This month our Millennial takes on a Baby Boomer on the subject of gender pronouns
The Baby Boomer
Jamie Colvin wants me – and you – to sign off our emails with our preferred gender neutral pronouns: him/her or they/them. It’s a request that should have someone like me (bitter, over 60, white heterosexual male) foaming at the mouth and declaring how this is just typical of Jamie’s generation of spoilt, virtue-signalling, anti free-speech, self-indulgent snowflakes who want to tell the rest of us how to think, talk and, now, sign off our emails!
Sorry Jamie, no can do.
I’ve grown exhausted with the culture wars. And this is just the latest round in that endless battle. My question to you is this: is the battle of the preferred pronoun really worth fighting for?
Yes, respect, tolerance, civility, courtesy, inclusivity are all things that we should encourage. You want preferred pronouns to be used as a mark of respect and a way of showing solidarity with the fluid and non-binary. It’s the linguistic equivalent of taking the knee. I get it.
Non-binary, cisgender, gender-fluid, gender-queer, heterosexual, bisexual, him/ her, them/they – they’re all too shallow and too restrictive to deal with the great murky mysteries of the Self
And I’m happy to address you, or anyone, by the pronoun of their choice. And I’m happy to address someone as Honey Bunny, Sweetie Pie, Tosspot or Wanker – as the occasion fits. But I can’t sign off my emails with my preferred pronouns. I will sign off as I usually do with: let’s have lunch, please return my phone calls and, don’t you love me anymore?
I can see that neutral pronouns are a way of saying who you are and who you are not. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But your identity – who you really are – goes deeper than anything you find in the whole discourse and terminology around ideas of gender and sexual identity.
Non-binary, cisgender, gender-fluid, gender-queer, heterosexual, bisexual, him/ her, them/they – they’re all too shallow and too restrictive to deal with the great murky mysteries of the Self. You sign off your email as non-binary person in transition. I sign off as Mr. Heterosexual. Big deal. Both terms tell the reader nothing. They are not you.
Instead of your preferred pronoun tell me who your preferred novelist is? Tell me what cheesy pop song makes you weep? Tell me what your perfect day is, or who your best friend is? It is in our dreams, hopes, fears and acts of kindness, or cruelty, that who we are is revealed.
Your gender fluidity and the expression of your body fluids say nothing about your soul, your quirks. YOU! Put simply: Identity politics has nothing to do with identity.
Here is some news that might interest you, or anyone involved with the struggles of identity politics: nobody loves you because you’re non-binary, in transition, gay, black, straight, or whatever. They love you because of who you really are – whatever the hell that may be.
No one over the age of 40 can get their head around the fact that some people who look female prefer to use he/him gender pronouns. Similarly, someone who looks male might use they/ them gender pronouns because they are non-binary (i.e., on a gender spectrum
that’s not exclusively male or female). Yes, it isn’t unusual and, yes, that’s what a gender pronoun is – for those of you who’ve struggled to understand when you hear the term being used. It’s a personal declaration of gender that reminds us identity goes far deeper than appearances.
Recently it’s become a more common practice to state the pronouns you’d like to be addressed by as part of your email signature, or your online profile on social media. So, I might end a missive “Jamie Colvin, preferred pronouns he/him.” But if I were a trans woman, my pronouns would be she/her. And if I was non-binary, I’d probably suggest you address me as they/them, although some people prefer xe or ze.
Take some time to think about how respecting gender pronouns might make some people feel
The practice is growing, so it’s time to familiarise yourself with it. In fact, it’s becoming common practice everywhere, not just with those who identify as non-binary, cisgender, gender fluid, genderqueer and so on. Those are some tricky words for ageing Baby Boomers like Cosmo Landesman, I know.
Diana Thomas, a trans woman who’s incumbent PPA Magazine Columnist of the Year, uses a good analogy to demonstrate gender: a bridge, with one end representing that you identify as a woman, and the other representing that you identify as a man. In simplistic terms, many people are a combination of both – perhaps 30% man and 70% woman. Or you might be neither, which is known as gender neutral.
A gender-neutral person might be dressed in “men’s” clothes, but use the gender pronouns, they/them. How are you to know? It’s not always obvious, is it? That’s ok. Gender pronouns are there to help YOU, the recipient of the email or the person viewing their social media profile. It saves YOU from the embarrassment of mistaking someone’s gender and it saves them from the pain that comes with being misgendered – win-win, right?
At least, Cosmo, you’re not shouting “there’s only men and women”, or something ridiculous about “revolutionising basic grammar” like some of your generation. But before you dismiss this as a step too far, take some time to think about how respecting gender pronouns might make some people feel. It requires no effort from you to show that courtesy – less than it would to hold a door open for someone – but it could mean a lot to the person you’re addressing. So please, stop all your whinging about culture wars. Get rid of the “your generation has it so easy” mentality that we hear the whole time, and show some manners.