LGBT

A new TIMP series! WE ARE THEY, Episode 1: Raising Avery

Since its birth five years ago, TIMP has been devoted to answering questions from gender-neutral pronoun users and allies, and sharing resources. Just like singular they is growing and becoming more common, TIMP is evolving. While I’ll continue to respond to new questions and direct askers to questions already answered, today I’m starting a new series of posts that will profile diverse folks who use singular they.

Each episode in the series WE ARE THEY will be based on an interview with someone who uses singular they, either because it’s their personal pronoun or because they use it consistently in other ways. The series aims to share the diversity of singular they usage and users, and how gender-neutral pronouns are making change in the world around us, every day.

The first episode in WE ARE THEY features Helene, her partner Curtis, and Avery, their toddler. Helene sat down with Lee and shared how she and Curtis are raising Avery in a gender-open way, including using singular they as Avery’s pronoun.


WE ARE THEY, Episode 1. Raising Avery

Usually when a person uses singular they, it’s their own decision. As many of us know, this leads to a lot of hard work: coming out, answering questions, correcting other peoples’ mistakes, and sometimes literally fighting for our right to use our chosen pronoun. However, a small but growing number of (brand new) people are singular they users even before they have any awareness of gender at all, let alone of who they would like to be in the gender department. And it’s their parents who are doing this hard work, at least in the beginning.

“We wanted our child to be able to be who they are from the start.”

When they were getting ready to have Avery, Helene and Curtis made the decision to practice gender-open parenting. To the best of their ability, they would get out of the way and provide an open space for Avery to explore. “We wanted our child to be able to be who they are from the start,” Helene explains. “We just didn’t want to put any boundaries or constraints on them gender-wise so they can identify how they will, and play how they will, and dress how they want to. We just thought, why not let them do this from the beginning?” Helene is clear that this isn’t gender-neutral or ‘genderless’ parenting. “Avery has masculine expressions, feminine expressions, andro expressions and who-gives-a-shit expressions,” she says. Gender is very much a part of Avery’s world, but what that looks like depends on the day (and the weather).

Helene and Curtis’ own identities informed their choice to parent in a gender-open way. They both identify as queer, and Curtis as a transgender man. Helene and Curtis were initially puzzled by people – many queer, some transgender – who share their values but chose their baby’s names and pronouns the old fashioned way: based on external genitalia alone. “People say ‘oh, I’d be very supportive if my child was trans but we’re using this pronoun or assuming this gender and I’ll support them if they tell me differently.” Helene and Curtis feel that keeping gender open means not assigning a binary gender to Avery at all until Avery makes up their own mind. But Helene acknowledges that this decision might be less possible for other parents. “They might experience enough scrutiny on their parenting already as a same-sex couple, or perhaps they live in a place where even boys just playing with dolls is seen as transgressive. These real barriers may make some parents fearful, and we understand that.”

“It’s hard to dress a kid to not signify.”

For these parents, an important part of keeping gender open for Avery is the language they use to refer to them. As one of the world’s youngest singular they users (I’ll wager), Avery goes from bus to day care to park to home with Helene and Curtis trying their hardest to ensure that others use Avery’s pronoun. As an infant, Avery had ‘My Pronoun is They’ patches sewn onto their onesies, and it worked. Babies and toddlers are androgynous anyway, usually registering as male unless they have pink outfits, pierced ears, long hair, or bejewelled elastic bands around their little bald heads. As time goes on, Helene and Curtis try to select Avery’s clothing to help others correctly gender them, but “it’s hard to have Avery present in a way that doesn’t indicate gender. Whether it’s clothes or whether it’s Avery’s face or hair, or whether it’s society, people do gender Avery most of the time. Occasionally I’ll have someone ask if Avery is a boy or a girl but most of the time people just assume based on what they see.” Gender-open parenting involves presenting a child who is neither a girl nor a boy as neither, and as Helene observes, “it’s hard to dress a kid to not signify.” This raises an interesting (and impossible) question about singular they users: what do ‘we’ look like?

When a stranger mis-genders Avery (by using he or she instead of they), Helene usually makes the choice to correct them based on whether Avery will see them again. “If we’re walking down the street and someone says ‘what a pretty girl!’ and they keep walking, I don’t say ‘well, ACTUALLY…’ and stop them!” We laugh, agreeing that this might be a bit much. “But if I’m at my playground and I’m talking with another parent, and we’re getting into a more friendly conversation that’s more than hi/bye, I will say ‘yeah that’s my kid. Actually, we’re raising Avery gender-open so we’re using they and them as pronouns and we’re letting Avery decide.’” Without this intervention, Avery is generally called a mixed bag of pronouns, most of them gendered. Helene wonders if the mixed bag could be having the desired effect of gender openness. It’s certainly easier to accept the mixed bag, she says, but it doesn’t change the world, “which isn’t why we’re doing it, but it’s a good benefit.”

“‘I’m just going to say Avery.’”

A main event in many toddler lives is the shift from parental care to extended family or day care. I was eager to know how Helene and Curtis were managing this recent transition now that Helene has returned to work. They’ve experienced a lot of supportive energy from caregivers, as well as a willingness to learn and ask questions. “But even people who know we’re using they/them/their still use a gendered pronoun a lot.” Helene sometimes thinks this is because caregivers see what kind of genitals Avery has, which is something unique about young children who use singular they: that people will have this knowledge and think they know something as a result. She also attributes mis-gendering to a basic unfamiliarity with singular they, and doesn’t feel like it’s malicious. But resistance can take on a more active form: “some people say ‘I’m not going to use they or them. I’m just going to say Avery.’” Although her family’s pronoun usage has improved over time, Helene jokes that the family’s hard work – both remembering and reminding – might be in vain. By the time everyone gets the hang of singular they, Avery might have chosen a binary pronoun! But if Avery later decides to use a different one, will other caregivers be able to go with it? This is a bigger question, and certainly isn’t unique to gender and pronouns. Do we trust any child to make major life-changing decisions for themselves? And is consistency the best evidence that they’re right?

To my mind, the issues around assigning singular they to a baby aren’t always that different from other issues facing new parents. To illustrate, Helene’s cousin was anxious about making a mistake, and issued a heated declaration: “I don’t want a rule book for how to be with Avery!” But are gender choices any more of a ‘rule book’ than other choices? Helene feels they aren’t, because “with every child there is a sense of a rule book. We’re the parents and we get to decide, and for some people that might be about what the child eats or what toys they play with or what words they use.” For some parents, that means tuna only once a month. For Helene and Curtis, that means singular they.

“‘So have they decided yet?’”

While some things may not be unique about raising a child with singular they, other things certainly are. Helene and I spoke about how the ‘I’ll just use your name’ tactic may feel legitimate because adults presume that a child will choose another pronoun, whereas an adult user is thought to have arrived at their ‘true self.’ Each assumption is problematic in its own way. Bravely, Helene wonders whether her and Curtis’ usual response – that Avery will eventually decide who they are – somehow contributes to this problem. And others are eager to know if ‘eventually’ has arrived. “Even my ten year-old neighbour often asks me ‘so have they decided yet?’ Do they know yet? Do you know?’” When answering children, Helene keeps the question open. “With littler kids especially I say ‘I don’t know! Maybe they’re a girl, maybe they’re a boy, maybe they’re both or neither!’ With older people I just say ‘we don’t know, they haven’t told us yet.’ But I don’t often say ‘we don’t know and maybe they’ll use they for the rest of their life.’” As more parents choose this path, it remains to be seen how the yet/eventually narration of children’s singular they usage will affect broader understandings of why folks choose this pronoun.

“‘I just have the one.’”

While I was delighted to hear that, on the whole, Helene and Curtis have had a positive experience of gender-open parenting, it seems like pronouns remain a major hurdle. Sometimes singular they can be funny when it goes wrong. When talking to strangers on the phone, Helene is consistently called on to deny that she has twins. “Early on when I would book a doctor’s appointment, I might say ‘they have a cold’ and the receptionist would reply ‘oh, both of them?’ No. I just have the one.” Starting a phone call with a brief explanation has proven effective over time. Sometimes, though, singular they is just one hurdle too many. When facing things more stressful than the common cold, when their family needs support or access to resources – this is when singular they can become just too heavy to bear. “And at those points sometimes I would just pick a gendered pronoun. Because I couldn’t or didn’t want to deal and so I said ‘forget it – I’m just going to use whatever’ because I needed that help.” And sometimes pronouns just don’t seem to matter at all. “For passports and travel I just do the genitals because that’s already so complicated,” she says.

“It’s so different if a child asks for it themself.”

How about the issue of choice, of who chose this path for Avery? After all, Avery didn’t decide to use singular they, or to present as non-binary. “I’ll put my child in whatever they want to wear as long as it’s safe and appropriate for wherever we’re going,” Helene insists, but until Avery chooses their own gender and pronoun, Helene and Curtis don’t have recourse to the argument that they are defending Avery’s autonomy. “It’s so different if a child asks for it themself,” she says. This is what parents of self-identified queer or transgender children can fall back on when their decisions are challenged. But, as Helene says, “it’s my decision right now. I decide what Avery wears. Sometimes I offer Avery a choice, but Avery doesn’t care.” It seems like other kids don’t care either. Avery’s five year-old cousin routinely escorts Avery around to everyone else on the playground, announcing that “this is my cousin and they’re a they.” Helene offers an explanation for this after taking a moment to choose her words. “When kids aren’t being pushed into a box, they can treat gender in a way that’s not heavy.” Whether singular they is a burden on Avery seems to depend on the environment Avery’s adults create. And so far, it doesn’t seem to be a burden at all.

Still, Helene and I wonder out loud whether gender-open parenting and singular they usage will actually matter, in the end. We both grew up in open-minded families and, like almost everyone else, were raised with a binary pronoun and the assumption that we were cis-gender and heterosexual. For countless adult queer and/or transgender people, we are who we are now in spite of and not because of the context in which we grew up. We laugh, though, when Helene admits her worry that this logic will pan out for Avery, too. “Part of using they/them is allowing Avery to be who they are. And that actually does mean that even if who they are is a right-wing conservative I still have to find a way to respect who they are.” And that’s that.

Listening to Helene, I think about my own future as a parent who is a non-binary transgender person and singular they user, and who shares values with Helene and Curtis. Will my partner and I use singular they for our children as a contingency – until they make up their own minds? Do we need to do this, if our children will have always known about non-binary gender-ness simply because they’re mine? Would gender-open parenting push them ‘the other way,’ in the end? Do I care? I don’t know. And I feel better not knowing when I remember Helene’s wise words as we began winding down our long conversation. “I think people think you have to have everything figured out if you want to do this, but you don’t.”

On being a non-binary teacher

Anonymous asked:

Hello, I’m sorry if this is only vaguely related to the use of non-gendered pronouns but I’m in a spot of bother with regards to my general gender-based bewilderment. I am trying to train as a primary school teacher and have recently been increasing my preparatory teaching experience. I am somewhat androgynous and use the title Dr so children are intrigued to know if I am m/f. When they ask what I am, I can’t tell them, but know non-binary should be explained. How do I address this?

Hello Dr. Anonymous! (hehe)

First, congratulations on the Dr. situation! I often joke that getting my doctorate was primarily motivated by the gender-neutral title, which I sprinkle with gay abandon on all airline tickets, phone bills and the like.

I work in the field of teacher education, so your question is of great interest to me. In my life, it’s true to say that being a non-binary transgender person has diverted me away from K-12 classroom teaching and into higher education for equity and mental health reasons. There may have been pockets of acceptance around the time when I was thinking of entering a B.Ed. program but by and large K-12 schools have been and continue to be some of the most gender-normalizing places. This was my impetus for getting involved in teacher education practice and research on gender and sexual diversity: to open the doors for people like me to make choices other than the one I made out of concern for my own safety and well-being.

Of course, there are many queer and/or transgender teachers out there (including non-binary ones), and many are rocking it out as best as they can and having all kinds of wonderful impact in the lives of children and youth. However, to my knowledge, the greatest success and longevity in the career still come to those who benefit the most from homonormativity or gender normativity (e.g., a cis-gender woman monogamously married to another cis-gender woman, or a heterosexual transgender man, or people with children they can talk about). This doesn’t mean being a teacher isn’t hard for these folks (it is), just that it’s differently hard given that their life stories are often more intelligible to the wider world. (Intelligibility can, however, be its own curse and mental health risk if what you ‘pass’ as doesn’t match your identity.)

All this is to say that I hear you loud and clear. And I completely agree: non-binary should be explained to children. Full stop. Moreover, what should be explained to – and modelled for – children is that gender is an all-you-can-eat buffet. You shouldn’t have to be a boy or become a boy to do the things that you’d like to do, unless being a boy is something that you really, really want. Kids in a school with a lot of support for transitioning students (but that only recognize kids who desire a binary transition) and schools where the wonderful, life-giving possibility of binary transition is completely unthinkable – both may be at risk of shutting down many kids’ gender-diverse desires. Let us as teachers throw open the gender gates for every child by, for example, not setting up free-time as a choice between soccer and art, but between clay and painting. Let’s put out different kinds of toys on the carpet depending on the day so that sometimes everyone plays with trucks, and everyone with dolls. Let’s point out how gender is at work in a story about a two-parent, heterosexually-headed family and not just read the Sissy Duckling. And let’s do these things before and regardless of whether any transgender kid ever appears in our particular school or classroom.

Dr. Anonymous, when you say “I can’t tell them” I’d like to know more. I’m lucky to live in Ontario, Canada where we have protection from discrimination on the basis of gender expression and gender identity aka the professional and age-appropriate disclosure of one’s gender identity to a child who asks about it would likely be protected under the law. Someone telling you not to do this would be running afoul of that law. However, it sounds like you might not have any such protection to fall back on.

Even before these laws were passed, however, kids would consistently ask me the question “are you a boy or a girl?” and I would reply ‘neither,’ or ‘I haven’t decided yet today. Will you ask me again later?’ or something else that wasn’t necessarily true (I generally wake up feeling like a non-binary transgender person). The point wasn’t that it was true or false, but that it opened the gates and caused a lot of productive thinking/face-scrunching. It also meant that I didn’t always have to launch into a giant explanation of what ‘non-binary transgender person’ means. This is one route. Or, you could deflect with a question: “why do you need to know about this? What else would you like to know about me? What would it mean if I said I was a girl or a boy? How would that change how you think about me as a teacher? Why do people have to be one or the other?” In other words, this can become a teachable moment, to whatever extent you are comfortable.

Pronouns are another matter, and teaching remains a fairly conservative profession. If you feel comfortable and supported by your program, you could work with your practicum coordinator to find a school with a queer- and trans-positive culture where you could be out and have your preferred gender pronoun respected. Regardless of the law, there could be internal diversity and equity policies in your university that you could cite when arranging a meeting about this, and even a diversity officer whose support you could draw on. If you don’t feel supported in your program, your practice teaching placement could be difficult and require some tough choices. If you bond with your supervising teacher and want to enlist their support, you could access some of my other resources on coming out, particularly this one on explaining preferred pronouns to someone with little knowledge of gender diversity issues.

To close, I’ll say that the problem you are facing is real and that there is a whole constellation of lovely folks working on this, who I’m proud to call my colleagues and friends. The hope driving my academic teaching and research is that questions like yours will become unnecessary, and that the teaching profession can be a gender buffet some day.

Warmly, and write back anytime,

Lee

Mis-gendering with a smile: On the ‘friendly refusal’

slithe asked:

“Hello! I’d just like to ask how you feel about when someone refers to someone as he/him or she/they when they prefer they/them using the excuse of, ‘Oh it’s okay, I’m just used to it. Plus, you don’t mind right?'”

Hi slithe! Thank you for your question.

This sounds like what I call the ‘friendly refusal’. Here, someone is actively refusing to use a person’s preferred gender pronoun, but is spending ‘friend capital’ in order to make it seem like it isn’t a refusal at all. Rather, a friendly refuser is hoping that they can mis-gender someone precisely because of their relationship: because of the trust and intimacy it provides. Poof – refusal to use someone’s pronoun magically becomes an expression of intimacy and even love!

The problem with a friendly refusal – as opposed to a hostile or outright refusal, which I have written about before – is that The Person (let’s call them TP) being mis-gendered is positioned as the one causing the trouble. After all, their friend has good intentions and cares about them, right? If TP said “actually, I do mind if you mis-gender me” then they would be the one causing conflict in an otherwise friendly-seeming/sounding interaction.

A particularly tricky thing about the friendly refusal is that a friendly refuser is likely to feel hurt if TP says no, and TP may be made to feel responsible for this hurt and seek to make it better. In the end, even though TP was mis-gendered, they can end up meeting someone else’s needs, while their own go unmet.

And so, slithe, how I feel is that this is not okay. It’s not more okay than an outright or hostile refusal just because it seems/sounds friendly. It might even be worse because it is manipulative, despite perhaps being unintentional.

I challenge the well-intentioned friendly refusers out there to try and recognize ourselves, and I implicate myself here (‘ourselves’) because there is no one who hasn’t tried to fall back on a friendship to get out of responsibility for hurting someone else, however implicitly. This includes those of us ‘in the know’ about this stuff. There aren’t good people who seamlessly use someone’s new PGP from the start, and bad people who don’t (for the most part). There are just people with widely varying degrees of willingness and ability to spend energy on making a change for people we care about.

That having been said, as insidious as the friendly refusal can be, there is something to be said for the friendly refuser’s hurt feelings. Every single relationship is its own animal with its own context and history. Frequent readers of TIMP (particularly my posts on fearing partner rejectioncoming out to a friend with little knowledge of gender diversity issues, and negative parent reactions) know that I often advise askers to be mindful of their particular relationship with a refuser, suggesting that they consider what else might be going on that needs to be addressed. A key belief of the whole TIMP project is that the difficulty surrounding pronoun change is about much more than the pronoun itself and its grammar. Sometimes that ‘more’ is transphobia of some kind, and sometimes it’s just a benign irritation that has festered over time.

The friendly refuser’s hurt feelings are real feelings. As with so much writing on white privilege, a big part of being an ally to GNP users is managing this hurt in a way that doesn’t require our hurt friend to take care of us. This doesn’t mean hiding our feelings, but offering reassurance to our GNP-using friend that our hurt feelings are not their fault. And of course, practicing.

I hope that answers your question, and have a lovely day!

Warmly,

Lee

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!

Warmly,

Lee

Are gender-neutral pronouns a white people thing?

Anonymous asked:

“I love my friends who use they/them pronouns. However I have noticed that they are all white. Sometimes I think claiming these pronouns is a white privilege. Or just only a thing in white culture. Are there any resources out there that talk about race and nb [non-binary] pronouns? I want to understand better how different cultures deal with non binary folks, and how they deal with pronouns. Thank you”

Hello Anonymous,

Thank you very much for this question, which gels with something I’ve also wondered. However, I know many people of colour who use singular they – including singular they superhero Elisha Lim – and a quick informal survey of my community (admittedly on Facebook) yielded similar observations: that no, singular they is not just a white people thing but in wide circulation among people of colour.

That being said, however, it’s true that singular they is an overwhelmingly Anglo-friendly if not Anglocentric way to recognize non-binary or genderqueer folks in everyday language, as this verb structure simply does not exist in many other languages. White/Anglo are so frequently tied together that this could be relevant to any conversation about the potential whiteness of singular they.

Another thought is that, as in all things, people stating and asking for their needs to be met will likely experience more success if they have privilege: if others perceive their needs as important, at all, to varying degrees. I’m a middle-class white person with a PhD who teaches in a university (on precarious contracts which means I have less job security than people without my education level, but still) so I have a high degree of privilege that I fall back on when asking for my preferred gender pronoun to be used. Other people automatically presume I’m an authority on my needs and know best about what works for me. This, to me, is primarily an effect of my whiteness and certainly affects how I experience others’ perception and use of my pronoun.

I’m still wondering whether there is something specific about whiteness/white privilege and gender-neutral pronouns, or if this is just another ‘fairly straightforward’ instance of white privilege. Food for thought!

In my informal survey I didn’t come up with any specific resources on gender-neutral or non-binary pronouns for people of colour, however, so please pass them along if you find some!

Warmly,

Lee

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.

 

Why it’s hard sometimes: Resistance to pronoun change can have nothing to do with pronouns

Today I’m not responding to a gender-neutral pronoun (GNP) user or ally question but sharing something from my own recent experiences.

Usually I write this blog from the perspective of a GNP user, albeit one who is genuinely compassionate toward allies and others in GNP users’ lives who must make a tough cognitive and verbal transition. This transition, of course, is changing how we use language when talking about a friend, family member, co-worker, loved one, etc. who has requested that we use a new pronoun for them.

As I have been writing for over three years on TIMP, this takes work. Work. Work. Hard work.

The thing is, because it takes work, if someone feels like they don’t want to make the necessary effort on behalf of someone else, the change is very hard and slow, and slip-ups can be many. This is because, in my view, making the effort to change pronouns is kind of like making the effort to no longer tell that ‘funny story’ about someone or use their childhood nickname when they have asked you not to, or to stop talking about/using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc. around someone who has just begun their recovery from addiction. Of course these things are different in their content (what they are about). But I don’t believe they are too different in form. They all require that we devote more energy to someone.

All this is to say that I believe that often a persistent resistance to using someone’s new GNP (or new name) can have much less to do with gender/pronouns and much more to do with the relationship in which the request to use new pronouns is made. In several posts (most notably this one) I’ve talked about how there may be other reasons for refusal and resistance to changing pronouns when asked to do so.

Basically, one’s unconscious might be saying “why would I work hard at doing this for you when you never did XYZ for me / weren’t there for me / have been irritating or mean / etc. etc. etc.” at the same time as one’s mouth is she-ing or he-ing someone for whom those pronouns are unwelcome and/or painful.

So, with that preamble, today I’m writing from the perspective of someone trying to change the pronouns I use for someone else. A very dear friend of mine recently came out about a shift in their gender identity, made a pronoun switch, and put this request out to their friends.

The thing is, for many and varied reasons, we had fallen out of touch. I had a lot of sour and sad feelings about our friendship and how our friend dynamic had devolved into one where I offered listening/care and got little to nothing in return. I felt like my own pretty large struggles at the time were unimportant to my friend because they were consumed in what they were going through and unable to give me any air time in our conversations. I had been taking my distance for a year and feeling progressively more down about this strategy because, well, I love my friend I know they were going through a rough time. I wanted to be compassionate but I had run out of energy and was getting, well, just mad.

So when the pronoun request came down…for a good two weeks I did a very, very bad job and mis-pronouned them consistently (never in their presence – we live in different cities). I had mad and sad feelings about the time I had already devoted to this person’s care and well-being and this was – given how I was feeling – the cherry on the sundae. My unconscious was certainly saying “why would I work hard at doing this for you when you never did XYZ for me / weren’t there for me / have been irritating or mean / etc. etc. etc.” while my face was saying the wrong pronoun.

Then I had a birthday, which has always been a special time in our friendship. And I began to miss my friend a lot. I decided I was going to communicate my feelings as kindly and compassionately – but openly and honestly – as I could, and explain why I had drifted away.

So I did. And they were magnificent: so open to how I was feeling and so grateful for the feedback, and articulating all kinds of wonderful things like authentic regret, responsibility, love for me and our history together. It was tough but the best conversation we had had in years.

The minute I put down the phone, I went to share the good news with my partner.

And the change was seamless. I haven’t used the wrong pronoun since.

This is just my own experience, for sure. And I’m sure there are many reasons, including that it’s just plain hard or weird to talk about one person as if they’re two people (re. singular they). But so many people who struggle with a pronoun change are people who GET IT: who have a kind of worldview that is friendly to trans-ness and queerness, and who really, really want to do this right. Who have the tools. And still it doesn’t work. I mean, I write an entire blog on this and, well, I was totally screwing it up.

So this is a call to people who have the know-how or desire but still find themselves unable or unwilling to make the change. Reflect on your relationship with the asker and tend to it as best you can.

Pronouns might be the icing on the poop-cake (sorry), and something pushing you even farther away from a person who you have loved and want to have in your life for a long time to come.

‘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

Clueless yet well-intentioned: Tips on changing pronouns at your office

vulvalove asked:

“hello! i currently work as a low-level staffmember (& only employee doing LGBT work) on a progressive college campus with a bunch of moderately conservative administrators. many are very well-intentioned, & all lack education about trans* communities & gender. students get it, but staff/faculty/admin are clueless. i’ve begun to shift my pronouns in my personal life & want to use “they” at work. how would you recommend i “rebrand” myself where i work with hundreds of clueless people? TYSM! :)”

Hi vulvalove!

I really appreciate this question, particularly because I too work on college campuses. I don’t think that many people who are fairly conservative about gender would describe themselves that way, particularly because ‘gender’ is something so ordinary and ingrained that most don’t even think they have views or feelings on it at all! Good intentions are nice, of course, but they really have no effect on what comes out of one’s mouth.

First, I’d suggest taking an audit of your supports and options, if you haven’t already done so. Is there a diversity officer on campus? Is there a ‘safe space’ etc. organization on campus (e.g., McGill Safe Space) that could come in and do (some of) the heavy-lifting for you in the form of a workshop for your co-workers? (Um or given what you said about your job, is this you?) Do you have the support and understanding of a supervisor? Would that supervisor be open to learning about gender diversity and inclusion issues as a springboard to making change more broadly? Would your organization like to contract me to come in and give a workshop on shifting pronouns (joke)?

Second, I’d consider how overt you want this ‘re-branding’ (love it) to be. My suggestions above are all about education, and that can be helpful. However, you want people to use your pronouns and not just expand their minds – the first is a practical goal and the second is a nice incidental benefit of working with you (yes, they are fortunate). On the practical goal front, I’d suggest putting it on the table at a staff meeting and telling people what it means (with the support of your administrator, if possible, who stresses it as an equity issue). You can give them options like just using your name, and guidelines like (if appropriate) ‘don’t include me in events, photos, messages, etc. that are just for women / just for men’ and ‘don’t refer to me as a woman, man, etc.’ depending on your needs. I believe that being as practical as possible with otherwise non-knowledgeable people is key. At the meeting, you can have some resources ready (like this blog) to hand out, too.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, the options are limitless in terms of other more direct action point-of-service things: make a sign for your desk, wear a button, give out candy for a correct gendering (I’m an extrovert so I might try this one as people usually enjoy a bit of camp). Of course, these suggestions all depend on what kind of environment you work in, how safe you feel there and how many strangers you see on a daily basis. Are pronouns your first/worst problem or is it the ‘hello young lady / hello young man’ variety of comments that also trouble you? The first is probably a co-worker issue, and the second probably more of a public issue.

Please keep asking questions or Tweet me or whatever you like. TIMP and I are here for you.

Hope this helps,

Lee