It doesn’t look like I’ve written about this yet, so hey! Why not.
I’ve been surfing through my Evernote, looking at all the various things I’ve made note of over the years. For the most part, many of these were notes for a previous blog idea I had, which never really came to the fruition I wanted. So whether or not this was a Bull Breaker idea, I don’t know. But it’s something I’d like to babble about for a bit anywho.
Ri’s favorite topic: pronouns.
This is apparently a quote I lifted from somewhere on Facebook:
I had a friend on fb ranting about how if you don’t know if someone is a guy or girl, don’t worry about it. I joked about feeling like a jerk when I accidentally called someone the wrong pronoun, and she told me I shouldn’t use pronouns at all because it’s like using the n-word and just because it was okay then doesn’t mean it’s okay now.
…I am just as confused now as I was then, since the note I have with it is “WHAT IS THE BLABBERING.”
I mean, okay. Let’s break this down. “If you don’t know if someone is a guy or a girl, don’t worry about it.” This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Someone else’s gender is not really any bother of yours. I had a server in a diner a few years back who I’m still not sure if they were male or female. (I’m pretty sure they had a conveniently gender-neutral name, too.) Does it matter? Absolutely not.
If you’re concerned because you’re attracted to said person, it’s still not a big deal. Despite what popular media may have you believe, if you think a lady is attractive, and then it turns out that the lady is a dude, that doesn’t make you gay. It means you found a person attractive. Whoop. So in that regard, I can say I basically agree.
But it’s the second half of this that makes me tilt my head and blink many times. The assumption that somehow using pronouns is even remotely close to using a racial slur is…baffling. I just…but…what…what? Okay. This is working under the belief that using a potentially incorrect pronoun for a person is considered a slur of the highest regard.
While I don’t exactly condone mis-gendering people, I also understand that it’s unavoidable at times. At the beginning of transitions, your friends may slip. Strangers may not know. Maybe you’re still determining for yourself what pronouns you’d like to use. Maybe you’re like me and you don’t really like any of the pronoun options. Does that mean that when people call me “she” or “her,” that somehow this is like using a massively offensive racial slur? …no. Not in the slightest.
Now! If I am talking to my transgender friend, who I know presents and identifies as male, and I knowingly continue to use she/her pronouns for him, THAT might come closer. That’s rude and insensitive, not to mention insulting. Similarly, if my same friend goes by the name Mark, but was born (and may still legally be) named Christine, and I keep calling him Chrissy, the same problem arises. Dead-naming a person (as I’ve heard it called) is not okay. It’s something that I still struggle with, since chunks of my family don’t really know/understand that I don’t use my legal name anymore. Former classmates still use my legal name, despite not having it on my Facebook profile etc. for several years. I don’t know how to tell them “hey, I don’t use that name and calling me that gives me all kinds of uncomfortable feelings” without sounding…well, just like that. I’m from a small town. That kind of wording makes people look at you funny and say you’re over-reacting. (Memories of fights with former friends about my being gender-fluid come back to me…times when I was essentially told that because they didn’t understand what it meant, that meant that it didn’t matter and I was “always going to be [legal name]/a girl to them.” Yay.)
That’s perhaps the closest I can find: the sentiment “you’ll always be _____ to me.” Whether that’s “my little girl/boy” or your legal name or whatever…that can be the most harmful. Because while I understand, and others likely do as well, that the feeling behind it is (probably) that no matter what you call yourself or how you identify, you’ll always be the same person to them… What it ends up sounding like (and how it often manifests) is that regardless of what you want or are comfortable with, you’ll always be who you used to be and they see no reason to change how they refer to you because to them, you’re still the former person. For me personally, I abandoned my legal name when I left my hometown and the toxic world I had immersed myself in. Legal!me is the one who had a toxic friendship for 11 years and never saw it. Legal!me is the one who let herself be walked on and ignored and insulted. Legal!me is a girl from small town New York.
Rion is an author who lives in Virginia. Rion is a bent and battered person who’s trying to reshape who they believe they are. Rion left Legal!me behind, and has no interest in being Legal!me again. It is the most definitive line I can make between the girl I left behind, and the person I am striving to become. The only times I ever use my legal name nowadays are when I’m filling out official paperwork, or when I answer the phone at work–and that’s only because there’s a manager named Ryan and I’m tired of being confused with him. XD
Is using a pronoun–wrong or not–the same as racially demeaning someone? No. I can’t even begin to rationalize the thought process behind that. Is intentionally making a person be something or someone they don’t want to be? It’s certainly closer.
I wish I remembered where that quote came from. That’s a doozy.