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Pronoun Wars

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

The presence of non-binary gendered folks is becoming more known. Some groups in the kink and queer worlds are starting to recognize that we are more than male and female. I have even been to a few conferences where they have your preferred pronoun listed on your name badge so people can use your preference without having to ask.

I have noticed over the past year, there is increasing pressure to adopt “They” as an acceptable pronoun for the singular. The American Dialect Society chose the singular “they” as the 2016 Word of the Year. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary even sent out a tweet trolling folks who oppose the inclusion of “gender queer” in the dictionary:

People keep 1) saying they don’t know what ‘genderqueer’ means then

2) asking why we added it to the dictionary.

When the big language societies and dictionaries start including non-binary genders in their works you know us queers are making progress.

Why Do I Need To Care?

I have had a lot of conversations with folks about using non-gendered pronouns. Many people not in the queer community are pushing back against using non-gendered pronouns. Oftentimes they defend their actions with, “But he looks like a man. Why should I have to call him ‘they?'” Or I get the, “I don’t get why this is important.”

This is the easiest explanation I can give you:

Gender is more than just physical anatomy. Gender is a psychological construct, even to you cis-hetero folks. We have a very limited definition of what each gender looks like. Your brain will try and force every one you meet into the “girl” box or “boy” box.  Many of us feel very out of place in either box.

When you insist on using male or female pronouns with those of us who do not feel male or female, it is the equivalent of me insisting on using the opposite gender pronouns with you. If you identify as male and I insist on calling you “miss” and “ma’am” and “she” you would find it disrespectful, right? And if you corrected me and said, “Hey, by the way, I am a man.” Then I replied, “Well, you look like a woman to me, so I am going to call you Ma’am,” that would really make you mad, right?

When you take it upon yourself to tell me what my gender is because it makes you comfortable you devalue my existence. Your insistence on using gendered pronouns tells me that I don’t matter and that your perception of me is much more important than who I really am.

It is basic decency to use the pronoun I ask you too.

Looking Cis-Female

I look like a cis-female. The fact that I am dating a very masculine man means that when we are in public people tend not to see my queerness at all. I feel the need to come out as queer and agendered a lot, mostly because there is a lot of bisexual invisibility and I believe in being visible.

I have the option to “pass” as a heterosexual female and the privileges which come with that. This makes my gender even harder for people to understand. Most cis heteros can’t figure out why I would need to identify as genderqueer if I could just pass.

Sometimes the ability to blend actually bothers me. In my own communities (kinky and queer) it means I have to fight to establish my own identity. For the last twenty-five years I have been asked repeatedly to prove my queerness.

To my queer brothers and sisters, this is as invalidating as having to fight for a pronoun for my non-binary friends. Queer folks, you need to recognize that not all queerness looks like yours.

To My Genderqueer Folks

As offensive as it can be to have someone constantly misgender you and disrespect your identity, we also need to be a little less combative. More and more, especially in online forums, I see my fellow non-binary people reporting interactions where someone misgenders them, they correct the person, the person asks a completely reasonable question, and then the nonbinary person unleashes the wrath of the gods on them.

There is a difference between a reasonable question and someone being a dick. Sometimes we get people who are being purposely dense or trying to fight by asking demeaning questions. I have no problem telling them, “hey bub, you’re a dick.” However, many people have actual questions.

It is not on us nonbinary to turn every situation into a teaching situation. People need to educate themselves on their own. But, if someone asks a genuine question and you have it in you, it is reasonable to think you will explain something.

If I am having a conversation with a stranger and they ask about nonbinary gender, they are probably curious. Most of the time I will take a minute or two to  explain what that means. After all, this is something new to many people. I don’t want to spend all day on it, but I don’t find it unreasonable to give my 15 second elevator speech about it.

Being constantly combative does not help non-binary folks become more accepted. We need to balance militancy with compassion for people who really want to understand but don’t. Attacking people who want to be allies is a bad idea and will continue to alienate us.

HOWEVER, binary folks, understand that many of us are tired. We have to fight the world every day. We are misgendered. We have a ton of assumptions made about our psychology, our sexuality, and our safety. We are literally under attack by people who believe they have the right to harm us for breaking the binary norm. Sometimes we are sick of answering the same question over and over. Sometimes you catch us at the end of our rope that day and we will get really mad when you ask what seems like an obvious question.

We all need to work to get to a point when someone misgenders a person, the person says, “Hey, please use ‘they'” and the response is, “Okay, sorry. I will do that.” It is that simple.

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