I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of years about gender and sexuality. I’ve been learning a lot more about other people and about myself too.
I’ve mentioned before that I only recently learned that demi-sexual is a thing, and is in fact, a thing that explains so much of my life (and why I will never ever be able to do modern-style dating if something terrible happens to DH).
I have *always* thought that gender was just a construct and an unfair one at that. I have never understood the actual concept of people being male or people being female. Male and female to me was always something that society assigned and assigned roles for based on my chromosomes and physical characteristics at birth. I’ve never cared about my clothing being masculine or feminine, just that it be comfortable and appropriate for whatever venue I have to be in (I LOVED grunge in the 1990s, and my pandemic wardrobe is DH’s old t-shirts with workout shorts/pants). I have always figured I was female because it is much easier to be female than it is to be a trans man. If DH was ok with it and I had a magic wand, I would totally switch sexes and reap the benefit of all that male privilege.
At some point, I realized that other people do identify as male or female and not because society has tricked them, because trans women exist. In order to give up that male privilege, they must really truly identify with being female. Thus it makes sense that some people truly identify with being male, even if their chromosomes are XX. And there are likely XX-types who feel they must be women and XY-types who feel they must be men. This is just one of those things that I don’t understand, much like the way my demi-sexuality makes it so I don’t understand instant sexual attraction. But just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. People are different and that’s ok.
After a lot of thought, I have decided of the types of genders listed out there, I am probably non-binary. But I’m also the kind of non-binary that doesn’t have gender dysphoria (so I can’t even answer many of those “am I non-binary” online quiz questions). That is because I don’t understand the concept of gender at all (except as a construct of how society views me). I don’t care if people gender me male or female or non-binary or what have you. People who are non-binary who really identify with not being male or female might have negative effects being mis-gendered as something they’re not. Me, I don’t care. It’s not that I need to come out because I’m fine with how other people gender me (other than the whole misogyny thing) because my view of gender is exactly that– how other people gender me.
Lots of people have started listing their preferred pronouns on their zoom profiles and email signatures. The idea is that if CIS-gendered people (that’s people whose gender identity matches their chromosomes/sex characteristics) start doing this, it will seem more normal for trans and non-binary people.
The one part of my gender identity that seems real is that I do not want to label myself. I do not want to bring attention to my gender. I don’t want to list she/her because I resent being treated in the way that women are treated. I don’t want to put down he/him because people look at me and see a woman and that would cause cognitive dissonance and problems I don’t want to deal with, even though I would prefer to be treated as if I were male. (I wish we were *all* treated like white men on the lowest difficulty setting and given the benefit of the doubt etc.) I don’t want to put they/them because it doesn’t bother me to be referred to as she or he and I know it’s hard for people to get used to the they/them construct and I don’t want to be the person they practice on. (Maybe that’s selfish? But I don’t think I have to always sacrifice myself. I’m already gendered as a woman by society.) I don’t want to draw attention to myself or to have to explain this whole, “I don’t understand gender” thing. Someone would likely try to explain it to me(!)
On a recent anonymous survey, we were given multiple choices for gender and I happily picked female and non-binary. When I only get to pick one of male/female/other, I assume they mean “how do others view you” so I pick female. I think this is different from the pronoun listing because with the pronoun listing it really feels like I am saying, “this is what I *prefer*” and it isn’t. I would prefer people treat me (and everyone else) like a dude. I would prefer there not be genders at all! (But I understand that some people prefer gender, so as long as it isn’t hurting others, do what you will.)
If I were forced to do the pronoun thing, I would write: (whatever/whatever). But I know that seems flip and not helpful for people who want to make their genders clear because it is part of their internal identity. So I’m glad we’re not forced. (Briefly considers an email sig with “pronouns: it’s all good,” rejects it.)
And I think this is ok. I’m not making fun of listing the pronouns. I understand why they’re important, and I think it is great that CIS people are adding them to their profiles. But I do not want to do it myself. Not because I think they’re bad or wrong but because I really do not want to label myself with a gender. I hope this absence doesn’t harm anyone or make me less of an ally, but there’s so little that I care about when it comes to gender that the fact that I do care about this one thing… well, I think I should listen to myself, especially since I’ve determined it isn’t coming from a place of internalized bigotry. I don’t want to lie and say I prefer she/her when I in fact do not prefer it. It turns out that I really do care that I don’t care.
Also, I love the comic strip, egscomics even though the beginning is immature and the storylines take years. I think it’s neat how the author has played with gender identity and how different cast members have different levels of it. Now I have the Ranma 1/2 season 1 theme stuck in my head.
Have you put pronouns on your stuff? Why or why not?
January 27, 2021 at 5:42 am
I keep trying to put my pronouns in my Slack profile next to my name, but I think my employer has some admin controls where it keeps getting overwritten/erased with just my name.
Anyway, not that you were asking for advice, but you should do what makes you feel comfortable. If you don’t want to come out as non-binary because of the potential attention, that’s OK! If you change your mind at some point, that’s OK too! Hopefully you have a community of queer folk (online or in meatspace) that you can have access to where you can talk about these feelings if you want. Even though it’s no big deal to you now, it may be something over time you want to explore and seek guidance and other perspectives.
January 27, 2021 at 6:06 am
I… don’t think it’s a big deal? Just a thing. And I don’t want to make it a big deal or a thing because doing so would create effort where there currently is none and I’m fine the way I am. This is not my hill. I don’t need support for being demisexual either. I’m happily married. This isn’t about coming out or whatever— if someone asks why I don’t put pronouns I will happily explain, but me bringing it up could have negative consequences for trans people and *i don’t care* how people gender me.
There are a lot of things about me that don’t actually need intervention or support even though they would if they were negatively impacting my life. When I went to the therapist for test anxiety, fear of crowds also pinged, but unlike test anxiety it wasn’t affecting my life at all, now that I’m no longer forced to go to teen dances, so they said no need for intervention.
I’m not sure how to convey this point I’m trying to make. But if trans people were less of the national conversation and I didn’t read so much KJ Charles and webcomics, hadn’t met trans women, etc. I would have gone through life happily assuming everyone else thought gender was just a social construct too.
I genuinely do not believe that there is anything wrong with me. This is just who I am. There’s nothing wrong with not getting physical attraction right away. There’s nothing wrong with being physically attracted right away. Ditto understanding gender. It’s just who I am. And… I can’t really understand needing a support group for that. Or guidance. And I already do a lot of exploring other perspectives, or else I wouldn’t be thinking about this stuff at all.
January 27, 2021 at 7:58 am
Maybe an analogy would help. I don’t feel like I need support for this in the same way I don’t feel like I need to join a support group for having brown hair gradually going grey or for my second toe being shorter than my big toe. It’s just the way I am and it’s not a big deal. If someone had dysphoria about their hair color, then that could involve a support group. If I were continually harassed about my hair color, that would also likely lead me to needing a support group. But looking female and not caring about pronouns… there’s no problem there.
January 27, 2021 at 5:56 am
I recently saw someone who listed their pronouns as “he/him or they/them.” That’s a possible middle ground if forces to identify.
I don’t typically list my pronouns but will give them if asked to. I don’t force my students to, as I don’t want to out anyone. I do have a trans coworker who is not technically out at work. I refer to said coworker by last name, and I try to avoid using pronouns to discuss him. He uses my last name too, so it’s our “thing.” We are friends outside of work, and I like to use his preferred name and gender.
January 27, 2021 at 6:11 am
If forced to identify, I will choose all three!
I really like honorifics that don’t imply gender! I wish we all had those options and didn’t need to join the armed forces or do graduate school to get them.
January 27, 2021 at 7:08 am
I think it’s fine the way you have it. I’ve seen some discourse out there saying that requiring pronouns may force people to out themselves or just label themselves in a way they aren’t comfortable with, which seems reasonable to me. And I’ve definitely seen at least one person on twitter who had something like “pronouns: any”, so it might just depend on context/community whether that’s something you can actually list.
I don’t put my pronouns everywhere, but I try to put them in important places. My syllabus has a “please call me” section, where I list the (non-first name) terms I’d like students to call me and list my pronouns. I also have my pronouns listed on my twitter.
I’m also one of those “XX-types who feel they must be women”, even though my level of femininity has gone up and down over time. I was very anti anything girly as a teen, in a straw-feminist kind of way, and I think if I had known that nonbinary was an identity, I might have taken it on at that point. But my gender feelings then were also heavily mixed up in disliking my body and sexuality, and feeling like I wasn’t pretty or thin enough to be feminine. When I started embracing dresses and makeup in my 20s, I felt much more secure in myself as a woman.
January 27, 2021 at 7:23 am
Ah, I’m glad I’m not the only person who is having these thoughts! But the people encouraging pronouns among CIS-gendered people also seem to be the kind of people who would understand more gender fluid people not wanting to do it, at least in my experience. And yet, I suspect some people would not appreciate pronouns: any on my work communications (which I would definitely put if I had to choose pronouns!)
You shouldn’t ever dislike your body and sexuality! Boo society!!!! Nobody has to be thin to be feminine and … pretty is also something I don’t really understand internally (I think I have a post on that somewhere in terms of men, but even for women it’s just the trappings for what society tells me) so… I can’t really address that (you likely are and always were pretty!) but *I am glad you are secure now!!!*
Stupid patriarchy causing unhappiness all over the place.
January 27, 2021 at 12:10 pm
Yeah, pretty is a weird phenomenon. Also, I feel like my original comment may have implied that one has to be feminine to be a woman (or vice versa), which definitely isn’t the case. But feeling like I was “allowed” to be feminine was part of what made me more comfy identifying as a woman, instead of feeling weird about that label or like I needed to reject it.
January 27, 2021 at 8:45 am
When I was a teenager, I definitely did not want to be a woman. I really honestly hoped I wasn’t one as a kid, but then I got my period and breasts and my hopes were dashed. By the time I was in my early twenties, I decided there was clearly no other option, so I might as well embrace it. But now in my early thirties, I have realized there are other options, so I’m working on actually figuring it out.
January 27, 2021 at 7:11 am
My feeling about listing pronouns is that I’m damned if I’m going to hand people I haven’t even met a tool with which to stereotype me. If forced, I’d probably get snarky and list them in Latin, or ancient Greek.
January 27, 2021 at 7:24 am
There is an element of that too. If I were XY I would probably want to be stereotyped as male in work situations! IBTP. Stupid patriarchy.
January 27, 2021 at 7:26 am
I so appreciate this post, esp. this: “The one part of my gender identity that seems real is that I do not want to label myself.” Same. I think all the new labels actually reinforces the binary as ‘norm.’
I’m coming at this as (a) someone who teaches gender studies courses on occasion, (b) someone others would call “cis” (though I HATE that term) because I don’t have any dysphoria and I appear mostly “femme,” (c) someone who refuses to co-opt the term “queer” to describe myself (but also I am not “straight” and mostly, as a long term happily single person I don’t like the amatonormativity of our culture), and (d) parents a teen who actually refers to themself as ‘nonbinary.’ For LG, their new name is important and pronouns used to be but now they don’t really care (we try to use they/them, but Tiny Boy still has trouble). LG has no “dysphoria” at this time, and if LG were my age they would be happily “butch,” but that’s not language the kids use these days. Mostly with LG’s peer group I see “nonbinary” as easy vocabulary to say “I don’t like normative gender presentation, especially for female bodied people.”
Having said all that, I have enough students (like generally about 1/4 of any class) who use they/them pronouns that I have finally put mine in my zoom handle, though not my email signature. I invite ALL my students to share pronouns on the first day, and some of them do say “pronouns don’t matter”; what’s important here is that the straight white dudes DO say he/him, so it feels pretty good as an exercise. Long comment….gotta get back to work.
January 27, 2021 at 7:31 am
This is a really fascinating comment that speaks to me so much. Thank you!
February 2, 2021 at 10:56 pm
I wish I had seen this post sooner after it was posted, because I am so fascinated by the conversation. I’m curious, Gwinne, as to why you hate the term cis?
January 27, 2021 at 7:31 am
(Hi there! Just a quick note that best practices are to write “trans man” or “trans woman” as two words. “Trans” is an adjective. Writing it as one word implies — and I know you don’t mean it that way — that a trans man is not a man or a trans woman is not a woman.)
January 27, 2021 at 7:35 am
Ok, I will change it! Thanks for the note! Trans men and women are men and women (respectively!)
January 27, 2021 at 7:39 am
That also makes a lot of sense– trans is an adjective. A similar thing is going on in academic writing about race– people are moving from saying Blacks and Whites to using Black people and White people. (It is a tough push in economics, given how awful many of the older white dudes who study race are, but an important one, I think.)
January 27, 2021 at 7:56 am
Yeah. It’s amazing how people whose identities are catered to (older white dudes) somehow find it difficult to make room for the respectful treatment of other people’s identities…
January 27, 2021 at 8:07 am
or to even realize that being a white dude *is* an identity
January 27, 2021 at 8:14 am
And also, it is just pronouns – not preferred pronouns!
January 27, 2021 at 8:15 am
And also, I think the field is trending towards nonbinary with no hyphen as well – but that is still being debated.
January 27, 2021 at 8:20 am
I’m going to disagree with this– for me it IS preferred pronouns. Because the choices do not describe me. That is not be the case for everyone, but for folks in my situation it is.
January 27, 2021 at 7:49 am
It seems to me that the point of all the pronoun stuff is to be respectful and make people feel comfortable. If emphasizing which pronouns you prefer makes you feel more comfortable, then you can do that. If not drawing attention to pronouns at all makes you more comfortable, then by all means you shouldn’t feel you have to.
January 27, 2021 at 7:50 am
January 27, 2021 at 11:26 am
Also, I have thought so many times about how grateful I am to have come of age in the grunge era rather than the “tiny jean shorts and a bra” era that we appear to be in now, at least based on the college students in our town. I would have felt so uncomfortable wearing stuff like that (and would not have) but just having the expectation out there would have been yucky. Also, from a sexiness perspective, I really do think there’s something to the idea of leaving some things to the imagination…or at least only revealing them to a person of your choosing, rather than, say, to me, as I walk my dog.
January 27, 2021 at 11:40 am
I think there’s also a trend for oversized shirts and cute shorts right now– it’s a specific look that youtube has been talking about a lot as being an influencer thing.
January 27, 2021 at 8:20 am
I don’t love having my pronouns everywhere bc I similarly don’t want my being a woman to be front and center, even though I have the girliest name ever (which I hate) so it’s not like it is not obvious. I also really like that as I am a PhD, I get called Dr instead of Ms. I prefer things to not be gendered if they don’t need to be. However, it has been impressed upon me that having pronouns in my email sig, my zoom name, etc. is important to the trans and nonbinary communities as it signals that I am supportive of the community and, as you note, it normalizes the sharing of pronouns. I dunno – it has seemed to me that despite my own personal issues with it that it is for a broader good that I have my pronouns everywhere.
I have seen many people list “she/her, they/them, he/him” as their pronouns.
January 27, 2021 at 8:21 am
Take a look at gwinne’s comment, though.
January 27, 2021 at 1:45 pm
I have read it. I’m an LGBT researcher and am a part of the queer community, so perhaps our knowledge bases are different.
January 27, 2021 at 8:38 am
I’ve appreciated your thoughts as you work through this! I’ve been working through some similar thoughts and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t identify as a woman or as a person with she/her pronouns. I don’t identify as a man either and I feel weird about the “non-binary” label because it has the word “non” in it. I eventually realized that my brand of feminism is that gender shouldn’t matter and I’m not super comfortable in women only spaces.
It is a huge adjustment to go from not working to working in a client facing role where you’re constantly being called by your name and pronouns that you don’t identify as, but you don’t want to come out either.
Maybe this will help you a bit, but when I suggested we add pronouns to our client intake form, my coworkers all said that they don’t identify as a person with specific pronouns, not that they feel like they aren’t a man or a woman, but that they’ve never thought about pronouns before.
Whenever I’m asked to identify my gender, I try to pick the “prefer not to answer” option. When outright asked for my pronouns, I will tell someone “she/they”, which means that I know the person will assume I’m a woman based on my body presentation, but I don’t really identify as a woman and I would prefer they use “they” pronouns if they’re comfortable and I don’t like gendered nouns, so I’m not a wife, aunt, or sister.
January 27, 2021 at 11:51 am
For surveys I tend to think about what the purpose of the survey is– if there’s something about me being perceived as a woman that could be an important variable, then I put female because I do believe I’m discriminated against based on my gender and so many other things because I am gendered female by others. But if it is a psychology study on the impact of gender that allows non-binary etc. then I say female so they know I’m treated like a woman but also non-binary or other because I don’t really identify as any gender. But I don’t pick male because I’m not gendered by others as male and I don’t identify as male. I also don’t *not* identify as male, but I figure for whatever study it is they may want to know how I present and that there’s an * next to it.
January 27, 2021 at 2:26 pm
How do you feel about the “agender” label? I’m admittedly cis and don’t know a lot about the nuances of gender identity, but I’ve seen that word around a lot, and I wonder if it might be closer to what you’re describing?
January 27, 2021 at 7:13 pm
I like the agender label better than non-binary, but it usually isn’t an option when there is more variety in options! I’m not a big fan of labels, which is part of why I like they/them pronouns.
January 27, 2021 at 9:42 am
I don’t state my pronouns because it’s so evident that little is really known about the phenomenon of being transgender (or what used to be called transsexual). The narratives coming out of the transgender and transgender-allied communities are extremely disparate and even contradict each other. For example, it is common to hear that gender is not binary and not fixed. Actually, for most people it is; otherwise, why would people seek medical transition from the body they were born with to another one that they have a very clear and fixed preference for?
Other identities are being added on that one could argue are not really identities at all, but states of a more purely psychological nature (which is not at all to say that they are not real). My transgender nephew would not say that he is the same as a natal male; my cousin’s transgender daughter is conflicted on that issue.
To my mind, gender is a construct that is partly shaped by society, partly shaped by one’s biological sex, and partly shaped by one’s own thoughts and experiences.
January 27, 2021 at 11:54 am
Do we know that for most people it is? Most people don’t seek medical transition, just some. I imagine that more people will be reporting gender fluidity as people realize that’s an option and they won’t be disowned for it!
January 27, 2021 at 1:47 pm
Just because something is evolving and that there are diverse opinions even within the community doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do things that clearly flag our support.
January 27, 2021 at 2:04 pm
What about support for people like me? For people who feel dysphoria for having to provide pronouns?
January 27, 2021 at 10:02 am
I am super duper not fond of societally imposed gender roles/expectations, and I do feel the need to not conform to them, but I’m okay with she/her or they/them. I think he/him would make me very uncomfortable because I don’t identify as a man in any way. I don’t put my pronouns in stuff partly because I don’t care what people call me and also because to me, that’s not the main way that societally imposed roles affect me – it’s more in everyday life and work interactions. So basically I focus my energy on having equity where it matters to me, rather than pronouns as a manifestation of that. I like some things that are often coded as female- nail polish, brightly colored dresses – but I don’t feel particularly constrained by them. (I get why other people have strong and different opinions! I’m saying it doesn’t matter to *me*, is all.)
I may have said this before, but I never ask my students their pronouns; I ask “What would you like *me* to call you?”
January 27, 2021 at 11:55 am
And excellent question! People’s preferences are what is important.
January 27, 2021 at 10:41 am
I don’t use preferred pronouns because I want to be seen as a person, not a gender. I imagine that many people who go by other pronouns also have this desire, but that other people would like a formal acknowledgement of their pronouns (preferred or otherwise). I just want to interact with people in a way that makes them feel seen and comfortable. It is hard to know what people want when you don’t already know them, and this is probably a failure of the golden rule to some extent — not everyone wants done unto them what you’d prefer to be done unto you.
January 27, 2021 at 11:19 am
January 27, 2021 at 11:00 am
Wow – I totally agree with so much of what you’ve written – and all the comments are interesting too. I went to a thing a few years ago which was my first experience with going around in a circle and introducing yourself as Name / Pronouns. My first time around, I introduced myself as Name / “I don’t get the whole pronoun thing”. Then a while later in another group there were several folks who introduced themselves as Name / She/Her They/Them – which I found resonated with me. I *look* female, so I don’t mind she/her pronouns since they don’t cause cognitive dissonance for the people using them, but I really dislike gendered pronouns, and for other reasons they/them really resonates with me – but again, I really don’t want people focusing on my gender when they’re talking about me!
What if you were allowed to put Pronouns: None ?
January 27, 2021 at 11:20 am
I don’t really *prefer* no pronouns– I just don’t have preferred pronouns. I don’t mind being called Mr. (so long as it’s not in a context where they’re supposed to be calling me Dr. or Prof.)
January 27, 2021 at 11:27 am
@TodayWendy, people would then be writing and saying “Wendy” a whole lot around you! :)
February 1, 2021 at 4:44 am
I forget now which country I was in but some people were using the Mr. prefix as a sign of respect. It had nothing to do with gender. It was more my company role at the time.
January 27, 2021 at 11:05 am
I don’t do formally stating pronouns and in my field, to the best of my knowledge, it isn’t done at this time. I’m not in academia but am in the more corporate world. Where I am, to start putting pronoun preferences in things would convey more than just pronoun preferences– it would convey information about the person’s priorities and thinking in a way that would be seen as unprofessional. It would put a spotlight on their gender thinking, not their work.
I’m someone who probably would have been all over defining as they/them in high school and in college, but am now glad that the they/them effort of the time didn’t pick up steam to the point at which I could have gone far down that path. This is my opinion, and not a very important one, but– I think there are so many ways to be a man or a woman that I see a value in participating in she/he instead of going for they. I think it’s important to have she/he not be limited to very coded gender stereotypes. I also think that if I’d stepped out of she/he and gone for they/them, I would have participated in allowing the he/she definitions to be more limited and stereotyped.
It will be interesting to see if my thinking about this changes over time, as other things have.
January 27, 2021 at 11:58 am
It has been nice seeing that more people can be “out” with their preferences without having to adhere to a specific stereotype. When things are really restricted, only people from extremes seem to make the cost benefit analysis to show who they are despite pushback from society. I hope this trend continues. ‘An it hurts no one, do what you will.
January 27, 2021 at 12:30 pm
This makes a lot of sense. If our understanding of what a “man” or a “woman” is were to be large enough, we would not be trying to separate ourselves from them to the extent that people seem to need to do. I actually think that in some ways the “standard” view of women and men has become more restrictive over the past decades. Little girls were purple, pink, and sequins; little boys wear athletic gear. How confining!
January 27, 2021 at 12:39 pm
Maybe… or maybe some people have a deeper understanding of gender than stereotypes even though you and I do not understand the concept.
January 28, 2021 at 4:48 pm
If you and I don’t understand the concept, then the nuanced interpretations point to characteristics more than they do to what we think of as an identity.
I’m fully down with people who are fully, psychologically and socially members of the opposite sex to that with which they were born, but am increasingly confused by the multiple versions of gender identity that are currently being described.
January 27, 2021 at 1:14 pm
“I think there are so many ways to be a man or a woman that I see a value in participating in she/he instead of going for they.” This is part of what is involved in my recalcitrance, which has roots in a 1970’s feminism of expanding what it meant to be a man or a woman (“William wants a doll,” “Free to be you and me,” etc) rather than limiting people.
But I now identify as a cynical old bat. Can I have the pronouns “bat, bat, bats,” please?
January 27, 2021 at 1:28 pm
Oh, I hope you just drove the Wellerman sea shanty out of my head. LOVE Free to Be You and Me.
January 27, 2021 at 2:24 pm
[…] was reading this about gender and sexuality. Vince and I regularly talk about gender identity and how he and his […]
January 27, 2021 at 3:21 pm
I’m XX and feel strongly that I’m female; when I was a kid I refused to wear pants for fear of being mistaken for a boy. (Rolling my eyes at my young self.) But I am tall and clumsy and very sweaty (I don’t wear skirts or dresses much, simply because I strongly prefer have socks on my feet). I have strong but not-very-feminine features, and when my hair is short people often don’t know how to address me. And I have had way too much experience of (worrying about) being laughed at to ever attempt to present myself as sexy. (I can manage pretty, but not more than that.) So I don’t fit what most people would consider feminine. Oh, and I’m a physicist. That said, I’m all about pink floral tops and dangly earrings. I guess I strongly feel that I am my own definition of female, if that makes sense. I do list my she/her pronouns these days, for exactly the reason of making students feel comfortable listing theirs if they so choose, but I would never expect or require it of anyone else.
January 27, 2021 at 3:55 pm
I think that’s a great example of a CIS-gender person listing pronouns as an ally!
January 27, 2021 at 3:55 pm
I relate to aspects of this. Or at least I *don’t* relate to gender and sexuality the way others seem to.
I have preferred pronouns, but my preference is not to state them.
I understand why people want stating pronouns to be normalized, and that the small discomfort I feel drawing attention to my pronoun preferences is minor compared to the discomfort some people experience when non-preferred ones are used. So if somebody else establishes the norm, I will go with it. And I want the norm to spread.
For one thing, I don’t know that feminine pronouns feel completely right, for a reason I can’t articulate. I mind them a lot less than masculine ones, but they/them/their’s just feels nicer somehow.
In addition, there is another issue for me. I can’t imagine just asking people their preferred pronouns. Right now at this exact moment in our culture, at least where I live, that would involve some level of signaling that I am: liberal/woke/higher SES/academia socialized. I mean, I *am* all of those things, at least by some standards, but life is easier when I don’t start off on that foot.
Eventually, the young people who are today growing up with more openly discussed gender and sexuality options and much more normalized pronoun preferences will become enough of a majority that bringing up pronouns won’t stand out.
January 27, 2021 at 4:14 pm
I figure I do a lot more good by lobbying my state government (there were two multi-month periods across two years where I was making two phone calls every single weekday morning about various bathroom bills, plus hundreds of dollars to a trans group in the capitol to get a book about one trans person’s experience to the desk of every single state legislator), listening to my students, supporting junior scholars and research, being careful in class about how I talk about gender variables and survey design, and donating money to causes like the Trevor project. Not to virtue signal here, but I DO feel enough discomfort such that the cost-benefit analysis leans towards me not putting my pronouns which will have only a small effect compared to things that are pleasant for me to do (not the calling about the bathroom bills– that sucked, but I did it anyway because the potential harm was so great) and have much larger effects. Nobody has to be a perfect ally (this is not me yelling at Becca, btw, this is summing up some thoughts from an earlier thread on poor Becca’s conversation!)
Just thinking now… I realized I rarely *use* pronouns when talking about other people. I almost always say “you” or the person’s name(!) or they if it is a group of people. I do use them when writing. In Spanish I use them more when speaking than I do in English. I don’t know why?
January 27, 2021 at 4:15 pm
p.s, I love that tweet.
January 27, 2021 at 5:31 pm
So I can’t figure out why I can’t reply directly to your comment in reference @Wally above. In any case: I don’t think Wally and I disagree. I also use my (she/her) pronouns in zoom to normalize pronoun discussion and to create a space for LGBTQ students, who do have preferred pronouns, to say theirs without being signaled out. (And as an instructor, it’s super helpful to see pronouns in the zoom name!) BUT I see zero practical reason to put pronouns in my email signature as many of my colleagues do. In general I don’t do anything to “signal” allyship; I just act as an ally when it’s appropriate (and I feel that stating my pronouns on the first day of class and in my zoom name is indeed one way to do that! I also regularly teach work by LGBTQ writers, which is arguably more meaningful). Third person pronouns are helpful to refer to people in conversation, not in direct address… in which I should be addressed as Firstname or Dr. Lastname. When I get the occasional Dear Mr. Lastname in an email…that’s because my real Firstname is actually gender-neutral and Mr. So-and-So doesn’t actually know me or care that I have a PhD :) Really I wish English had a gender neutral third person singular pronoun that we all use all the time, for everyone.
January 27, 2021 at 6:13 pm
I think the nuanced difference is that you acknowledge your students have a 3D spectrum of relationships to gender identity and have valid reasons for doing so. And you’re not dictating what it means to be an ally or how to signal you are one.
January 28, 2021 at 9:06 am
I think WordPress just doesn’t allow nesting comments more than four level deep.
January 27, 2021 at 5:47 pm
Really interesting and thoughtful comments here, and I love this open-minded discussion. Like Dame Eleanor Hull, the feminist in me prefers to expand what men and women can be. Otherwise we will be faced with 1950s stereotypes again, and yuck. I don’t want to go back to the days where women can only be pretty wives and mothers at home who wear dresses and aprons – and men can only be providers and workers out in the world who wear suits.
We’re all so much better off with more possibilities and freedom. People should be free to identify however. Either with pronouns, or without.
For me, gender matters most in terms of health, violence and discrimination. For example, we all know women’s health issues are less researched and we need more gender-based medical studies looking at things like endometriosis (it’s shocking how terrible medical care still is for those with this condition!!), menopause, breast and ovarian cancer, etc. And the gender pay gap is real and needs to be addressed, and sadly it’s actually gotten worse since the pandemic. And then there is the rape / violence issue which is a unique burden. So these are the differences that matter to me.
I watched the Fran Lebowitz Netfix series (it’s excellent – highly recommend). While she presents I guess less female according to the stereotypes (she wears great menswear-inspired garb and is a lesbian) I was struck by the many remarks she made about being afraid of being raped throughout her life, and the issues she faced in a male-dominated world. We’re all kind of in that together as women, regardless of how we “present” or fit into the “boxes.” Ugh.
January 27, 2021 at 6:24 pm
A lot of those differences are sex-based rather than gender, though trans people of either gender, IIRC from my social welfare class last year are at greater risk of domestic violence than are CIS people.
Sex I understand and get—I have two X chromosomes and have given birth and although I have more testosterone than normal for a woman (PCOS) it’s still less than most grown men with XY chromosomes. Not that there are two sexes either (or that XX people have to give birth), but for most people sex is more straightforward. It’s chromosomes, hormones, and physical characteristics. Not for everyone, but for most folks.
January 27, 2021 at 7:02 pm
Fair point on sex vs gender.
I’m not super well-versed on trans identity, but it’s clearly real and it seems very difficult.
January 27, 2021 at 6:25 pm
I did not finish reading all of the comments but I will! I just wanted to contribute too. In my experience as someone born in the early seventies(northeast, hippie parents) there really wasn’t any discussion of sex/gender differences other than the “obvious” one just always “knew” there were girls and boys and their associated sex characteristics. I can remember being younger than 5 and wanting so badly to be a man with a suit, briefcase and a beard!! (It was all about the beard really…..)
The feeling was so strong….but didn’t last for very long. I knew about men who dressed as women and gay men and women but gender and the idea that it wasn’t sex or that there might be more than two gender identities is not something that would have occurred to me or most of my peers growing up. In addition I always hated with a million passions anything girly….did not play with dolls or have stuffies and hated wearing dresses or acting like other girls who I knew (throughout all of childhood). Dresses, typical girl stuff made me so uncomfortable but at times I felt I needed to participate because it was “normal”. Recognizing I was gay was certainly great and I definitely identified as soft butch maybe? But always as a woman even if I wasn’t behaving as a typical woman….
I still identify as gay or lesbian tho others would describe me as bisexual (I don’t). But 100% woman. And respect and encourage how anyone identifies….
Now in my life at 47, I don’t behave like most women in my office….I don’t wear makeup(ok concealer….damn under eyes), don’t do my nails, color my hair or give a shit about my clothes(hoodies and jeans are my fave) but people think I am younger than my age, call me pretty(which is the worst, fucking hate it), and when I was on okcupid last summer I was described as feminine…
And I also have two coworkers who are trans men as well as clients who are trans women. I love how it all has contributed to my own experience and connections.
I appreciate your perspective and honestly hadn’t really considered it maybe? And will also add, fellow Demi sexual here!!!
Anon in mass
January 27, 2021 at 6:35 pm
One of our student workers came out and started transitioning while working for us and that was pretty neat (fortunately they/he had very supportive friends and family so it was not a fraught process) Usually in my professor situation I get people before or after.
January 27, 2021 at 10:35 pm
I’ve always been comfortable in my cis gender for myself even if I despise the shit that comes with being a woman, and I do list my pronouns because I want to help normalize the appearance of listing pronouns for the people who want to list them and catch shit for it. I’m not sure if I phrased that correctly but basically it doesn’t bother me to list them. I’m routinely misgendered at work by people who don’t know me and it’s hit or miss whether the pronouns help but I also don’t really care most of the time if they misgender me because they are not people who matter to me, I just notice it happens.
Your choice or desire not to list yours because it forces you to choose an identifier you do not choose makes sense to me. Why should you have to choose just because some of us are choosing it?
January 28, 2021 at 7:09 am
That all sounds excellently supportive!
January 28, 2021 at 9:18 am
I have been Away From Blog for about six months because I’ve been busy hatching and transitioning and come back to this! I don’t know if you’ve mentioned possibly being nonbinary before but in any case congrats!
There is certainly no shortage of “pronouns: any” people on the trans servers I’ve been frequenting. My neighbor across the way is one and refers to themself as bigender, though I’ve also seen agender, pangender, just generally enby, and of course the “I have no pronouns, please do not refer to me” option.
My pronouns are she/her, but I look forward to the day when everyone is just they/them and that doesn’t refer to gender at all, just personhood.
January 28, 2021 at 9:32 am
That’s awesome! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!
Re: did I mention it before… I think there was one link love several years back where I’d come across a stick figure video by a person who just didn’t get the concept of gender exactly the same way I didn’t, but I hadn’t really thought about the implications until it came time for me to think about whether I should be adding pronouns to my zoom/sig and had to think about why I had just a negative reaction to the idea even though I was supportive of others doing so. Because if you don’t “get” gender, it generally doesn’t have any practical implications since people just cis-gender you and you don’t really give it a second thought because you don’t realize you’re missing anything (you here being me, specifically). (And thanks!)
My big worry about “pronouns: any” was that it would be seen as flip (also until the earlier comment, I couldn’t think of a way to indicate that without sounding flip– “any” is much more professional than “whatevs”). But if it is not, I may start adopting it soon. :) (Maybe during phd student interview zooms to help weed out bigots…)
January 28, 2021 at 11:53 am
“Any” does seem to be becoming the standard as far as there is any. (Pun unintended.) Another take is available here: https://www.glsen.org/activity/pronouns-guide-glsen, under the heading “What If I Don’t Want to Share My Pronouns?”
Some enbies I know prefer people to alternate pronouns, though in my experience that can be difficult to sustain and often ends up as just they/themming.
January 28, 2021 at 12:04 pm
Nice! Thank you for the resources!
January 28, 2021 at 11:20 am
Thanks for sharing such an open and interesting post.
I have never been uncomfortable with being gendered as a woman (aside from sexism), and I also never really thought a lot about it. Even though, like leigh above, I’m not really that comfortable around all-women. I think that is more because I went to engineering school, then worked in engineering, so it is simply feels odd for me to be surrounded by all women. Especially very traditionally feminine women. My behavior is generally a bit different than the “stereotypical” woman, but I think it is simply personality rather than gender related, and also that the stereotypical woman is not actually what most women are like.
I do not list my pronouns. I am not 100% sure why. There is a slight professional advantage to being assumed male, but it most of my communications, the people know who they are taking to, so it isn’t fooling anyone. I guess I just don’t like to stand out, and even in my very liberal area, it is not the norm. I should rethink this position, though.
February 3, 2021 at 3:21 am
Your second sentence basically sums it up for me. I have in recent years become comfortable around all women situations, because of work- right now my entire team is female. And leaning more on female friends for support for various things. I’m not super femme and don’t list my pronouns but wouldn’t have an issue doing so.
January 28, 2021 at 11:43 am
It is really interesting that so many people in this discussion thread seem to agree with the statement “I really do not want to label myself with a gender.” I think that for myself it has to do with my sense of identity, which absolutely does not involve gender. Vi Hart’s video (which I think is the one @nicoleandmaggie was referencing) is a delightful explanation of this:
So, while I have XX chromosomes, and an obviously female body, and don’t mind she/her pronouns – I don’t really want to jump on the pronoun bandwagon (although I totally and completely support people who do) and I think it is because I don’t want people thinking that gender is an important part of my identity. And I’m wondering about this – maybe it is because so many of us here are in traditionally male-dominated professions. Growing up and choosing my career path, if “female” had been a strong part of my identity, I might not have embraced the fact that I’m really really good at math. I grew up wanting the life my father had, and utterly refusing even to consider the path my mother had taken (very strong gender roles in my family of origin). So I don’t know which came first. Whether academia (STEM-side) selects for women who don’t strongly identify as female, or whether it forces those of us who do wind up there to focus on other aspects of our identities in order to reduce cognitive dissonance. Either way, I find it really reassuring that there are so many people here who seem to feel the same way.
January 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm
YES! Vi Hart!
I don’t know which is cause and effect for male-dominated fields and gender identity– it’s probably easier to be in a stereotypically male field if you don’t feel less female doing so? I don’t know.
January 28, 2021 at 12:55 pm
Just watched it again for the first time in a bazillion years and you can see I basically redid her argument re: gender and it’s like she’s talking from my brain, except the part where she believed everyone was like her because I have never done that because I’ve always been weird and different. Which is I think what I said in that link love before. But everything else it’s like who are you me?
January 28, 2021 at 4:17 pm
Goodness I need to go back to read all these comments, but THANK YOU! You have explained how I feel. I have tried to do so. I’m a woman ’cause other people think I’m a woman and I don’t care enough to do anything about it. It’s a descriptor of how I’m treated by others. Maybe if I were younger and navigating the dating world and having late-night discussions with friends like I did in college, I’d think differently, but by this point I just don’t care (for myself — other people can care!). To me feminism has always been about *not being defined by gender* — I know that’s not true for all. I just want to be a person! a real person! with the rights and respect that a real person gets!
January 28, 2021 at 4:52 pm
So much pain could be avoided if we all just respected individuals as individuals.
That said, there are also places for groups and labels, even if I don’t understand them! These are complicated topics.
January 28, 2021 at 6:03 pm
Thank you everybody for a great discussion! I’ve learned even more through your comments and look forward to starting to use pronouns: any in the near future. :)
January 28, 2021 at 10:36 pm
Thank you for starting this thoughtful discussion! It was really interesting to read everyone’s comments :)
January 28, 2021 at 11:32 pm
I didn’t even realize that preferred pronouns is a topic of discussion. Maybe because I’m in the corporate world? My company is very welcoming to the LGBT community but the issue of pronouns has never come up as far as I know.
I kept seeing the term cis gender and had no idea what it meant until this post. Is it bad that I just want to define myself as heterosexual?
I have also seen the term” binary” — mostly on slate.com — but I haven’t been interested in finding out what that means.
In general I am pretty liberal so it feels weird to be on the conservative side. I am assuming that conservatives are not eagerly embracing these terms but I may be wrong. Does it make me less of an “ally” if I dont want to embrace all these new terms?
Anyway I guess I don’t have much to add to the discussion. I just thought I’d share another viewpoint.
January 29, 2021 at 5:17 am
Heterosexual describes if you are attracted to someone who is opposite gender of you. CIS-gender isn’t about your sexual/romantic attraction but about if your gender identity matches your biological/at-birth sex. So Deirdre McCloskey (deadname: Donald) is a trans woman but attracted to only other women so she is a homosexual lesbian.
In academia we come across an entirely new set of students every year and these students are figuring themselves out so it is impossible not to become more educated unless we put effort into it. Plus it’s important to be supportive and welcoming.
Binary is what people who believe there are exactly two fixed genders and you must be one or the other say. Sometimes people who believe this are pro trans men and women and sometimes they’re bigots. But they believe people who don’t always identify as one or the other are lying or crazy. You can see an example in the comments above of someone saying there are too many genders. They often ridicule the rainbow terms.
Some coastal corporations that I have been to conferences with have people adding pronouns to their zooms, especially HR people.
January 29, 2021 at 10:56 pm
Long time reader, first time commenter. I 100% agree with all of this and really appreciate you putting this into words much better than I have in the past (though, to be fair, this is not something that I often express, because it sounds so odd).
I’m a woman and seen by society as female, which is only problematic in the way that society assumes anything for any gender. But in my body and my life, I don’t feel strongly gendered either way and wish there were a “neutral” option. I suppose non-binary covers that, but even that feels too specific for the level of gender neutrality that I feel.
January 30, 2021 at 4:25 am
February 1, 2021 at 6:04 am
Late to the game here, but up til the age of 12, I was asked on a regular basis “are you a boy or a girl,”. I hated that people couldn’t tell I was female and caused years of insecurity issues as a teen and young adult. Then my mom finally let me grow my hair long and I bought skirts and I got too much attention. So then I went the other way and dressed down to stop getting attention and frequented all the gay bars/clubs because that’s where I felt safe even with a skirt on. Now…I mostly dress in men’s clothes because I am tall and that’s what fits me.
I am uncomfortable stating my pronouns because even though I am female, I do way more stereotypical male things than female things….but it doesn’t mean I also don’t also like a good spa day. I don’t like being labeled but I am not sure how you balance that with inclusiveness. There is such a large continuum of what you can be, I don’t know how a handful of labels can suffice.
Right now my external aesthetic is “too busy to care”. Most used descriptor is “mom”.
February 1, 2021 at 6:25 am
I had a pixie cut for a couple of years in elementary school and it only bothered me at swimming lessons when I would have to tell them I was a girl to get the women’s locker room key.
February 2, 2021 at 10:47 pm
Fascinating post. I’ve always been a “masculine of centre” woman – I hate dresses, love the colour blue, abhor makeup, and am good at math and science – and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years reflecting on my own gender identity. I realized recently that I want to identify as female and use she/her pronouns, because I personally believe that the category of “female” can be expansive enough to include my slightly more “masculine” preferences. I don’t want to feel forced to identify as non-binary or genderqueer or gender fluid just because I don’t fit the stereotype of what it is to be “female”. (No criticism of people who feel that these or other gender identities fit them, just that they don’t fit me.)
I recently read a book by an AFAB person who has identified as queer/transgender/non-binary at various stages of their life, and they described their current status as “gender retired”, which I love. I love the idea of spending less time and energy assigning people to categories and getting down to the real work of making the world better. (Again, no criticism of people who find it important to spend time and energy sorting out their own gender.)
February 2, 2021 at 10:50 pm
Also, for myself I include my pronouns (she/her) on my Zoom name as a way of showing allyship to transgender people/other people outside the gender binary, but I appreciate that this doesn’t work for everyone.
February 5, 2021 at 8:02 am
Your experience really speaks to me. In some ways I feel like my gender is just a lived experience of being assigned female at birth. I’m fine presenting as a woman but my identity is agender. But for me it’s not important other people know that or treat me that way. It’s like how you say, that it’s what society sees.
January 3, 2022 at 1:11 am
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