trans

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

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Writing fiction with singular they

frostwetter asked:

Heyhey! I’m trying to write an intro for a genderqueer person in English (not my native language) and I was wondering – when I use their name in a sentence like “Kim is a professional wrestler and has a cat.” and then “They have a dog, too.” Do you switch between has/have depending on using their name or “they” as pronoun or do you always use “have”? I read about a discussion on using “they” simply as a singular pronoun, too and now I’m confused! Hope you get what I mean and can help me out! 🙂

Hi there frostwetter!

I’m excited to have a growing number of posts from writers! This must mean that people are exploring singular they in greater number, and I hope we’ll see more stories featuring non-binary, etc. characters.

I’m working on a writing guide, but in the mean time I’m going to offer this post on singular they and verb conjugation. As you can see, you always use ‘have’ with they (‘they have a dog’) but ‘has’ with a name (’Lee has a dog’). The trick is in how you construct your sentences. If you begin using ‘they have’ in a sentence, try not to switch to ‘Lee has’ in the same sentence. Also, be careful of referring to multiple people with ‘they’ – if you do this in one paragraph, try only referring to your character with name/has.

Writing with singular they, in my view, is its own art form. I hope that as more examples emerge it will become easier to do!

Hope that helps,

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

Gender-neutral parenting: Part One

Anonymous asked:

Heya Lee! Love your stuff! My partner and I recently had a kid and we’re using they/them as pronouns until our kid wants to be known by a different pronoun (if they ever do). Lots of our friends are totally on board and make a great effort to use they/them, however family is completely different. They chose to constantly use gendered pronouns and gendered stereotypes. I’ve tried explaining it to them, but they just shout, get angry and transphobic. What can I do?

Hi Anonymous!

Thank you so much for your message and question. Many folks are choosing this route and, I think, encountering similar obstacles. It takes an incredible amount of work and persistence to parent in this way and I have a tremendous respect for you and others who are doing this.

I’m afraid so say that the simple answer is the hardest one: boundaries and consequences. Because you are in a position of parental authority and can advocate for your parenting choices and child’s right, as long as you are not beholden to family members for resources or child care you can enforce boundaries and consequences. People are welcome to ask questions and ask for resources, but if they persist in this behaviour they will not be spending time with your child. It is harsh and heart-breaking, but if you need it to be a (temporary) deal-breaker, perhaps it needs to be. This choice deserves as much respect as the choice to, say, raise your child without eating meat or processed foods. Family members can gripe all they want, but this is not their choice.

Other options are similar to those for GNP users ourselves: engage a go-between or same-age/status ally to field questions and concerns from family members on your behalf to share the load and perhaps be present when you can’t be (e.g., at family gatherings).
I’m looking into the possibility of a guest post with a parent – stay tuned!

Thanks so much,

Lee

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!

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.

 

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