I struggle with how I, as a cis-het person and an advocate and ally, should use gender neutral pronouns in my writing.
I thought of changing my pronouns on FB. My friends who have done this have given me a great gift because I’m challenged to think of gender each time I get a notification that uses the neutral singular “THEY commented on THEIR post”. It sounds “weird” because I’ve lived forty years on this rock only using feminine and masculine pronouns when referring to people. Having friends that use gender neutral pronouns on fb means I get a daily nudge towards assimilating this into my linguistic comfort zone.
I thought, “maybe I should change mine so all of my friends get daily reminders of gender inclusive language.” Like, maybe each person amplifies the signal and spreads the meme that gender is a construct – a construct WE ALL have control over. That meme spreads like a virus and the world becomes more open, accepting, loving. (I mean that’s why I say anything on here, I hope that’s clear even when I fail.)
And then I think, it isn’t true. I identify with the pronouns she/her. I’ve always been completely comfortable as a cis woman. I’m a “girly girl” – at least I was when I was still interested in performing gender. Even now that I actively try to stop the performance and find a true self beyond the social conditioning of girlness (which means no offense to anyone in full embrace of the femme! This is just my current journey.), I still feel comfortable at this time in identifying as a woman, whatever that word may be laden with in cultural conditioning. I don’t want to be disingenuous or dishonest, ever.
Then I was looking over an article I’m writing right now which, as usual, is chock full of personal examples involving my kids. I rarely name my kids in an article (except on my personal blog) but I refer to them by their gendered pronouns.
I wonder, am I doing a disservice to “the cause” (for want of a better shorthand) and my ideals by not using the neutral singular in my writing? Am I failing to maximize my potential for good? Or, would it be disingenuous because, in reality, we live a gendered life.
It’s just the truth. I do. My kids don’t have gender neutral names. I learned their sex before they were born and bought gendered clothes. I fight daily to shed my social conditioning and give my kids more – more choice, more autonomy, less direction and control.
IT IS FUCKING HARD! I’m fighting forty years of immersive brainwashing into states of sexism internalized to the level of automatic thought. On the scale of enlightenment I’m a noob.
And, if I decide to wage genocide on gender in my mind and reflect that in my writing, would I lose my ability to talk to the person I was just yesterday? Then I didn’t even know the word transgender. Or intersex. I believed humans were born either male or female with only “freak anomalies” as extreme outliers. I mean, of course I did, forty years of immersive brainwashing and all, right? Will changing my language make my words indecipherable to the person I used to be?
That matters to me. It matters because I live in rural America. I live where good people, people who’d give you the shirt of their back and bake you a pie ta boot, hang rebel flags in their windows. Where the local FB group routinely posts “jokes” deadnaming Caitlyn Jenner. Where Caitlyn Jenner, despite her many problematic views, is LITERALLY THE FIRST TRANSGENDER PERSON THESE PEOPLE HAVE HEARD OF. I’m not kidding you. They don’t read the same news we do or watch the same shows (some of them, some of them are fucking awesome, of course.)
They aren’t all bad people. They have some things in common that disadvantages them to “being awake” (once again a shorthand that comes off as rude as hell, please forgive): poverty, hunger, lack of education, illiteracy, christianity, complete homogony of demographics (remember I was in college the first time I even MET a black person.) BUT, they aren’t bad. Some are not open to expanding their worldview, for sure. But some are.
Shouldn’t someone speak to them?
I feel torn, often, between living my radicalism, if you will, and maintaining attachment to the people in my environment that I want to touch (consensually, obvs.). It is possible to be SO DIFFERENT that people have difficulty relating to you. (As an example, mention homeschooling and people nod knowingly. Mention unschooling and they look panicky, mention radical unschooling and they start backing away, kwim?)
Recently, I was alerted to the fact that the UK version of my book on amazon got a scathing one-star review that called the book both bigoted and transphobic. OUCH! This knocked me to my knees for several weeks emotionally. I’m crying even talking about it now because it hurts to feel I could have failed so catastrophically that I would actually HURT the very group I’m aiming to help.
Hello depression spiral, you old friend!
Several things helped me get past this and avoid El Spiral. One, that very weekend I got three separate emails thanking me for the book and telling me how it has changed their lives. The response has always been like this – either hate mail (you’re going to burn in hell feminazi cunt!), or heartfelt thanks. This is infinitely more valuable to me than the approximately 70 bucks a month I make from my book.
Second, I spent several weeks meditating on why some people could hate my book so much when I *knew* from personal accounts the positive effect it was having on at least a few hundred people (I’ve sold or given away about 15,000 books). I tried to think of it not as a “wounded party” with “woe is me, why do they hate me” and instead contemplated the problem as a failure (maybe feature) of spreading a meme.
Maybe there is something like Vygosky’s Zone of Proximal Development for social memes. Maybe a person is only capable of grasping the next rung on the ladder of understanding. And, if you want to be the person reaching a hand down to help, you can’t do it from twenty rungs up.
I tried to explain that my book wasn’t for parents of transkids or trans people themselves but for cishet folk striving to understand this new-to-them area of social equality. They WANT to understand how gender limits them and their parenting. They want to CHANGE this for the better in their parenting so their kids won’t have the limitations they had.
But I completely understand how someone more advanced on this topic, even at the rung I’m on – maybe five steps up at best, sees a book called Gender Neutral Parenting and slaps their forehead when I have a “girl” chapter and a “boy” chapter. I get it. It isn’t near radical enough, even for me and, as I said, we live pretty gendered lives.
I am so profoundly sorry if my book offended anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I am not of you. I’m the ignorant white eighteen year old asking to touch the black girl’s hair. I’m aware that I stumble and fall as I clumsily try to create good.
I believe SO SO STRONGLY in letting humans bloom into who they were meant to be and I feel like gendering is one of the main ways we limit them. It is one of the first inequalities we train kids to and then racism and a multitude of other prejudices just slip into the created framework. It becomes a cornerstone on which we wean the next generation into the system of patriarchy.
I hope to review my book later this year and revise it. I’ll be incorporating every idea and criticism I’ve received (apparently I used “trandgendered” which I always caution against). After all, I’ve grown since 2013 and my book should too.
However, my audience is still (and can really only be because “write what you know”) the people I interact with every day. The people below me that need a boost. I don’t want to fall into writing for my “learning peers” (which I mean without any of the value judgment often put on that word) and never the learners behind me.
The world needs everyone. Everyone has a unique role to play. Caitlyn Jenner’s problematic role in the world is still a profoundly powerful role in the lives of million of people. The NET EFFECT of Caitlyn Jenner is unequivocally GOOD. Trust me from the rural, conservative, mid-west. It really MATTERED.
So, to use gender neutral pronouns or not? I don’t know. I vacillate a million times a minute. My mind crunches this constantly to the point I wonder what other people even think about! (I jest.) That isn’t a lament. I love my current passion – to dissect and critically examine every aspect of my mind. It is my practice right now. I do it so I can pass something different on to my kids. Something better.
I’d love your thoughts.
I’ll refrain from finding a way to slip an apology into everything I write (Fuck you Patriarchy!) and just say, if you read this I thank you for the gift of your time and energy. It is deeply and truly appreciated.