Should I Be Using Gender Neutral Pronouns In My Writing?

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.

brainwashed-rthghg.jpgIT 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.

reaching-out-helping-othersMaybe 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.

The Need for Creativity

This weekend my mom used a roll of old wall paper that she bought or a dollar at the thrift store to re-line her pantry shelves.

She did this while her house was full of family and kids and while making dinner and cleaning. We teased her mercilessly about it because that is how my family rolls. ;)

She said something very true: “decorating my house is how I’m creative.”

How true! I paint and sew. My mom decorates. My house looks like a tornado hit it with a craft supply store. Hers looks like the pages of a magazine. And both are the signs of us living our creativity.

6a011570601a80970b01538dee9231970bI didn’t do that much creative for years. I was busy getting graduate degrees (and writing papers became my only creative outlet) and working on my career. Once I had kids I suddenly had this URGE to sew and cook. Later this turned into painting and drawing. Now I can’t imagine life without creating.

It relieves stress and is like meditation. The popularity of “adult” coloring books testifies to our need for creation.

How do you feed the need to be creative?

A Civil Debate About Vaccines

conflict-clipart-CLIPART_OF_ProcessI don’t write about vaccines much anymore. The reason is simply that I had read more than enough (several times over enough) to completely convince me that vaccines were a bad idea for both humanity in general and my children specifically (which, contrary to popular press, are BOTH very important to me). It isn’t my passion anymore. Unless someone is talking about “anti-vaxxers” going to jail or having their kids sent into foster care. It is only when you seek to infringe on my right to body integrity that I engage. I no longer play the show me your research and I’ll show you mine game.

I am disheartened that, from my perspective, so many people believe the vaccine propaganda without digging deeper behind these recommended substances being injected into our most vulnerable population. However, what really pains me is how impossible it apparently is to have a civil discussion about the topic.

Last year I was kicked out of a feminist group for, “promoting child abuse” after having a rather civil discussion on vaccines with other members. The group admins believed so strongly that vaccines are an inarguable benefit to children and humanity that they not only couldn’t have a conversation with me about bodily integrity and the right of the state to force medications on autonomous human beings, but that to even bring it up promoted child abuse.

Damn, that is some seriously strong cultural indoctrination.

I *get* that I’m the minority. I know you think I am straight up wrong. I get that you can’t believe I don’t get it. But what I don’t get is that you are going to shame and demean me in your arguments. Honestly, when you notice yourself so vociferously defending a point of view, which is fine, but feeling hot under the collar about it, then maybe you want to examine where feelings that strong are coming from.

An emotional response that strong comes from one of two places. Either you have a personal experience to draw on (for example, you have a child injured by a disease that has a vaccine and you feel the unvaccinated were responsible) or you’ve been subliminally and overtly indoctrinated to feel something by someone else. Who is that? Why did they do that? I’d want to know. And why do they need to use influence and marketing to “sell” this idea so hard? Why don’t the vaccines speak for themselves?

Maybe you feel you have examined these issues and you still feel vaccines are for you. That is great. I’m happy for you. Perhaps you even think that unvaccinated individuals are a danger to others. I imagine that is a painful feeling to have. I know how I feel when I see transphobia against little kids just trying to be comfortable in their skin. I just know I have to speak out – and do so loudly – to give voice to a group that I know is so often silenced. If you truly feel that my choice not to vaccinate my children puts infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised people at risk then I empathize deeply with the compassion for those people that drives your passion. Namaste. That place in me that feels compassion sees the same place in you and I respect your voice in this argument.

Can you see me for one moment? I do care deeply about people for whom measles or chicken pox are deadly. I would never, never have made this decision without researching that aspect of public health and vaccines. I know you think I haven’t researched enough, or in the wrong places, or that I simply don’t understand enough to make what you consider the right choice. I’m not asking you to understand my choice. I’m asking you to see the place of compassion inside that my choice comes from.

The fact is I am not a shitty person. I’m not uncaring. I’m not uneducated or swayed by celebrity worship or an irrational hippie (I’m a quite rational hippie thankyouverymuch). I am a very kind person. If we met in person I’m sure we’d like each other.

You’d undoubtedly call me weird, or crunchy. You most definitely rolled your eyes when I said “vaccine propoganda” (ha! my side uses subliminal bias too.) My medicine cabinet has more brown, glass jars with droppers than things you’d buy at Walgreens. I’m a peace-freak who doesn’t spank her kids or send them to the local schools. I’m a “femi-nazi” and I’ll tell you, at length, why you should never say that. But I’m friends with many people who don’t believe the same things I do. And I think at least some of them would vouch for me being a decent human being. I’m not asking you to *get* me or agree with me.

I’m just asking that you can stop for a moment and not see me as an “antivaxxer.” I’m not your enemy. I am a friend. My life isn’t like yours. My choices aren’t like yours. But I worry about my kids all the time just like you. I think about their health and do things to make them as healthy as possible. I also care about humanity and I care very much that babies die around the world, just like you do. I think deeply on issues like white, western privilege and how this discussion would be different if I didn’t live in a place with access to healthcare, sanitation, and nutritious food, just like you do.

Do you want to send the police to my house to put my kids in foster care? Do you want them to be held down and injected against their will? I am such a pariah to you that you want me HURT and ROBBED of dignity and my own children? If you had to be the one to hold them down after ripping them from my arms would it change your answer?

I hope you answered no. If we can’t look past our own thoughts and, even briefly, see the humanity in each other then what is all this even for?

Why I Don’t Pledge Allegiance

I don’t believe in saying the pledge of allegiance. Funny, since I was the person to read it aloud every morning of my junior and senior year.

People react strongly when I say this. How dare I not love my country!

It would be easy for me to use the excuse of the “under god” line which was added in 1954 as my reason for not reciting this oath. And that is one reason. I don’t believe in the tyranny of a state mandated religion. One persons “god” shouldn’t be anywhere on our money, court rooms, or schools.

But that is only one tiny reason. There are several others I’d like to share:

1. Taking a pledge.

Have you ever reflected on what it means to pledge something?

Pledge means a solemn promise or undertaking.
synonyms: promise, undertaking, vow, word, word of honor, commitment, assurance, oath, guarantee

First, should five year olds, who can’t legally make decisions or enter into contracts, be pledging to anything?

Second, to say this pledge I have to solemnly (seriously and earnestly) take a vow or oath. This shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. I can only evaluate if I can take such a serious oath based on careful review of what I’m pledging to.

2. Allegiance and Patriotism

Allegiance is to give loyalty and devotion to a thing. It was historically used by subjects to swear fealty to a monarch. In this case we are swearing allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Giving allegiance to a flag is just stupid but the implication is that you are giving you allegiance to is The United States of America so I’ll focus on that.

So, let’s talk about loyalty. Loyalty is about being reliably faithful to a person or thing. This is easy to see in interpersonal allegiance. I have an allegiance to my husband as I’ve agreed (taken an oath even) to be loyal to him.

My loyalty has limits imposed by my own morality. If my husband murdered someone I would not help him hide the body (sorry babe) because murder is immoral. This is what makes it different than fealty which doesn’t really care about your morality which is completely subsumed to the sovereign you are giving your fealty to.

Loyalty to an impersonal thing like a government should also have caveats for morality. This is why we expect soldiers to disobey orders when they are morally wrong as in the My Lai Massacre or the Abu Garaib torture. Loyalty in this instance means follow orders but not at the expense of morality.

Patriotism is defined as love of country and of our compatriots (fellow countrymen). I’ll talk about love of country in a moment but love of compatriots seems a simple thing. Of course I love my fellow Americans. Especially when we prove how loving and powerful we are as when we came together after 911. It warms my heart. I want all my compatriots to be happy and fulfilled.

Here’s the problem with love of compatriots. Compatriots are, by definition, those you have a common country with. Whether that is land, government, language, or ethnicity, the whole concept is based on Us and Them. Saying I’m “patriotic” implies I have love for other Americans instead of (at worst) or at least more than (at best) non-Americans.

This is where we get the idea that loving our country also means “there is no country I’d rather live in” which quickly slides in to: my country is the best. Better than yours. My compatriots matter more than you “others”.

I don’t think this is ever a positive view to hold but even if it were you better be sure your country deserves such devotion which I’ll talk about in a moment.

So patriotism and allegiance. Do they go hand in hand? Patriots are usually very allegiant but those with allegiance aren’t necessarily patriots.

For example, a mercenary has allegiance to his employer but isn’t necessarily a patriot. Their allegiance comes from a choice to act on behalf of a country/government not out of love of said country. Someone who is allegiant but not a patriot can not always be counted on to give “blind” allegiance.

A patriot, on the other hand, holds allegiance so strong that they will forgo their own sense of morality in order to show undying love for country/government.

For example,

“Stephen Nathanson contends that patriotic loyalty is not always a virtue. A loyal person can, in general be relied upon, and hence people view loyalty as virtuous. Nathanson argues that loyalty can, however, be given to persons or causes that are unworthy. Moreover, loyalty can lead patriots to support policies that are immoral and inhumane. Thus, Nathanson argues, patriotic loyalty can sometimes rather be a vice than a virtue, when its consequences exceed the boundaries of what is otherwise morally desirable. Such loyalties, in Nathanson’s view, are erroneously unlimited in their scopes, and fail to acknowledge boundaries of morality.[17]”http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loyalty

In other words, loyalty driven by patriotism and nothing else is a vice not a virtue. For your loyalty to be virtuous it must have an accompanying morality that isn’t dictated by the object of the loyalty. It is the ultimate check and balance.

Allegiance can’t be given lightly. You have to think about the actions of the object of your loyalty. How likely are you to have moral conflicts with the object of your loyalty? Is an act of morality that might not be loyal seen as “unpatriotic”? Is loyalty valued over morality?

If any of these are true the object in question might not be worthy of my loyalty.

3. The Republic

The pledge’s next line is about our allegiance to “the republic” represented by said flag. A republic is a form of government where the people rule through direct democracy or through elected representatives.

American republicanism is a bit different from other concepts of a republic in the classical world.

“Republicanism is the guiding political philosophy of the United States. It has been a major part of American civic thought since its founding.[1] It stresses liberty and “unalienable” rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, rejects aristocracy and inherited political power, expects citizens to be independent in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption.[2]“http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republicanism_in_the_United_States

This sounds like something I would be willing to pledge allegiance to. But, only if the current state of our country was represented by this definition.

Is the CURRENT republic worthy of allegiance? Are liberty and unalienable rights central values in America today? Do we have inherited political power? Do we vilify corruption?

Or has corporate money eclipsed any true republicanism? Is corruption seen as an unavoidable feature of the system or rooted out wherever it is found?

4. Liberty and Justice for All

The final phrase of the pledge also sounds great but only if it is in any way true for us and our compatriots.

Liberty is freedom. Are we free? Are we all equally free? Or do we lead the world in imprisoning our compatriots? Are our compatriots of color given the same liberty as white compatriots or are they three times as likely to be jailed for equal offenses?

Do we all have access to justice? Or does money become the ticket to justice instead of it being a birthright of our country?

Does our country act justly in its relations with other countries. Do we keep our treaties? With the Western Shoshone Nation for example? Does our country respect justice when enacting trade laws? Or do we enslave and ravage other countries in order to promote the interests of our compatriots only?

If I’m going to pledge allegiance to something I’m going to have to take that seriously and ask some hard questions before I do. I want to know that this country deserves my allegiance and that my loyalty will not be immoral at least some of the time.

I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The republic for which it stands has been corrupted by corporatism and the aristocracy of capitalism. Our nation doesn’t operate under any god I recognize. Liberty is dependent upon your skin color and net worth. Justice is entirely dependent upon immoral and selfish interests and applied unevenly based on skin color and net worth.

The United States of America does not deserve my allegiance. It is unworthy of it. I don’t pledge it out of blind patriotism. I don’t recognize my compatriots as more important than my non-American brothers and sisters.

When my government realizes it has become completely unworthy of your pledge it will be the first step towards deserving it.

I pledge allegiance to humanity and all the kindness and good for which it is capable. I pledge allegiance to the cooperative spirit and peacemakers that work everyday to make the world a more just and free place for everyone. Not just compatriots defined by outdated lines of nationalism.

And my kids won’t say the pledge until they can cogently answer these questions for themselves.

FAQs:

“Then get out”
If you can’t understand the right of an American citizen to NOT pledge allegiance then you don’t understand anything about this country.

“You can only say this because of the freedom of America”
Agreed. There are certainly many countries where I could be killed or imprisoned for refusing to pledge allegiance. I don’t think the only criteria for allegiance to my country should be that “it could be worse”. I have a higher standard than that.

“No country lives up to your standards”
Agreed. I could tell you dozens of countries doing a better job in a lot of these areas but that isn’t really my point. I don’t want the US to become like some other country and then I’ll pledge. I don’t want to pledge to a country. Nationalism is an antiquated idea that no longer serves the needs of the Earth or humanity. Technology has made us smaller, closer. We have the opportunity to erase our arbitrary boundaries that make us hate and kill each other. We can move beyond us and them and realize our future is only secure if we are WE.

“But the troops…”
My refusing to pledge allegiance to this country does not mean I don’t love our troops. My dad and husband both served. I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in the military at all. That doesn’t change the intentions behind their actions when they enlisted. There are many beautiful things our military does. It isn’t the fault of individual soldiers that warmongering is such a big part of our current ethos as a nation. Someday, without war, these military men and women will continue their peacekeeping work without the violent side.