no-go zone: any clinical setting, particularly those related to mental health. “As a mad-identified person, that’s a point of anxiety for me: that people will say ‘you’re weird!’ I’m worried that those two things will tie into each other, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to negotiate that. One of my diagnoses is borderline personality disorder and with that there’s an actual criterion of ‘confusion or uncertainty around sexual orientation or gender identity.’ It’s already pathologized.” The first time Morgan was being screened for BPD, the psychiatrist asked about their gender identity as if it were a symptom and not a part of their life. “That’s always a fear: that people will think ‘you’re weird, you don’t have any sense of self,’ which is not at all what it is. But my fear of it being read that way, I think, prevents me from really asserting needs that I should be asserting.” Morgan says they are working through this fear in relation to friends, but that the aura of stigma and pathology means they never disclose their pronoun preference in any kind of psychiatric or psychological context.

While Morgan’s ‘always’ and ‘no-go’ zones are mainly personal, the fuzzy middle is political. “The fuzzy middle is work places,” they say. “Places where I feel like ‘this is something you should get used to, and I’m going to massage you into it.’” Morgan’s fuzzy middle includes their mom – who works in education – and their professors. All of these people will encounter non-binary students at some point, and from a position of considerable power. Morgan wants to use their own experiences to prepare these people to do right when the time comes.

Teaching in the university as a non-binary person

Interestingly, as a new university instructor this year, Morgan is now also in a position of power. I’m eager to hear how Morgan’s particular experiences of gender inform their teaching. For example, would Morgan initiate a pronoun go-round on the first day of class? “I’ve grappled with this a lot about whether I should initiate that as a common practice. It’s a big decision about when I assert that as something I want someone to know about me. And I want to be in charge of when I do that.” A go-round might take away someone’s choice to disclose, which can have a range of different consequences.

As a student or an instructor, Morgan tends to come out more often in gender or sexuality studies contexts than in other disciplines. “For example, when I started teaching, in my gender studies syllabus I listed my pronoun but didn’t do that for my other class. It felt safe to do it in the context of people who are familiar with this usage.” As two junior academics, we then recoil together in (silly) horror at the prospect of being mis-gendered by an anonymous student in a horrible end-of-year teaching evaluation. “The idea of being doubly injured in that moment – I just can’t do it. It’s going to be too much!” Through the giggles, I admit to gender-editing student comments in my teaching portfolio as far back as 2011. Neither of us has any idea whether the many professors who write us letters of reference are using our pronoun, let alone using it correctly. The sheer awkwardness of checking makes this impossible to do.

Morgan and I have as many things in common as not, it seems. We’re both white, queer, non-binary, a wee bit silly, and on an academic career path. However, we get very different reactions when we say ‘this is how I identify, and this is the pronoun I use.’ My people are usually awkward but consistently friendly. After all, it’s not like they can’t see it coming (if only in retrospect). But Morgan’s people – even in queer and transgender community – are often in shock. As non-binary transgender people and gender-neutral pronouns continue to emerge and take up space, it’s crucial that policymakers and such don’t use my and other similar experiences as the exemplars to be accommodated. Instead, I hope we can imagine and create a world where anyone’s pronoun is no big deal.

Gender-neutral parenting: Part One

Anonymous asked:

Heya Lee! Love your stuff! My partner and I recently had a kid and we’re using they/them as pronouns until our kid wants to be known by a different pronoun (if they ever do). Lots of our friends are totally on board and make a great effort to use they/them, however family is completely different. They chose to constantly use gendered pronouns and gendered stereotypes. I’ve tried explaining it to them, but they just shout, get angry and transphobic. What can I do?

Hi Anonymous!

Thank you so much for your message and question. Many folks are choosing this route and, I think, encountering similar obstacles. It takes an incredible amount of work and persistence to parent in this way and I have a tremendous respect for you and others who are doing this.

I’m afraid so say that the simple answer is the hardest one: boundaries and consequences. Because you are in a position of parental authority and can advocate for your parenting choices and child’s right, as long as you are not beholden to family members for resources or child care you can enforce boundaries and consequences. People are welcome to ask questions and ask for resources, but if they persist in this behaviour they will not be spending time with your child. It is harsh and heart-breaking, but if you need it to be a (temporary) deal-breaker, perhaps it needs to be. This choice deserves as much respect as the choice to, say, raise your child without eating meat or processed foods. Family members can gripe all they want, but this is not their choice.

Other options are similar to those for GNP users ourselves: engage a go-between or same-age/status ally to field questions and concerns from family members on your behalf to share the load and perhaps be present when you can’t be (e.g., at family gatherings).
I’m looking into the possibility of a guest post with a parent – stay tuned!

Thanks so much,

Lee

Toward a gender-neutral customer service experience for everyone

blucitrus asked:

I work at Starbucks and I’m always trying to find ways to connect with the customers but it is very difficult for me because I never know which pronouns to use. What gender neutral pronouns could I use instead of ma’am and sir and things of the sort? It’s been bugging me for quite some time. Help!

Thanks for your question blucitrus!

I (and other Starbucks-frequenting GNP users) truly appreciate that this is something you are concerned about. It shows that you’re committed to making your workplace somewhere that every client will want to come back to. And believe me – this is something that is noticed and communicated among GNP users and other trans* / non-binary folk: that your place is a good place for us.

As far as pronouns are concerned, if you have to refer to a client within their hearing range (e.g., to a co-worker), I suggest using singular they or ‘this/my customer’ or ‘this/my client.’ This takes practice, but can also be a fun daily challenge to yourself and a co-worker who’d also like to get on board. There many tips on this blog to help you out.

Regarding single-person address, avoiding the use of sir or ma’am is a great place to start but, as you say, it’s hard to know what to do next. Sir/ma’am are used to convey respect and welcome, but these can be conveyed to someone without using words. Think about how people use their body language, vocal pitch and intonation to convey respect and welcome. We incline our heads, make eye contact, listen intently, nod, smile and speak clearly in order to indicate that someone has our full attention. Of course, what ‘respect’ and ‘welcome’ look/sound like differ across contexts, but they can be performed. I’d argue that sir/ma’am are frequently used as shortcuts in busy customer service environments when these other more intentional strategies could do the job even better and more authentically, all without gendering.

Regarding plural address (i.e., to refer to groups of customers), avoid ladies, gentlemen, guys, girls, etc. and instead use terms like everyone or – if you are working in a casual customer service environment or with younger clientele – friends or folks. As above, I believe you can also welcome/show respect to groups of customers without using any of these terms at all. Think of a server saying “Good evening and welcome to our restaurant” while acknowledging each member of a group with brief eye contact and a warm smile. This is likely much more effective at conveying respect/welcome than a disinterested “Hello ladies.” Consider trying these strategies for a few minutes or a few customers every hour and seeing how they affect your (and their) experience of your interactions.

Other helpful gender-neutral phrases that convey respect (when paired with attentive body language, vocal pitch and intonation) include:

Can I help the next guest?

And for you?

What will you be having today?

Will you all be having dessert (etc.)?

These are not revolutionary or terribly insightful – just a starting place. With all of this being said, however, I have a caveat to share.

In the quest for gender-neutral public space and language practices, one casualty is affirmation for people who thrive on being (correctly) gendered by others. There are many people who enjoy being ma’am-ed or sir-ed; this is of course true of some cis-gender people but also of some transgender spectrum people. At times when I am identifying as more masculine and signalling this to the world with my grooming, clothing and behaviour, it is tremendously affirming to be seen and addressed appropriately as “sir.” However, I know many people with similarly masculine gender presentations who do not like this at all. There are also many transgender spectrum people who are in the process of or have completed a medical gender transition; for some (by no means all) of these folks, casual correct gendering by strangers can be a daily affirmation. Some years ago I heard a hilarious monologue by transsexual stand-up comedian Red Durkin in which she is yelled at by an irate cashier for moving too slowly in the check-out line: “MA’AM?? EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? HURRY UP!” Instead of being offended by this rudeness, Red replies with a swoon at the sound of this (to her) beautiful word: “Ma’am…you could scoop the honey out of that word with a bucket…”

Sometimes when I meet someone making a clear effort – e.g., with grooming, clothing, behaviour, etc. – to be readable/read as belonging in a particular gender category despite some physiological dissonance, I make a conscious choice to use the gendered title and pronoun that correspond with his or her deliberate gender presentation. However, this is an imperfect strategy to be used only with considerable caution and mindfulness, as well as humility if one makes a mistake (as are all of the things that I offer on TIMP).

So, I offer what I know to be true (for me and many others) with the caveat that these strategies won’t meet the needs of all people.

I hope this helps, blucitrus!

Warmly,

Lee

 

 

 

Part 2: ‘But they don’t know I know…’ – Outing a gender-neutral pronoun user?

*FOLLOW UP – ORIGINAL POST BELOW*

Anonymous asked:

hello. similarly to a previous asker on this blog, I too have found out that my sister wants to use they/them pronouns from their blog, but also a different name, and I just wanted to say I found your advice to the previous asker useful, but I don’t know what to do about the different name because she is so intensly private about everything and wouldn’t like it if I knew but I no longer know how to refer to them, could you possibly help because I feel awful about mis-naming/prounoun-ing her

Hello there Anonymous.

Firstly, to echo the affirmation I gave to the-little-white-mermaid below, you are a lovely and supportive sibling. No matter how this goes down, they are lucky to have you in their corner.

I think this hinges on whether you at all want to share with your sibling that you know about their pronoun and name preferences. The bottom line is that you don’t want to hurt them by misnaming/misgendering them anymore, but it is also true that your sibling may have their reasons for not wanting to share this information with family members, even ones who are as supportive as you (presuming your sibling knows that you are).

If you are sure that your sibling knows you are in their corner and okay with their identity and needs around that, I’d encourage you to respect their decision for a little longer because they must have a reason. I understand how hard it must be to know you are misgendering them, but they might have a reason for keeping this part of themselves away from family. Do you know what that might be? About your/their relationship in particular, do you both have a history of respecting each other and keeping each other’s secrets?

If you aren’t sure that you sibling knows you are in their corner, can you subtly use Facebook or other social media to post things that are affirming of trans people and/or gender-neutral pronoun use (like my blog)? At least you are indicating that you are interested. Little things like this might create a space for your sibling to open up to you, which can take time.

At bottom, the name issue doesn’t have to be so different from the pronoun issue in this regard; it can be a very similar kind of transition for people and our friends/families.

Hope this helps, and thanks for being awesome!

Lee

the-little-white-mermaid asked:

My sister doesn’t know that I can see her tumblr blog description that describes her as bisexual, agender, “them” pronouns. I want to refer to her as she wants but I also don’t want her to know I know since I don’t actually know who she’s told. How?

Hello the-little-white-mermaid!

Rock on – you are a sensitive and supportive sibling and I truly appreciate your question; I’m sure your sibling would too, if they knew that you are being so careful and conscientious.

Your dilemma seems to be: how do I support my sibling without violating their boundaries? The bare fact fact that you want to act from an affirming place by using their pronouns is, to my mind, an excellent reason for sitting down with your sibling and just coming clean about what you found and how. The very best energy – i.e., how you approach the conversation, with kindness and openness – and best intentions – which you have – can work wonders.

It seems, though, like you’re worried about your sibling’s reaction to you knowing. Without more information about your situation, I can’t be sure why. One reason I can guess at is that your sibling might be an intensely private person who keeps their gender and sexual identities away from family. If this is true, then part of the conversation would hopefully involve you acknowledging that there are reasons why your sibling did not tell you and validating these reasons, or, “I totally get why you wouldn’t want to share this with me and that’s cool.” Make it really clear that you understand why this choice was made, and that you are only bringing it up because you want to make them as comfortable as possible around you. The conversation will also have to address how to behave around other family members, including whether or not you should use your sibling’s chosen pronoun with others.

Another reason for your worry could be the quality and the history relationship you have together. In deciding how to move forward, your best guide will be this relationship. Do you generally support each other in other family issues? Do you ‘share the spotlight’ well in your family gatherings and conversations i.e., do you fight for control or attention of other family members? Do you have a history of trusting each other or breaking each other’s trust? Do you share friends or interests or other common ground? I ask these questions because gender stuff never happens outside of already-existing relationships. The reason why a sibling or a parent might refuse to use one’s pronouns, for example, can be about an old hurt or bad dynamic and not about pronouns at all, in my view (see this). Same thing: the reason why you might be worried or why your conversation might be challenging might be because of your history with your sibling that makes any big conversation challenging, and not because of its topic.

In either case / for either reason (apologies if I’m completely off-base and please feel free to write back), I think it might be helpful to plan the conversation in a way that makes it very different from how you usually interact and spend time with your sibling in order to make it clear that this is different and important. OR, take advance of a fun and familiar ritual that you do together or place you go. These are different tacks, but they both send the message that you are being intentional, thoughtful and caring (more tips here).

Good luck, and take courage from knowing that you are already being a really lovely ally in seeking out resources and asking questions.

Hope that helps,

Lee

Start with affirmation: Coming out as a GNP user or gender non-normative person to a friend with little or no knowledge of gender issues

xlameprincessx asked:

“Uhm hi, i just found out about this blog and i wanted advice. I’m planning on “coming out” as demi-girl to one of my best friends and tell him my pronouns but i’m afraid he won’t understand or he’ll laugh at it. I don’t really know how to explain it to him, seeing as he doesn’t know about any other type of gender besides female and male. Do you have any tips??”

Hello xlameprincessx!

First of all, I just want to send you my very best energy for what you are about to do – it is brave and also a profound gesture of care for your friend (who I will call ‘F’ for friend). This is precisely where I suggest you begin: with a heartfelt statement of how much your friendship means to you, which is why you have chosen to share this part of yourself and take a big risk. Be honest that you know it is a risk, but that it is worth taking it for you because you care about F and about your friendship.

I suggest this because people sometimes need ‘cueing’ in order to be able to respond to something important in a way that reflects how important it really is. When we are uncomfortable, our default reaction – as you wisely note in your question – is often one of humour. Joking and laughter expell nervous energy and are desperate, often mindless attempts to de-escalate the seriousness of a situation or a request. By opening with your declaration of caring and by saying that what you will share is reflects your love/esteem/care for F and for your friendship, you are ‘cueing’ F into the fact that this is no laughing matter. It is serious business.

Time and place will also be important. Do you spend unstructured time with F, like, do you go sit in a park or field for hours or something similar? Try to have the conversation in a beautiful place with lots of open space: where F feels like they have space to move around and like their reactions are at least semi-private (crowded coffee shops and confined spaces aren’t really helpful). I would suggest that phone, text or online are also out: you want to make a connection with F’s humanity and kindness, in person, given that F doesn’t have any background knowledge.

Prepare yourself for F having questions, particularly in terms of how you want F to relate to you in public and refer to you in conversations with others. Do you need F to change pronouns, etc. for you now, or is this gradual? Will you tell others? How do you understand demi-girl and what does it mean to you? Are there things you have done together with F that are now off-limits or have to change? Be ready with a few concrete examples, if you can, of what you will need from F.

Also, is there anyone in your life who you have already come out to and who has reacted well and supportively? If so, I might suggest asking that person to be a ‘point person’ for F if F has questions or needs some support around the changes you are asking for. You can also feel free to direct F to me, if no.

Finally, there is always the chance that despite your mindfulness, preparation and best efforts, things might not go well with F. As best as you can, prepare for some good self-care afterwards. Have some time planned to do something nice or with someone you feel safe around, or at least have a safe space to go to, in case. If you would like resources of any kind, I am here.

Thank you for your question, and good luck!

Lee

What does singular they mean to me?

Anonymous asked:

“Hi, I currently use the pronoun she/her and I have been thinking a lot about how it would feel for me to use the pronoun they. I feel like I don’t know what the pronoun they means, who belongs/who doesn’t, and how it works to describe gender. I was wondering what the pronoun they means to you and what associations you have with the pronoun they. Thanks!”

Why hello there!

I’ve made some comments below in response to others with similar concerns regarding who they belongs to and who has a right to use it. My general feeling is that, if using they makes you more comfortable, your comfort ought not to be judged valid or invalid by other people. I feel like the more people who use singular they and other gender-neutral pronouns – regardless of gender identity or expression – the easier usage will become.

As far as what it means to me, that is new blog territory. What do I want from people once they know my pronoun preference? Well…

What I want is a free pass from any and all assumptions about my ideas, work, play, hobbies, habits, life trajectory, plans, partners, underpants, decor preferences, beverages…you get the idea. I want an out from being over-determined by other people. It’s like “ok, so I don’t want to do girl things…but that also means that I might not want to do boy things either!” I want to be picky and choosy and difficult. In a perfect world – and I naively try to live like it’s already here – using ‘they’ would be a wake-up call to someone that gender will not help them relate to me, understand me, or make small talk with me at an awkward party. So let’s try something else, and also realize how even small things are almost always gendered male or female, as though everyone is entirely only one thing.

I associate ‘singular they’ with a space of freedom from having to contradict people or feel icky that they think they can tell me – even with questions – what or who I want, and what or who I like. If singular they can help someone do be freer from some of that stuff, and if being freer helps them to feel better or safer or happier, then I think using a gender-neutral pronoun might be a neat idea regardless of their gender identity or presentation. Of course, everyone will have varying degrees of success. But hopefully we will all have tiny oases where this freedom is actually found and nurtured.

Taking things further, I want everyone to have this freedom no matter which pronoun they use. Ideally, I’d like people to think about how our casual questioning of others – or reactions to things they say like ‘that’s a really big deal ’ or ‘that’s not a big deal at all’ – are so full of assumptions, even if it’s just “so…what do you do?” I mean…what if I don’t have a paying job? Am I supposed to, necessarily, in order to be someone you want to talk to? I really, really hope not. Singular they, then, is about gender for me but also about making language more open and friendly to…whatever is different from the norm.

Thanks for your question – it made me think!

Lee

Resource: “Trans Talk: How to use pronouns” (video by Buzz Slutzky)

A helpful, quirky and honest introduction to pronouns, how to know what pronouns to use and when, and how to be nice to people regardless of their pronoun. From Buzz’s Vimeo page:

“I made this video for my colleagues, in order to encourage them to learn more about trans identity and pronouns so that our department grows increasingly supportive of trans students and faculty.”