gender identity

Lee’s remarks from the launch of the No Big Deal Campaign

Welcome! Thank you for coming here today to help us launch the No Big Deal Campaign, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, located on the territories of Anishinaabe and Onkwehonwe peoples.

My name is Dr. Lee Airton. I’m a sessional lecturer in the Master of Teaching Program here at OISE. I’m also a non-binary transgender person and the creator of the NBD Campaign. Since 2012, I’ve been using singular they as my personal gender pronoun.

The NBD Campaign happened because, in the recent controversy around gender-neutral pronouns, I didn’t recognize the everyday life of being a gender-neutral pronoun user. In the fog of a highly polarized debate, absent were the many people – my co-workers here at OISE, colleagues across Canada, the people at the climbing gym or the store or the barbershop or on my block – people who use my pronoun despite, perhaps, not knowing much about transgender politics. Despite not knowing much about my life story. They use it, it works for me, and we get by. This is something that I hear from other gender-neutral pronoun users both in conversation and on my blog: that it doesn’t always matter that someone shares my politics, as long as they’re willing to use my pronoun.

In dire warnings that a pronoun error would be a disaster or even a hate crime, I didn’t recognize the times when people I know have made a good-faith mistake with my pronoun, when I’ve reminded them, and when we’ve moved on together in the knowledge that our connection isn’t founded on a promise of perfection that can be really hard to live up to.

Because I’m not perfect either. When someone I know undergoes a change in how they move through the world – be it a name, nickname, married name, relationship status, health status, whathaveyou – sometimes I make a mistake. I get it wrong or I say the wrong thing. When someone I know changes their pronoun, it takes a little extra effort.

I’ll speak for a moment about what ‘NBD’ means to me, personally.

My pronoun is a very big deal, to me. It’s taken me a long time to find it. I was a kid when strangers first used a pronoun to tell me who I was, and what I was allowed to do. They thought they knew something about me just because they suddenly heard other people refer to me with a word. And that word would take away my freedom of choice: to decide how I’d spend my recess, how I got to play, with what and with whom. It took away my freedom to spend my time and energy on play rather than passing as the boy that I didn’t want to be either.

Today, when people use my pronoun – singular they – this makes an incredible, palpable difference to my well-being. I’ve noticed over time that it allows me to be a kinder, gentler person who isn’t always on guard against the gendered expectations buried in so much of our everyday language and practices. It saves me precious time and energy that I can spend on being a better listener, teacher, ally, co-worker; a better partner, sibling, kid, untie, friend, and even stranger.

My pronoun is a big deal to me. But as an educator, I know that it doesn’t have to be a big deal to others in order for them to just use it. You can do this little thing for me without fully understanding why I need it, or what it means, at least not yet. Maybe we’ll become friends and you’ll find out.

This is the spirit in which I created the NBD Campaign.

This is a Campaign about action, not just awareness. If NBD raises peoples’ awareness of gender-neutral pronouns, that’s a happy side effect. But for me, posting the badge is a sign that someone is willing to take action. Reading the infographics is a sign that someone is willing to put time and energy into learning how to advocate for my right to have my chosen pronoun respected.

The Campaign won’t convince people who are staunchly opposed to respecting gender-neutral pronoun users. It’s also not aimed primarly at people like me who are actively doing the political work of advocating and educating around transgender rights. Rather, its main audience is the majority who fall somewhere in-between: people who are willing to do this thing and do their best. To let you know that a space with them in it is one where people like me stand a chance of being, staying and staying well enough to come back some time.

In this climate, it’s a really big deal to me to see visible signs that people who aren’t caught up in the polarized debate are willing to do this thing. For example, I know willingness exists in spades right here at OISE, where I work. But this doesn’t mean that other gender-neutral pronoun users know. And now, hopefully, they will.

If the NBD Campaign is successful, it’ll be because people whose pronoun isn’t obvious to the eye, the ear or the brain get to walk around and see these real signs of peoples’ willingness to do this thing that’s a big deal to us, but not necessarily a big deal to them.

This is what NBD means to me. Please use our grafitti wall to show us what NBD means to you, and consider stepping into the photo booth to show your support on social media alongside a gynormous version of the badge.

Our beautiful badge, designed by Cai Sepulis, has been available and circulating online for the past couple of days. I made the badge because I’ve been receiving countless private expressions of support from friends and colleagues in the past few weeks, and I wanted to create a way for other people to feel that support, too, if they were not.

Today I’m proud to share with you the other component of the Campaign: the infographics.

Each infographic takes on one argument that has emerged as a seemingly legitimate reason for refusing to use someone’s gender-neutral pronoun. But each argument is actually illegitimate, and these show precisely why. If you display our badge, you might get some questions or some push back and the infographics are designed to help you out. Each segment offers an instant counter-argument and a longer explanation, informed by experts in linguistics, philosophy and law. You might find some more fitting or useful than others, which is why they are available separately on

In fact, all of the NBD campaign materials are available for you, in many formats, to use however you like in support of everyone’s chosen pronoun. Make bags, make coasters, make posters, make postcards, make buttons, make T-shirts. Take this thing and run with it! Just please include the Campaign’s URL so people can find out more.

I’ll close by saying that the NBD Campaign is just one tool in a whole toolbox. It can’t do all the things, or meet all the needs, and it isn’t designed to do so. I’m really excited to see and support a variety of other responses to this climate.

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.

When mom says no: Parent refusal, continued

Anonymous asked:

Heyo love your blog by the way. So I asked my mother to use my preferred pronoun they/them, coming home from having my close group of friends use it for an entire semester, and she outright refused. Her reasoning was along the lines of: its too much work to change in her head, and when she talks about me to her friends, she doesn’t want to have to explain about this “whole new gender” as if I had made it up. What should I do?

Why thank you, Anonymous! 🙂

First of all, let me say that the college to home transition can be one of the most challenging moments in the life cycle of anyone on the queer or transgender (or politically radical) spectrum, whether gender-neutral pronoun user or no.

It’s tough for parents to send us off and then have us come back so very different than they remember (or fantasize). Quite often negative parent reactions to things like using your pronoun are about regaining control in a dynamic in which they have felt more or less in control until now.

My suggestion is that you take it down to brass tacks with your mother and tell her exactly what you do and do not need her to do: which friends and family members do you care about in terms of knowing your gender? How should she refer to you when you are at the grocery store and run into someone she knows? In my experience, most parents’ worries are about exactly these kinds of practical things and we can help by making our needs very practical. Of course, this is also a way to ‘call their bluff’ and get them to stop hiding behind the practical once their practical concerns have been addressed. At this point, I suggest cultivating another same-age adult in your life who you feel respected by and who might be able to be a safe person for your mother to talk to.

Failing that, you can always send her to TIMP! 🙂

Warmly, and write back if you need to,


Writing fiction with singular they

frostwetter asked:

Heyhey! I’m trying to write an intro for a genderqueer person in English (not my native language) and I was wondering – when I use their name in a sentence like “Kim is a professional wrestler and has a cat.” and then “They have a dog, too.” Do you switch between has/have depending on using their name or “they” as pronoun or do you always use “have”? I read about a discussion on using “they” simply as a singular pronoun, too and now I’m confused! Hope you get what I mean and can help me out! 🙂

Hi there frostwetter!

I’m excited to have a growing number of posts from writers! This must mean that people are exploring singular they in greater number, and I hope we’ll see more stories featuring non-binary, etc. characters.

I’m working on a writing guide, but in the mean time I’m going to offer this post on singular they and verb conjugation. As you can see, you always use ‘have’ with they (‘they have a dog’) but ‘has’ with a name (’Lee has a dog’). The trick is in how you construct your sentences. If you begin using ‘they have’ in a sentence, try not to switch to ‘Lee has’ in the same sentence. Also, be careful of referring to multiple people with ‘they’ – if you do this in one paragraph, try only referring to your character with name/has.

Writing with singular they, in my view, is its own art form. I hope that as more examples emerge it will become easier to do!

Hope that helps,


On having to pick a ‘gender’ box

Anonymous asked:

“What do you suggest for when a person who identifies as gender neutral must pick either male or female for official documents and such. Thank you!”

Hello there!

This is a tough one. With the exception of Australia (please correct me), I don’t think that there is a governmental bureaucracy with official gender options other than the old M or F. I know many folks whose ‘gender’ on their driver’s license (etc.) doesn’t match their gender identity and/or gender expression. This causes all kinds of problems and leads anyone with your ID (etc.) to wrongly presume what they should call you (Ms., Mr., etc.) and how they should treat you. Often online bureaucratic forms don’t even let you refrain from selecting a ‘gender’ option but prevent you from submitting the form unless you put yourself in one of two binary gender boxes. Ugh. I feel your frustration.

I’m afraid I don’t have anything terribly insightful to offer to you in the short term, Anonymous, other self-care and taking the path of least resistance: to try your best to remember that this is ridiculous and dumb, that it’s something which other people think they need to know but they really don’t, that it has no reflection on who you are as a person, but that any inconsistency across governmental records would likely cause you many problems in accessing services you need. (Of course, it is well-documented that precisely this problem prevents many of us from accessing services at all.)

However, I’ve been speaking so far about governmental institutions. Private and even some public sector institutions might be more flexible. To the best of your ability, ask if anything can be done or if you can just ask for ‘gender’ to remain blank. Universities and colleges, for example, often have equity officers or LGBTQ resource centres who likely know a lot about how this battle is and/or has been fought in their institution. Other people under the transgender umbrella likely do as well. So my last piece of advice is ask, ask, ask! Ask the bureaucrats and ask the community, and perhaps something can be done until the gender splendour revolution arrives.

As for long term advice? Smash the (non-consensual) gender binary!



At long last (?) – singular they featured in Seventeen!

But really, though – Amandla Stenberg  (singular they user featured in this Seventeen online piece, and actor who is noted for playing Rue in The Hunger Games) is both wise and brave. A quote from their blog:

there’s a tendency in current gender politics & discussions to focus so hard on legitimising people’s feelings of ‘always having been a boy’ or ‘always having been agender’ or etc that stating the fact that society/their surroundings/literally everything in this extremely flawed gender-normative world still would have had an effect on them as they grew up can be regarded as something close to heresy. & I feel like this is a problem in a lot of ways, because it leads to erasure of really crucial formative experiences from which we could all learn a great deal about ourselves and each other; why should it be wrong to admit that even though it turned out we had never been girls, the experience of eg adults expecting us to be quieter/neater/kinder than they would have expected of boys because they thought we were girls has had a lasting effect on our psyche? or that first crushes, first periods, the first time we were told about men being dangerous, first party dresses, first dolls or princess costumes, etc etc were by default female experiences for us because of the way society constructs itself around them, even if what we actually were wasn’t female?

The Seventeen piece features flawless ‘they’ usage – is also a sign that youth conversations about gender on social media like Tumblr are having a real-world impact on how gender is thought about OFF social media. I’m really proud that TIMP began and continues to be rooted on Tumblr where so many people are creating community for people of all genders.


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,


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!






Gender is ridiculous: On messing up our own pronouns

Anonymous asked:

hi! i recently had big realisation regarding my gender & am slowly shifting to use ‘they’ with friends and some colleagues at work. everyone so far has been very accepting, but i am terrified that -i’m- going to slip up! this seems ridiculous cause ‘they’ just feels so right to me, but it’s also been over 20 years of being ‘she’ and i rarely use third person about myself. i don’t want to make a mistake and invalidate everyone’s opinions of me – is this a common concern?

Hello there Anonymous friend!

First of all, congratulations on making this social transition at work and asking for your needs to be met – this is very brave!

This is a very common concern, but we have to be willing to do our best and acknowledge the ridiculousness of gender when we – WE! – make a mistake due to many years of conditioning.

I was a guest in someone’s class last week and referred to myself as a Debbie Downer, which is a feminizing term that doesn’t fit with my identity at all, but is just so ingrained in North American Standard English. So, I laughed about it, commented on how unconscious these things are, and also commented on how hard is to find alternatives! Some members of the group even tried to help me come up with a gender-neutral version of this old chestnut, which was hilarious. In that particular situation, what was truly helpful and teachable was that gender and pronouns became the thing at-issue and the object of exasperation, not me and my needs around gender.

Gosh, sometimes I even misrecognize my own pronoun! Sometimes I arrive at a party, event, work, wherever and someone says of me “they just got here” and I exclaim “I came by myself!” and it’s hilarious because then I realize that, well, the person is just doing what I want!

So, slip-ups can be okay and even productive sometimes. Your concern is very valid, but a slip-up doesn’t have to invalidate the hard work you’ve been doing to be recognized. It can instead show how ridiculous and arbitrary our language is.

Hope this helps, and write back,