As a non-binary trans* person, I have been very apologetic in my life about pronouns. That’s my own issue, thinking that non-binary pronouns are too difficult for cisgender or binary-identified trans people to understand. I didn’t give those people enough credit.
I have no personal pronoun preference as of this point in my life, as long as those pronouns are non-binary. (I have said that I prefer male pronouns over female pronouns, just to show that there is difference between my assigned gender and identity. Male pronouns are still a way lower preference from me than non-binary ones.)
For a while, I chose to use “they”, because I felt like that was easier for some people, because it was at least a word they’ve heard before. You should never feel pressured to choose a pronoun because it’s easier for others to use, but I did, especially because I felt like I had to, based upon my gender presentation.
I quickly realized that I was wrong; “they” is surprisingly difficult for people to use in the singular form, especially after they’ve seen someone. Something about our culture means that, unless there are visual “clues” that you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth (or even if there are clues), you will be given a pronoun based on your appearance.
[Edit: of course there are issues with grammar, which is why I’ve included resources in that arena.]
But, until we see someone, or have been told other pronouns to use, “they” comes naturally (unless of course it’s involving a profession or otherwise where we use sexism to assume the male default).
I have to go to an internist about my blood work. I wonder what they will say. I need to have them send a letter to my endocrinologist, stating their opinion on my how my medications interact. I hope they’ll do that soon.
Congrats! You’ve just used “they” in the singular form!
Example 2 (courtesy of my friend, Ethan; this takes place behind the counter at a grocery store deli):
Mike answers the phone. It is his first day at work, so he passes the phone to Cameron: “I have a customer on the phone who would like to order a cake.” Cameron replies, “Okay, just ask her …(corrects self)… them what they would like on it.” Cameron corrected himself because he realized he doesn’t know the customer’s gender.
Cameron used “they” in the singular.
So why is it so difficult to use when people request it? Because you’ve seen them. That is beyond hurtful to non-binary identified people. When people request a pronoun, even if they give you another option, go with the one they prefer. Always. You can do it, with practice.
We’ve been inoculated to judge gender based on appearance or assumed gender or sex, and even in the LGBT community I’ve observed a lot of resistance or lack of respect when binary-nonconforming folks ask to be referred to non-binary pronouns or even “they.” I admit its hard to un-train myself from labeling people, but that’s not the fault of these folks who are only asking for respect and to be acknowledged as a person. It is my task to practice and learn, not someone else’s to constantly remind me.
[EDIT: changed “inoculated” to “inculcated”]
While explicitly stating all are welcome, this poster forecloses the existence of individuals who do not conform to the gender binary. (It is also interesting to note, though this may be me reading too much into it, the order in which the figures are arranged. In a society that reads from left to right, this creates a hierarchy of what appears to be gay couples, then lesbian couples, then straight couples, and then single men and single women. Of all the possible orders, why did the artist choose this one?)
I read it as binary because the figures used to illustrate it are historically used to symbolize the two socially constructed binary sexes/genders, male=man, female=woman. As such, whether they are cross dressing or not, whether it was the artists’ conscious intention or not, it still perpetuates the idea that there are only two possible gender-expressions, or that those are and should be the dominant ones. There is no room, or space, in other words, for other types of expressions of gender, for other sexes, for folks who would see this and feel “othered.”
The phrase says “All are welcome here,” but the illustration forecloses the possibilities of that “all.”
It’s easy to get absorbed in our own problems. Between dealing with unsupportive parents, hostile work environments, tricky legal issues, and medical nightmares, most of us hardly have any time to think about anything else. As trans* men in particular, it’s difficult to remember we’re not the only ones under the “T”. Our voices are so loud on sites like youtube and tumblr, we tend to drown out or forget trans* women.
This is troublesome, because it allows us to forget that transgender women (particularly women of color) are disproportionately the target of hate crimes, that 44% of LGBTQ murder victims are trans* women, that trans* women have particular difficulty accessing health care and enormously high rates of HIV, and that they are so frequently (far more frequently than transgender men) the butt of jokes in the media (take, for example, the recent Family Guy episode called “Quagmire’s Dad).
Of course the point of this post is not to play the oppression olympics, but to issue a call to every individual who considers themselves a transgender activist or member of the trans* community: DO NOT FORGET YOUR TRANS* SISTERS. Trans* women in our society are often the victims of transmisogyny (what happens when sexism and transphobia climb into bed together) and face unique issues that are often glossed over when the struggle over trans* issues focuses on trans* men (and transmasculine individuals in general). Yes, as trans* men we have it hard. We have it very hard, but at the moment we have more privilege than trans* women and we should not use that privilege to abandon them the way transgender people have so often been abandoned by the GLB movement.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is fast approaching (Nov 28th) and is the perfect reminder that this is not just about us (in fact, it is hardly about trans* men at all), it is about them too. We are all under the “T”.