As promised in an earlier post…
Now it’s time for Fun with Gender Neutral Pronouns!!
I am really tolerant, trust me, and yet for some reason I have a hard time incorporating gender neutral pronouns into my language. I seldom take the politically correct high road and ask the question of a new group of people, “which gender pronouns would you all like to use?” (Although that would be a GREAT ice breaker at parties.) I do however, believe that language is important and how a society refers to different groups and individuals often reflects the value that groups are given within that society. Women used to be referred to using diminutive terms and that reflected how women were viewed. Of course arguments can be made that even after language changes we still have a long way to go. So while I continue to piss off the gender free linguists of the world, let’s talk pronouns.
My first round of searches made me think I should go a little lighter on myself regarding my PC nature. One page started with the question of why people are resistant to gender-neutral pronouns and then the next sentence was, “rather than try to give a single compact answer here, i decided to write a long multifaceted thing resembling a Usenet thread.” It was indeed long and I gave in. There weren’t even any graphics. I was simultaneously being asked to move into the future by changing my language and read something that seemed like I pulled it off of ARPANET. I got as far as reading about how even capitalizing “I” was a bit offensive and I fled.
So the first thing I learned was that if you want me to start using your neologisms then you need to make some pop songs, sitcoms, fancy web sites, and youtube videos. This is where I learn new language from. Hello, “bling”? So get on that.
I then stumbled upon something called “Spivak” pronouns. Immediately after that I went to IMDB because I thought that Spivak might have been Sean Penn’s name in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. It was Spicoli. I think that Spivak might make a good insult. “Way to go Spivak.” Until that catches on, Spivak pronouns will make you sound Cockney. “E was selling matches in London, when ey decided to take eir in and teach eir proper English. Ey enjoyed eirselves quite a bit.” Michael Spivak, a mathematician and author wrote about these forms. He wrote such books as, “The Joy of TeX” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Calculus”. These pronouns have caught on some in the virtual gaming world. Which reminds me that at some point in the future I would like to take on the question of how gay you are if you are straight in real life but gay in second life.
Another construct is to use “ze/sie” and “hir” to replace “he/she” and “him/her”. My first encounter with using these words happened while talking with someone who was gender queer (neither identifying as male or female). I went in with a great deal of hope that I would change my speech seamlessly and leave patting myself on the back for my free to be you and me spirit. Unfortunately, my tolerance tends decrease each time someone tells you they are a vegan and absolutely plummets when someone uses the word, “lover” seriously. So that encounter was ill-fated. I was inclined to learn more though which is good. This site does a good run-down of different gender identities some of which would call on your gender-neutral pronoun usage skillz. It also introduces something I didn’t know about, the “Two Spirit”, a Native American person who embodies both masculine and feminine genders. Would you have to take their picture twice to steal their soul or are they intertwined? So many questions, so many offensive questions. Which leads me to this.
Tolerance and understanding are key. It is really important to keep an open mind and as quoted by Henry James, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.” I believe it is also a good idea to try and start difficult conversations by finding out what we have in common and then go from there instead of the all at once method. If I wanted to tell my mother that was dating an alien, I might start off by talking to her about how much we both like stargazing. This would give her time to process my intergalactic relationship (I am not dating an alien). We need to give people time to process and accept that people do it at different rates and in different ways. Now I am off to go find a gender-neutral pal willing to share a bowl of bacon with me while we discuss my Two Spirit questions.