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