If anyone ends up reading this blog, I’m sure it will not be long until someone creates a stink about my using gender-agnostic pronouns for transgender people. In order to head that controversy off at the pass, I’ve decided to explain at the outset my reasons for writing this way.
The fact is I use genderless pronouns for everyone in written language regardless of nir morphology, gender identity, expression, or assignment at birth. (I’m trying as much as I can to do the same in spoken language but it’s more difficult to keep it up. I also prefer the term gender-agnostic or genderless to gender-neutral because these terms do not assume that male and female are “opposite” sexes, like acids and bases that can be canceled out into a “neutral” solution.)
Here are my reasons for using genderless pronouns for everyone:
- It eliminates the problem of speshul snowflake pronouns. I don’t need to tell you my “preferred pronoun” and hope that you parrot it back to me. And you don’t have to maintain a roster of a dozen different pronouns for all of your friends.
- It focuses on what I can control rather than playing the victim. I can’t realistically expect that anyone is going to call me anything other than “he.” But it will probably be pretty obvious I don’t like it if I’m constantly using a genderless pronoun for everyone else.
- It prevents the conflation of sexual morphology, identity, and gender expression. How can you know someone identifies with a particular gender? There are people with a lifelong predominantly androgenic hormonal mix that identify more with the female gender and present themselves thusly despite not using hormone replacement therapy. There are people who have had a mastectomy and adopt a masculine gender presentation, but still identify with the female gender. There are transgender people who are too afraid to transition but still don’t identify with the genders they were assigned at birth. Can you assume how any of these people experiences themselves?
- It reduces the pressure placed on transgender people to pass as the “opposite” sex. Some transgender people find being referred to using the genders they were assigned at birth very painful. For this and other reasons, they make great efforts to hide their morphological characteristics and sometimes adopt exaggerated, stereotypical gender expressions to prevent the pain of what is sometimes called being “misgendered.” If we used genderless pronouns for everyone, no one could ever be misgendered, and we would be freer to adopt any gender expression we see fit.
- It honors the fact that all gendering is “misgendering.” Any time you have assigned someone to a gender you have closed your mind to the unique person in front of you and shut them away in a box.
- It avoids the oppression inherent in gendered pronouns. Imagine being raised in Douglas Hofstadter’s racially-gendered alternate reality. Even if it were commonplace, could you ever once justify using pronouns which were divided based on the color of one’s skin? Why then is it ever acceptable ever to use separate pronouns depending on any other morphologically-based caste division?
- It displaces the burden of legitimacy off of transgender and non-binary identies and onto cisgender and binary identities. So far, when I’m presenting as obviously transgender, the best result I can get even out of the most considerate allies is something like “So, you prefer ‘he,’ right?” I think it’s great that they’re trying. Sure, it would be slightly better if they said “what is your preferred pronoun?” but they would surely never ask this of someone who they have assumed is cisgender. If we all used genderless pronouns for everyone, it would be up to cisgender and binary-identified people to explain the legitimacy of their genders rather than the other way around.
Nicky: That’s what ne said.
“Cisgender” “Man”: Why did you refer to me as “ne?”
Nicky: It’s a genderless pronoun. I use it for everyone.
“Cisgender” “Man”: Please call me “he.”
“Cisgender” “Man”: Because I’m a man!
Nicky: What do you mean?
“Cisgender” “Man”: I have [insert arbitrary characteristic not shared by all people assigned to the male gender at birth].
Nicky: Why does that mean I should anoint you into a superior caste using a different pronoun? Do you want a penis trophy too?
I hope not many people are offended by this approach. But I suppose the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
What do you think about using genderless pronouns for everyone? Let me know in the comments.