media

Announcing the No Big Deal Campaign!

My pronoun is a big deal. Using it shouldn’t be.

nbcbadgerev2

*SHARE ME!*

Hello TIMP readers! In case you aren’t aware, there has been a fairly large kerfuffle about gender-neutral pronouns in Canada (I say more about this here). I’ve been doing many things in response to this kerfuffle including talking to the media (listed in my CV if you’re interested) and working with a bunch of organizations and the award-winning graphic designer Cai Sepulis to launch an educational social media campaign. Here’s more from the campaign website:

The NBD Campaign is a positive and affirming response to the current conflict around gender-neutral pronouns like singular they/them and ze/hir (instead of she/her or he/him). Using someone’s preferred gender pronoun is an easy way to show your support for everyone’s right to live safely and well in their gender identity. It can make a world of difference when the correct pronoun is used, and when others begin to catch their own mistakes, say sorry, and just move on. Another way to support users is to indicate your own pronoun preference (whether you are transgender or no, as we all have a preference). Some people do this on their Twitter or Facebook profiles, and others do this in their email signatures. Of course, posting the NBD badge or infographics is another way to create a more supportive space around you for people who use gender-neutral pronouns. Especially now in this challenging climate, gender-neutral pronoun users need to feel and hear that their identities will be respected.

The infographics answer common arguments against using someone’s gender-neutral pronoun and will be released at the launch on December 1st (in Toronto). The badge has already been released on social media. All campaign materials are free and available for all to use in support of GNP users and usage. Make buttons, bags, coasters and whatever else you desire, then share it with us on Twitter or Instagram using #nbdcampaign.

Wish us luck – this thing is already flying around Facebook!

Warmly,

Lee

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Lee interviewed about singular they and the pronoun ‘battle’ in Canada

If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like when I’m talking about gender-neutral pronoun issues and not just when I’m writing about them, voila! Last week I was interviewed by David Crowe for his long-running weekly podcast radio show The Infectious Myth. It was a charmingly informal conversation, and hopefully provided some answers and soundbites for anyone involved in challenging pronoun conversations, whether in Canada or elsewhere.

Let me know your thoughts, TIMP readers!

Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TIMP in the Globe and Mail!

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

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.

 

The Washington Post jumps on singular they

Fabulous news for all gender-neutral pronoun users! The NYTimes just used Mx. at the request of an informant, and now the WaPo has added singular they to its style guidelines!

Music to our ears:

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

Also, over three years ago in August 2012 when TIMP was just one month old, I was interviewed by prescient journalist Katie Toth for J-Source (the online magazine of The Canadian Journalism Project) about how the media should interface with and refer to non-binary, genderqueer or other folks who request gender-neutrality:

Lee Airton is the founder of gender-neutral pronoun blog, They Is My Pronoun, and a doctoral student at York University. Airton prefers to use the singular pronoun ‘they’. “My gender identity is very much queer, like it’s a very much in-between kind of thing,” they explained. “It would be very easy for people if people like me…said, ‘Yes, you can go ahead and call me ‘he.’ It’s a very different choice to say, ‘No, that also doesn’t feel good, I’m going to ask for you to work at it in the way that I work at being in this society.”

Airton is skeptical of writers’ insistence that ‘they’ poses a challenge for their readership: “I think it’s really interesting when writers presume a deficit in their audience.” At the same time, they said, using last names or descriptions of a person is a vastly better process than using a gendered pronoun that does not correspond with the source’s identity. “It’s a bit of a cop out…because [they] has to come into common usage.”

And now, more and more, this is happening. Onwards and upwards!

ARTICLE: Slate on the gender-neutral pronoun fight at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Slate Magazine has a really good critical and journalistic response to the ridiculous controversy at Knoxville – one of the 20 most LGBT-unfriendly in the United States (see article for link) – in response to the LGBT centre hosting an information site on gender-neutral pronouns. I like this quote:

“Both Cross and Kae White, […] nonbinary-identified student[s] who spoke with me for this article, decided to stop requesting that their teachers use gender-neutral pronouns, because they tended to lead to uncomfortable, often lengthy conversations.”

Yes. Awkwardness and discomfort keep people away from having their needs met. These small things have extremely large, cumulative effects.

“Both Cross and White agreed that feeling respected and having others do their best to remember to use their preferred pronouns was the goal, not perfect compliance, and White acknowledged that in a very large class, it would be impractical for a professor to ask every students about their pronoun preference.”

Yes, of course it is. This is why using they for everyone or learning and using peoples’ names is a tempting solution, even if everything or something about a person’s body/gender expression/voice, etc. seems to point in one direction. While this isn’t necessarily something for everyone to do, it is in my opinion certainly something to practice for those in the health, education and social services. Being able to stay comfortably in these places means life, health and well-being. This is where front-line contact is most critical.

TIMP in the media!

“We have to be willing to fail and have humility to be kind and be respectful when we are corrected and then move on,” Airton told Mashable. “That’s a very hard skill.”

TIMP has been featured in the big leagues of social media journalism! On Mashable!

In February I was contacted by a journalist from Mashable in connection with this blog. The interview and fact-checking process made me think a lot about being and presenting myself as a gender-neutral pronoun user and a trans spectrum person, particularly with regard to the media. It was interesting and the journalist was very respectful, but I have delayed sharing the article on TIMP until now because I feel ambivalent about being portrayed as someone who struggles with “dread and anxiety” or who “regularly navigates” a “complicated reality.” This is not untrue, but it’s hard to feel like one is commenting from a position as a long-time blogger and a scholar (in addition to writing TIMP, I’m an academic who researches and publishes on gender and sexual diversity issues) but is eventually represented as someone who’s authority only comes from their individual (and dreadful and anxious) existence. I think this references a trend in how LGBTQ people are portrayed, and also how we portray ourselves in order to make sure that we get money, space and time in places like schools to do the work we know is important. However, at this point my academic and TIMP selves are oddly merging and I must desist!

That said, however, TIMP appreciates the publicity and the willingness of Mashable to take up this important issue!

‘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.