LGBT

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

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Tips on training yourself to change pronouns for someone you care about (or anyone really)

microsuedemouse asked:

“Somebody I love very, very much has made the change to ‘they’ pronouns in the last few months and I can’t seem to learn it fast enough. I’m finally learning to get it right when I write it down, but in casual conversation when I’m not thinking about it the wrong pronouns slip out constantly. I know it’s hurting them a lot and I desperately want to stop. Do you have any tips on learning to train oneself into using the right pronouns?”

Hi microsuedemouse!

Thank you for your brave question! First of all, I just want to say that your loved one is lucky to have someone who is willing to reach out to a stranger for advice, even if sometimes pronouns are hard.

I want to start off by sharing my wise friend’s observation the other day about how pronoun changes affect communities, friends and family members. Basically, we don’t spend much time talking about ourselves in the third person whereas others talk about us all the time. So a new pronoun may actually be more of a shift in practice for others than for a particular gender-neutral pronoun user. Of course, when we are public about our pronoun preference people might regard us differently or prejudicially (at best) but the basic everyday life changes might be felt more by others struggling with language. After all, to me I’m still Lee but I’m now ‘them’ to everyone else. All this is to say that I hear you, and that is one of the reasons why I started this blog.

Your situation is unique, so take what I say with a grain of salt. My tips are in the realm of practice and being mindful i.e., not getting caught up in the flow of a conversation when we can become automatic. This is where trouble lurks in the pronoun change department, and not only there. This is where innate or familiar assumptions unintentionally rule our speech and actions. Witty repartee? Uh oh. Careful one-on-one chat? Probably a better chance of not messing up. Here is what I suggest:

1) Meet up with a friend you share in common with your loved one and practice. Reminisce about times spent together and otherwise talk about them. Exposure makes things much easier.

2) It would also be helpful to practice pausing before you respond to someone else, in any conversation, regardless of why.

3) When you are around people who aren’t your loved one, practice. Use they to refer to a single person, or try to refer to people with names only, etc. You can strike up conversations at the bus stop or at a tea party or wherever you feel comfortable and make this a little project. How long can you go in a conversation without using or needing to use a gendered pronoun? Can you notice when other people use gendered pronouns? How do people react to singular they?

4) Once you have some conscious practice and experimentation under your belt, do a self-audit. When do you make mistakes, or what kinds of structures (questions, off-the-cuff remarks, descriptions) catch you up? How can you remind yourself to be mindful? What are some situations in your life where you need to refer consistently to your loved one in the third person when they’re around? Can you prepare for these in advance, or get ready to use the pausing or conscious listening you’ve practiced?

MOST IMPORTANTLY, try not to worry about seeming fake, preoccupied or overly self-conscious while you are still working on the pronoun change. I feel like your loved one, if they know and feel your support, can probably understand that you need to be a bit stilted or weird as you learn. I personally don’t believe we can expect people to be perfect overnight. That takes a particular set of skills, which we need to develop. Chances are you might have these already but haven’t thought about migrating them over to the gender side of things.

I hope that helps, and keep asking questions!

Lee

Singular they and verb conjugation

Anonymous asked:

“I’m having trouble conjugating verbs with they! I realize it’s a singular pronoun, like he or she, so would one say, “they has a car”? Or is it conjugated in the plural, like you, “they have a car”? Thank you so much for running this blog!”

You’re very welcome, and thanks for this important question! The answer is both. If someone uses singular they you do conjugate in the plural when referring to them directly: “they HAVE an appointment.” But when using their name to refer to them, you use the singular: “Lee HAS an appointment, so remind THEM that THEY have to call ahead to confirm.”

This kind of switcheroo requires extra attentiveness when writing. I’m working on the next draft of my PhD dissertation, and I insisted on using singular they to lend even greater anonymity to my research participants and for political reasons. My supervisor’s feedback was a good reminder that, when using singular they, one needs to be careful when referring to more than one person in the same paragraph (or page, etc.). Readers could interpret that you’re referring to everyone and not to the singular they user! So, using this pronoun requires more than substitution. It requires changing how we write, or at least being a bit more nit-picky!

Hope that helps, and sorry for the delayed response (see above re. dissertation revisions…)!

Lee

Do (non-transsexual) singular they users trivialize trans peoples’ struggles?

Anonymous asked:

“Hi, I’ve seen users on tumblr use pronouns other than him/her/zim/zer/singular they. I’ve seen these individuals receive a lot of backlash from members of the trans community who say by using these “made up” pronouns it trivializes their (as trans men/women) struggles. I’m sort of extremely confused by this because I was always told to respect people’s pronouns. Like I’m obviously going to refer to people by their preferred pronoun, but I was wondering what your take on this was? SorryifIoffend”

Hi Anonymous! I’m not offended at all – this is what this blog is for! Moreover, I’m so glad you asked because this is a significant and confusing issue.

Whenever the issue of ‘who has a right to use X pronoun’ comes up, my general answer is: anyone who feels more comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun (whichever) has the right to use a gender-neutral pronoun, and it’s not for anyone else to decide whether that person’s discomfort is legitimate or justifies their choice. While I’m unfamiliar with the specific incidents you reference, I think it’s unrealistic to say that a handful of people using their own made-up pronouns are significantly diminishing or trivializing or otherwise harming the (generalized) struggles of transmen and transwomen in securing safety, respect and recognition for their gender. I think that pervasive normalized transphobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, genderism, homophobia and heterosexism (phew I’m tired now) take these things away well enough on their own without needing help from genderqueer (or other) folks who make up new pronouns for themselves.

That said, there are likely isolated experiences (which may become viral stories) of this connection being explicitly and harmfully drawn: where a person’s funny-sounding pronoun was used by a phobe to bash a transmen or transwoman by delegitimizing their gender. Given how awful the world can be for trans* people, I’m sure and sad to say that every bad thing we can think of has probably happened.

So, I believe that the thoughts and feelings that motivate the critique – that making up new pronouns trivializes transmen’s and transwomen’s struggles – are important and need to be heard and taken into consideration. I believe this is particularly true for people like me who use gender-neutral pronouns but are closer to the cis (non-transsexual) end of the gender spectrum (if such a thing exists…). There is incredible variability among the experiences of trans* people such that the phrase “trans* people” is sometimes meaningless. However, there are also life-threateningly similar patterns of violence and oppression experienced by transmen and transwomen – particularly transwomen of colour.

My life project, in my dissertation research and otherwise, seems to be figuring out what it looks like to ‘hear and take into consideration’ these critiques and experiences in a way that actually affects other peoples’ lives. While I don’t know for sure what this looks like in everyday life, I think it’s always helpful to really (like, obviously) affirm other peoples’ feelings and experiences while remembering that everyone moves about in a context that is unique, including you and me. This is a tough balancing act that will probably always be just that…tough.

Hope that is helpful, and keep asking questions! 🙂

Lee

PS – Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

A parent refuses to use they because it is ‘derogatory’

Anonymous asked:

“My dad is refusing to use “They” as my pronoun because he says it’s derogatory in the English language and won’t change his speech patterns. What should I do? I don’t want him referring to me as ‘She.'”

Hmm. There is both a short answer and a long answer, Anonymous.

The short answer is that your dad is completely incorrect. Singular they is not remotely derogatory and is in fact a longtime feature of literary English. This writing blog even conducted a poll showing 70% reader preference for singular they (as opposed to ‘he,’ or even ‘he or she’) in cases of unknown gender. Tom Chivers of the Telegraph newspaper concurs and writes that “One rule of grammar that has, apparently, been in constant use in Standard Written English is: “when the sex of the subject is unknown, it is permissible to use ‘they’ as a genderless singular pronoun”.” He goes on to add that “if someone tells you that singular “they” is wrong, you can firmly tell them to go to hell.” Although this is probably not a useful piece of advice, particularly if the someone is your parent, the short answer is that you could present the case to your dad that he is absolutely wrong using the many sources available on the internet. I’d be happy to help you gather some convincing ones. You could also tell him that someone (me) who is almost finished their PhD and indeed several of my colleagues who are university professors use singular they. Sometimes this move works with parents. You can also send him to me with any questions he has.

The long answer is more complicated. My gut tells me that using an argument based on reason (“you are factually incorrect, and here is the proof from reliable sources”) or authority (“all of these people with PhDs use singular they”) might not work (but might be worth a try). The fact is that people use all kinds of excuses – that sound entirely reasonable and related to things like grammar or rudeness, as in the case of your dad – to avoid doing something that is really just uncomfortable for them. This discomfort is entirely emotional but it sounds smart to make a phoney statement about grammar or politeness instead of saying ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I can’t because it feels weird.’ Today when there is *generally* more acceptance and visibility for queer and trans people (who are more often they users), it’s also increasingly less okay or polite to openly talk about feeling uncomfortable with the kinds of changes needed in order to treat us respectfully. So people unfortunately say ‘it’s not grammatically correct’ or ‘it’s rude’ instead of saying ‘I just really don’t get it’ or ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘it’s wrong to feel like he or she don’t apply to you.’

The fact that your dad says singular they is derogatory might say more about his own feelings regarding the gender implications than a fear of being rude. He might feel it is derogatory because he isn’t comfortable or doesn’t agree with the kind of self-expression you are working towards with this request. For example, we think something is derogatory when we wouldn’t want it used to describe ourselves and most gender-normative (male/masculine or female/feminine) people would be deeply distressed if they thought that someone had to say ‘they went over there’ because their male- or femaleness wasn’t obvious enough to say ‘he went over there’ or ‘she went over there’. It is hard for most people to understand why we would want ‘they’ and even harder for parents sometimes. Asking for ‘they’ might make them feel like they don’t know us as well as they thought they did or that they have less of an idea what our lives are like or will be like in the future. These are all sources of discomfort and often take time and more conversations (providing these can happen safely).

I doubt that I’m saying anything you haven’t thought of, Anonymous. I just want to emphasize that your dad’s refusal might be an indirect (and unhelpful) way of saying that he needs time or support to sort through his thoughts and his feelings about your decision and what it means. My own parents are full of love and good intention, but took time to understand why I made this choice, what it meant and why it was important. They still struggle with everyday usage and have also expressed concerns about grammar, rudeness and social situations (“Do I have to tell Auntie and Uncle XYZ before we go over there for dinner?”).

Next steps for your dad might include accessing some resources or support that aren’t you in order to work through his feelings about your request and what it might mean. This could be other adults in your life who are supportive, online articles, this blog or even PFLAG meetings or similar – contact your local or regional LGBTQ community or resource centre if you can, and once again, I can help you.

Next steps for you could include talking to your dad on a practical level. You could ask him what else he might be comfortable with. Maybe he could just use your name instead of any pronoun at all. This can sound awkward, but you could let him know you’re ok with that. Do you need him to not refer to you as his daughter? How about kid instead? Work with him, if you can, to find alternatives. You could also talk with him about what is behind your request, as long as you feel safe and okay. I also encourage you to try and find spaces where your request is respected and your related needs are met. These could be in-person or online, but if your family life isn’t a place where you can be supported in this way, know that this support can be found elsewhere for as long as you need it.

Only you know whether my suggestions make sense for you and your situation, and whether any of them would make you unsafe. Trust your own judgment and listen to your gut.

I hope this helps, and feel free to write back,

Lee

Coming out as genderqueer on Facebook

milkandqueerios asked:

“Any tips on how to “come out” as genderqueer on Facebook? I want to request that my friends use singular they for my pronoun but I’m not sure how to ask…”

Hello there milkandqueerios!

(I’m going to assume from your question that you feel a degree of safety in coming out on Facebook, seeing as you seem to have decided and are working out the logistics. If I’m wrong I apologize.)

I’m glad that I happened to dawdle a bit on answering your question because it just so happens that Facebook just changed their gender options to add about a dozen new identity terms including genderqueer. You can also select ‘they’ as a pronoun. The odd part is that the form is set up in such a way that you can’t select a pronoun without indicating a gender. I also identify as genderqueer and feel quite comfortable with that term (at least more so than any other) and yet there was something odd about putting it into a form! Maybe I just don’t like forms? #contrarian

So, in this day and age it appears you can passively come out by letting Facebook do the work for you. Whenever someone sees anything about you or wants to interact with you in a scripted way (‘Send them a message’, for example) ‘they/them’ will be used.

If you want to do something more direct, I would suggest figuring out if there is a particular group of people who you really want to reach out to and restrict your post using FB’s various settings. I say this because I have about 150 friends who I never talk to including many from high school who I only keep because sometimes I get curious (if I’m honest). Do I want them or others to get in touch and ask when I’m having The Surgery, heaven forbid? Do I want to do a trans/genderqueer 101 workshop for people? Do I want to spark a strange wall discussion among people likely not in the loop? Personally, I wouldn’t. But if you feel open to peoples’ questions and interpretations who aren’t active parts of your life anymore, I salute you and encourage you to skip this step.

However, you will get questions regardless of whether you restrict who can see the post (which you might like, but which some don’t). I would honestly keep the post simple and keep your boundaries – you don’t have to get back to everyone who has a quibble or a query. Perhaps say what you want from people (please use this pronoun for me), a brief reason why (I identify as genderqueer and what that means to me) and then refer them to a usage guide like…this one? TIMP? #shamelessplug

You can also encourage anyone to ask me questions and I’ll do the public education (it is after all the point of this blog)! And finally, if these are close friends you are talking about – and providing you feel safe doing so – why not ask them in person? You could even enlist the coolest of them to post things on your wall or tag you in things appearing on your wall in which they use your chosen pronoun, leading by example. Just a thought. Or, if you choose to make a coming out statement on FB, you could prepare these same friends in advance so that they can get right on there and offer positive feedback or other support in the comments section.

Hope this helps, and happy FB-ing,

Lee

Mr. or Ms. or Mx? Formal titles for gender-neutral pronoun users

Anonymous asked:

“I hear tons of talk about pronoun sensitivity, but what about a gender neutral word Mr. or Ms.? I work in a very formal environment, and so titles are a big thing.”

Thank you for asking, Anonymous!

I think that formal work environments are a major ‘frontier’ for gender-based language changes, particularly because formal authority structures are so wrapped up in the correct use of language and related protocols e.g., you can’t just revert to using someone’s first name when you don’t know their gender preference regarding formal titles (or honorifics, as they are sometimes called).

Many people have started to request Mx. to be used when they don’t feel like identifying either way in a titular sense, but I also am unaware of whether this is a verbal or just a written form of address. The UK city of Brighton has this year announced its intention to add Mx. as an option for those accessing city council benefits and services. Wikipedia tells me that Mx. is pronounced ‘mux’ or ‘mixter’ (??) but it’s clear we are a long way off from having something widespread and workable.

If this is a situation that affected you directly, i.e., you would prefer to be called something more they-ish than Ms. or Mr., I wish you the best of luck and can only say that your personal level of comfort at work (professionally and personally) will have to be weighed with your need for gender recognition. I am currently applying for tenure-track jobs, and I have been split down the middle on whether to ask my referees to write letters with ‘they’. Some have done wonderful backflips with language and written letters without any pronouns at all, even after I told them that I’m tending toward using a gendered pronoun and beginning the work when I get there in terms of educating my (fingers crossed) future colleagues. But this is entirely up to one’s field and one’s own preferences.

Thank you for your question, and please ask another anytime!

Lee

When to use single or plural verb forms with singular they

Anonymous asked:

“When one is using “they” as a singular pronoun, is it better to use singular or plural verb forms? I ask because while I usually hear it with plural verb forms in casual speech, I’m writing a story in which a character prefers “they,” and it has led to things like “Smith SAYS, ‘It’s all lies,’ as they TAKE the book from the shelf,” with a number switch between the two verbs. Is the plural verb form still correct when “they” is not used as an indefinite pronoun but for a specific person? Thanks!”

An excellent question! I’m sort of a writer too (academic) and I empathize.

Writing with plural they is hard and about more than grammar; in my experience sentence construction has to shift around in order to make things as smooth as they would be with a binary gender pronoun in use. This might also mean using more instances of the person’s name, or avoiding (in places) some more familiar forms of attribution (like the one in your example) until your reader can acclimatize (i.e., not on the first page, perhaps).

Grammatically, yes, your example is incorrect. However, I firmly believe that language is not only a set of written rules but a living, breathing organ that shifts with us. Chances are by this point in your story your readers will have had to do the work of acclimatizing to pronoun use and can handle it. And I’m afraid that, at this point in the ‘movement’, the fact that you use a gender-neutral pronoun will be a standout feature of your piece (I say ‘I’m afraid that’ because you might feel it distracting if that’s not the point).

In my own life, there are moments of glitch where I notice a grammatical error brought on in someone’s speech because they are referring to me and we have to make do. I find this to be funny, but I also think about humour as a teaching tool ( I’m in an educational field). In some ways, then, gender-neutral pronouns throw everything into relief, including how rule-bound we are without thinking (even they-people like me). I think that is nice.

I would love to read your story! 🙂 (no presh, however, and good luck)

Lee

TIMP in the media! J-Source article on singular they featuring Lee

Check out this piece in the online journalism trade publication J-Source about gender-neutral pronoun usage for writers and journalists, featuring Lee and TIMP.

Reproduced here are journalist Katie Toth’s compiled dos and don’ts, from the article:

Do: know your readership. If necessary, quickly inform your reader that the subject of your article prefers the gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Don’t: Undermine your sources’ authority. If you’re writing a piece about environmental science, explanations about a source’s sexual identity are sensationalist and off topic.

Similarly, a review that describes an artist’s chosen pronoun as ‘awkward’ may be funny to you, but it’s alienating for many readers. “I’d feel that the writer was invalidating their gender identity,” says trans woman Lucy Wallace. Wallace says she would be uncomfortable speaking to reporters or reading from outlets that had dealt insensitively with someone’s chosen pronoun in the past. “I’d feel that they don’t know enough about [trans and gender issues] to …write about it for a wider audience,” she says.

Do: Value accuracy. If someone identifies as ‘they,’ then ‘he’ and ‘she’ are the wrong pronouns. If you use them, you are not doing your job.

Don’t: Try to commiserate with your sources or bond over the challenges of pronoun use. It’s unprofessional and people who use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun have heard it all before. “If I tell you I use ‘they,’ practice not reacting as though that’s awful,” Airton said. “Stop complaining to me about how you have trouble with ‘they,’ please.”

Do: Come to your sources with some available options. Instead of gaping in wonder at this linguistic quagmire, Airton would prefer to see reporters suggesting some options that work for their paper. “The interaction styled as ‘this is a problem, let’s accommodate this problem,’ is always off the table,” Airton said. “Why not say, ‘Okay, would you be comfortable with me also referring to me by your position? By your name or last name? May I also do those things?”

Don’t: Neglect an extra copy-edit when using this pronoun. You may have to further simplify your language and shorten your sentences. Lesley Fraser, copy editor at Xtra! Canada, recommends using the plural form of the verb conjugation for ‘they:’ ‘They say,” for example, or “they note.” James McCarten of the Canadian Press has an alternate suggestion: keep use of the pronoun to a minimum, and write attributions for the story in the past tense: “they explained,” rather than “they explain.” Whatever you choose, be consistent.

Do: Bring up discussion around the use of the pronoun ‘they’ with your outlet’s style committee now, rather than later. Have some guidelines that allow reporters to better relay to their sources how they can expect to be portrayed.

Do: Ask your sources what pronoun they prefer, if you’re unsure. “Keep it open ended,” said Airton. “Not, ‘Do you prefer they’ or ‘Do you prefer he or she’, [but] ‘What is your preferred pronoun?’”