other gender-neutral pronouns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing the No Big Deal Campaign!

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



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!



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.

‘What about IT?’ When someone uses ‘it’ as a gender-neutral pronoun

Anonymous asked:

“Hey, a friend of mine ( who is in GSA with me ) wants me to use it/it’s for their pronoun. I’ve always been told to never use that pronoun, as it dehumanizes people, but my friend claims that they identify as an object. I’m not really sure what to do, as I can’t find any resources on it :/”

Hello Anonymous!

So glad you asked. This is a tough one. Yes, most of the time, it/it’s is considered to be dehumanizing. In fact, I don’t know anyone who uses this pronoun in an affirming way. I think it’s very risky because it invites people with no knowledge of gender diversity to associate someone with a pronoun that has a horrible history as an instrument not only of homophobia and transphobia, but racism and ableism, too.

That said…if this is what your friend wants, and this makes your friend feel comfortable, this is what is required from you as a friend and ally. (Nerd moment: there is a whole school of social theory on neo-materialism and post-humanism where scholars think about ‘inanimate’ objects as far more than that. This school informs my own academic work, and if you or your friend want more on this write back some time.)

THAT said…I have a comparison to offer. When I was 17 and newly out as queer my much older brother (a straight masculine dude) asked me how he should describe me to friends. I wildly preferred queer or (at the time) dyke to gay or lesbian. However, I knew that my brother – this was about 15 years ago – would probably be looked on as possibly homophobic for using the terms queer and dyke in largely heterosexual contexts. And so, because I wouldn’t be there to hear it and because it didn’t feel like the biggest deal to me, I said “ok brother, call me gay if you have to.”

What I mean with this comparison is that someone who hears you using ‘it’ for your friend could possibly have a negative reaction that catches you up in the crossfire. You will likely have to do a lot of explaining to almost everyone with whom you ever discuss your friend. This could be another reason why it feels uncomfortable to use it, for you. While this is not a reason to disrespect your friend’s choice, it IS a very valid reason to have a conversation together about these kind of situations and your feelings/need for more guidance.

I hope that helps, and thank you for writing!


Fearing partner rejection because of a gender-neutral pronoun request

theleviathanfromhell asked:

“Hey um a few nights ago I sent my boyfriend some pronouns I asked if he can use (xhe/xhim/xir and they) and he got somewhat confused, so I immediately backed out and told him never mind and all that. I’m a bit scared that if I ask him again he might refuse or reject that idea, or i’m wrong and he’ll accept it. I don’t know, i’m just nervous to ask him again. If you can, please tell me if you have any tips on this situation?”

Dear leviathanfromhell,

I’ll start by saying that this is tough. Rejection from the people closest too us – even more quiet kinds like skepticism or fatigue – can be devastating when we are asking for a pronoun change. This might particularly be the case for gender-neutral pronoun users because there isn’t a lot of public consciousness about usage or implications. So we end up doing more education than our hearts or souls can sometimes bear. All this is to say that I feel you.

I think there are two things going on here, based on the information you have provided. What do you think your boyfriend (who I will call B for…boyfriend) was confused about? Was it a reaction to the medium (‘sent’ implies text or email) and the lack of a face-to-face conversation about something pretty significant? Was it about gender-neutral pronouns in general, the particular pronouns you asked for (which are unfamiliar to most), or the implications that B may have presumed based on the request (that you might perhaps transition to some degree – a common assumption – and what this might mean for B or your relationship)? If gender hasn’t come up before in conversation, or if you hadn’t talked to B about your gender until this pronoun request, there may be many reasons for the confusion. (Here I’m making an assumption that your choice to use alt pronouns is connected to gender, which it isn’t always…if this is wrong I apologize.)

For others reading, I’m basically suggesting that a pronoun request coming ‘out of nowhere’ (at least in terms of how it might feel for someone receiving the request) is probably going to cause some confusion. This is basically a tactical issue in terms of how you plan the conversation.

That having been said, it is clear that B’s reaction gave you cause for fear and discomfort. This makes me think that you may have good reason to expect that B’s confusion isn’t the benign kind like being caught off-guard (this is the kind we can kind of manage with conversation tactics) but rather a pattern you are recognizing. While you try to figure out if B might reject you (and/or your request), think about how B generally speaks about pronouns, gender, trans people, etc. OR whether B tends to be supportive or not of new things or ideas you have (or that B’s friends or family members have). These could be equally telling. Alternately, it could be that you have experienced judgmental rejection before from others (friends, family or partners) and this is coming back to haunt you in B’s reaction which – and I know basically nothing here – could be just ordinary and not malevolent or prejudicial. What is firing your furnace of fear and discomfort?

Only you know what’s best here, leviathanfromhell. First, and only if you feel safe at at liberty to do so (like, rejection will not result in losing housing, financial or other support), you can choose to have the conversation again but differently (if you haven’t already…sorry for the lag-time this month). This way you can gauge, in person, the kind and degree of confusion B is having. You could also talk to mutual friends you trust and prepare for the chat. These friends could perhaps also be resources for B to practice or express their feelings about your pronoun change (which do exist, and to deny these just isn’t realistic).

If you don’t feel safe having the conversation again, it would be useful to think about whether you are willing or able to be in a relationship where your preferred pronouns aren’t used, or if you feel like you can’t ask for your needs to be met. It might take time to get it right, but while there is time being taken I hope you can feel like B is trying and being kind. As I have already suggested, though, it would be useful for you to think about whether this is coming from B or if it reflects an expectation that you bring into the relationship from prior experiences.

Hope that helps,