user question

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,

Lee

Clueless yet well-intentioned: Tips on changing pronouns at your office

vulvalove asked:

“hello! i currently work as a low-level staffmember (& only employee doing LGBT work) on a progressive college campus with a bunch of moderately conservative administrators. many are very well-intentioned, & all lack education about trans* communities & gender. students get it, but staff/faculty/admin are clueless. i’ve begun to shift my pronouns in my personal life & want to use “they” at work. how would you recommend i “rebrand” myself where i work with hundreds of clueless people? TYSM! :)”

Hi vulvalove!

I really appreciate this question, particularly because I too work on college campuses. I don’t think that many people who are fairly conservative about gender would describe themselves that way, particularly because ‘gender’ is something so ordinary and ingrained that most don’t even think they have views or feelings on it at all! Good intentions are nice, of course, but they really have no effect on what comes out of one’s mouth.

First, I’d suggest taking an audit of your supports and options, if you haven’t already done so. Is there a diversity officer on campus? Is there a ‘safe space’ etc. organization on campus (e.g., McGill Safe Space) that could come in and do (some of) the heavy-lifting for you in the form of a workshop for your co-workers? (Um or given what you said about your job, is this you?) Do you have the support and understanding of a supervisor? Would that supervisor be open to learning about gender diversity and inclusion issues as a springboard to making change more broadly? Would your organization like to contract me to come in and give a workshop on shifting pronouns (joke)?

Second, I’d consider how overt you want this ‘re-branding’ (love it) to be. My suggestions above are all about education, and that can be helpful. However, you want people to use your pronouns and not just expand their minds – the first is a practical goal and the second is a nice incidental benefit of working with you (yes, they are fortunate). On the practical goal front, I’d suggest putting it on the table at a staff meeting and telling people what it means (with the support of your administrator, if possible, who stresses it as an equity issue). You can give them options like just using your name, and guidelines like (if appropriate) ‘don’t include me in events, photos, messages, etc. that are just for women / just for men’ and ‘don’t refer to me as a woman, man, etc.’ depending on your needs. I believe that being as practical as possible with otherwise non-knowledgeable people is key. At the meeting, you can have some resources ready (like this blog) to hand out, too.

To the extent that you feel comfortable, the options are limitless in terms of other more direct action point-of-service things: make a sign for your desk, wear a button, give out candy for a correct gendering (I’m an extrovert so I might try this one as people usually enjoy a bit of camp). Of course, these suggestions all depend on what kind of environment you work in, how safe you feel there and how many strangers you see on a daily basis. Are pronouns your first/worst problem or is it the ‘hello young lady / hello young man’ variety of comments that also trouble you? The first is probably a co-worker issue, and the second probably more of a public issue.

Please keep asking questions or Tweet me or whatever you like. TIMP and I are here for you.

Hope this helps,

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

Can anyone use ‘they’ as a pronoun, regardless of identity?

turtlesnapp asked:

“Hello!! I am a cis girl and have always felt like a girl 100% of the time. I’ve never questioned my gender, but they pronouns seems very comforting and I was thinking about using them in addition to she. I identify very strongly with she.. but I also am thinking I find comfort in they, and I was wondering. Am I stepping over certain bounds? Am I abusing something by doing this? And if it turns out I don’t feel comfy with they anymore? Think you could help me out? :((“

Hi there turtlesnapp! Thank you so much for asking!

My personal opinion (all I’ve got) is that people choose to use gender-neutral pronouns for the very reason that you articulate with regard to your own situation: comfort. I know people of many different stripes, who use a variety of identity terms and understand their genders in many different ways, who would prefer that others use a gender-neutral mode of address when referring to them.

There is so much diversity among trans* and gender non-conforming folks that there cannot be a stable boundary to step over. I’m sure that many people would suggest keeping in mind the different barriers faced by people who are not cis-gendered and use gender-neutral pronouns. One example could be the (potentially) greater ease of people who can be choosey about when to request their chosen pronoun and when to go with whatever people are using for them, in the interest of safety or just getting by. To the extent that you feel safe and able, I would suggest using your evolving experiences as a ‘they’ user to be a vocal ally to other (and particularly trans*) users and educate those around you. Many of us don’t feel safe doing this work, and if you find that your identifying as cis-gendered gives you more opportunities to do so – which it very well may not depending on your circumstances – please carry it forward as best you can.

I’m confident that requesting gender-neutral pronouns will change how you are received, questioned and engaged by others – keep in touch!

Hope this helps,

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

Risking offence? When to ask or not ask someone’s pronoun preference

Anonymous asked:

“I’m worried about offending people if I ask what their pronoun preference is. I’ve been told to ask people up front but what if I make someone uncomfortable? Who do I ask and who do I not ask?”

This is an excellent question and a common concern. Some people will be offended, or just will simply not understand. I’m going to go out on a limb and imagine this play-by-play is what worries you: you ask someone, they don’t understand what/why you are asking, you explain why, the person thinks that they look like someone who would have a gender-related i.e., pronoun issue, they get upset.

People get upset because ‘looking like xyz person’ with a pronoun preference generally means, in the popular imagination, looking like something other than normatively straight or normatively gendered. And what’s so bad about that? Basically, people would likely be offended because of a stigma based in homophobia or its cousin, transphobia.

But just because we can trace the roots of the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This situation still has to be somehow navigated.

The question remains: are there certain people who you should ask or not, based on a visual survey? I feel like this is dicey. Follow your gut, but do your best to be open to whatever reaction someone may have. Even someone as queer-looking as the day is long (like me for instance) might not appreciate the question, and that’s ok.

In workshops and other spaces where mindfulness around pronouns is an established habit (i.e., at the beginning everyone says their name and pronoun preference), we sometimes imagine that this practice will permeate the social world. I have my doubts, at least for some time to come. And I promise that groups of pronoun-conscious people at, say, a BBQ do not generally stop and do pronoun go-arounds.

So what do you do?

In reality, I very rarely have to ask someone what their pronoun is because I generally just listen to how other people describe them and avoid using pronouns for them until I am sure. If I am still really unsure or if I think someone’s pronoun (or chosen name) has shifted, I find a quiet moment to ask an acquaintance, a mutual friend, etcetera.

Other people doing this work without getting the pronoun user involved is really nice, and also completely possible. So consider listening and refraining from using any pronouns until you have figured it out, and if that fails, ask someone else.

Hope that helps,

Lee