how to figure out someone’s pronoun

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

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 of 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

‘Singular they’ on TV! Fabulous Elisha Lim talks pronouns on Global TV Halifax

“Elisha Lim is an award winning artist, activist and filmmaker who is in Halifax for the OUTeast Film Festival, and shares a story about how a simple word changed their life.”

I’d add that, in my books, Elisha Lim is a singular they superhero. They led a  petition against Xtra, Toronto’s LGBT weekly newspaper when the paper refused to use Elisha’s chosen pronoun (you can read the strangely pronoun-less story here). At the time of the petition’s resolution, the paper’s editorial policy was still not to standardize they (any updates would be appreciated) but to use last names instead, over and over again. Also, Airton said Airton really enjoyed viewing the segment because Airton appreciated how Lim addressed many of Airton’s own concerns. Ha.

Elisha’s petition and other efforts have made a major contribution to the visibility of singular they as an option, particularly in Toronto queer and trans communities. For more Elisha, visit their awesome website.

 

What to do (on Facebook) when you think someone you know has changed pronouns

Anonymous asked:

“Years ago, one of my friends came out as trans and was using he/they as pronouns, but we totally lost touch. My friend recently reactivated their FB account with a different name (one sounding more traditionally “feminine”), and I want to reconnect and ask what pronouns they’re using but I’m not sure the best way to ask?”

Thanks for your question!

As someone who has switched pronouns in my life, I really like it when I get a break from doing some of the work of explaining and publicizing my needs, even to people I like or know well. So, I would first suggest that you have a look at this person’s FB wall. Are there people you know in common who are active Commenters or Likers or Taggers or who are in recently-dated photos with your friend (YF)? **Important…are these people who you knew in common at the time when YF identified as trans and used he/they? In other words, have these people persisted in YF’s life while YF’s gender expression and/or identity has changed (at least as far as you can tell from YF’s name change)? If so, I’d say a kind and mindful first step would be to ask one of these people, if you feel comfortable doing so.

The second option, of course, is to get in touch with YF with the intention of reconnecting and, well, reconnect. Asking how YF is doing and updating YF on your stuff doesn’t require that you use a gendered pronoun for YF! Chances are if YF is into rekindling your friendship YF will bring up their gender-related needs as you correspond.

I’d suggest doing either of these things before you might get in touch to ‘pop’ the pronoun question.

Hope that helps!

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.”

Risking offence? When to ask or not ask someone’s pronoun preference

Anonymous asked:

“I’m worried about offending people if I ask what their pronoun preference is. I’ve been told to ask people up front but what if I make someone uncomfortable? Who do I ask and who do I not ask?”

This is an excellent question and a common concern. Some people will be offended, or just will simply not understand. I’m going to go out on a limb and imagine this play-by-play is what worries you: you ask someone, they don’t understand what/why you are asking, you explain why, the person thinks that they look like someone who would have a gender-related i.e., pronoun issue, they get upset.

People get upset because ‘looking like xyz person’ with a pronoun preference generally means, in the popular imagination, looking like something other than normatively straight or normatively gendered. And what’s so bad about that? Basically, people would likely be offended because of a stigma based in homophobia or its cousin, transphobia.

But just because we can trace the roots of the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This situation still has to be somehow navigated.

The question remains: are there certain people who you should ask or not, based on a visual survey? I feel like this is dicey. Follow your gut, but do your best to be open to whatever reaction someone may have. Even someone as queer-looking as the day is long (like me for instance) might not appreciate the question, and that’s ok.

In workshops and other spaces where mindfulness around pronouns is an established habit (i.e., at the beginning everyone says their name and pronoun preference), we sometimes imagine that this practice will permeate the social world. I have my doubts, at least for some time to come. And I promise that groups of pronoun-conscious people at, say, a BBQ do not generally stop and do pronoun go-arounds.

So what do you do?

In reality, I very rarely have to ask someone what their pronoun is because I generally just listen to how other people describe them and avoid using pronouns for them until I am sure. If I am still really unsure or if I think someone’s pronoun (or chosen name) has shifted, I find a quiet moment to ask an acquaintance, a mutual friend, etcetera.

Other people doing this work without getting the pronoun user involved is really nice, and also completely possible. So consider listening and refraining from using any pronouns until you have figured it out, and if that fails, ask someone else.

Hope that helps,

Lee

Resource: Helpful usage tips from Dean Spade

Copied and pasted from Dean Spade at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun as misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.

4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.