My thanks to the group “Women Make Glasgow” for proposing the subject of this blog. Please do follow them on Twitter.
There are few issues quite so controversial as the use of pronouns. Simple everyday words they may be, but they are absolutely dynamite at the minute. One slip and the consequences can be significant.
Historically the rules were quite simple; it you were of the female sex you were “she”/”her” and if you were of the male class you were “he”/”his”.
How things have changed! There are, or so we are told, no clear rules any more. Those of the male sex can be “she” and those of the female sex can be “he”. Indeed if you don’t want to use either there are a plethora of other options:
- ze(or zie)/zir/zirs/zirself
Have you ever seen something so bizarre in your life ? Can you image a conversation where you have to remember to substitute the natural inclination to use “she” and replace it with the pronoun “bun” ?
“I spoke to bun on the phone and bun advised me that bun would be visiting me bunself next week”.
Strange as they are, the typical reaction to these new pronouns is one of extreme eye rolling. It is of interest to note however that the issue of “misgendering” only ever lies with the original two; the “he”/”she”. I have yet to hear of any case of “misgendering” where a member of the male sex called the police for a refusal to be identified as “bun”. And why would there be ? When a word is not being redefined few have a problem. If someone asks to be called “bun” then really what’s the harm in most cases ? I may think the person somewhat strange to say the least, but chances are I would go along with it.
“Misgendering” is a strange concept.
Something happened recently that has largely gone unnoticed. Somewhere along the way these simple “he”/”she” pronouns switched from being about biological sex class to being about gender identity. Ask your self this; when you refer to a woman as “she”, for example, are you making reference to their biological sex or their gender identity ? I would argue a pronoun has always been about the sex class never the gender. Within the animal kingdom a pronoun has always referred to biological sex. When did it change to be about gender ?
Lets assume for one minute that I agree with the concept of gender roles and stereotypes. Attaching pronouns to gender would mean that the beer drinking, football watchers would all be “he” and the handbag carrying, make up lovers would be “she”. Question – when you speak to someone on the phone, for example, how do you know what gender roles they adhere to ? How can you gender someone without knowing something about them ? Do they fill in a questionnaire and their score determined what pronoun they are allocated ? Of course it’s impossible.
Pronouns have to be based on sex. If ever you are accused of “misgendering” someone the reply is simple; “I’m sorry but my choice of pronoun relates to your biological sex not your gender identity. Did I get your biological sex wrong ?”. “Misgendering” is based on the principal a pronoun is a reference to gender not sex and this must be challenged.
There are many reasons why people choose to use pronouns that differ from their natal sex with some being of significant concern:
- Indulging the fantasy (a sexual kick from hearing oneself being called “she”)
- Eroding the definition of woman (attempting to share common definitions such as “woman”, “lesbian”, “she”, “her” etc.)
- Buying into the idea that human beings can change sex (I have changed from a man to a woman, why would you not call me “she” ?)
To force a person to call someone by a pronoun that is opposite to one’s natal sex is forcing that person to give up their own identity. We have the revolting position right now where male sexual offenders have appeared in court and the victim is forced to refer to their attacker as “she”. Insult to injury.
What about the issue of pronouns when it comes to transsexual people – those who have Gender Dysphoria ? We often hear reference to how hurtful it is to those people and of course most of us would never want to do anything to hurt someone else.
I can answer the question for me.
Does it hurt me to be referred to as “he” ? Notwithstanding that “hurt” is rather a strong term to use, but in some ways yes it does hurt (I am simply being honest). Being called “he” reminds me of who I am and the resentment I have towards my birth sex. However, it is factually correct that I was born a man and will die a man so I cannot say that “he” is wrong. The fact that I am transsexual is not your problem. My hurt is my responsibility, not yours. I have a phobia of heights to the point where seeing someone up a ladder makes me profoundly uncomfortable; do I have a right to ask that no-one climbs a ladder every time I am around ? Life does not revolve around me.
As a family member used to say ” You can’t live your life watching every other word for fear of offence because in truth everything you say will probably offend someone !”
To force a woman to call me “she” is inappropriate. In essence I would be forcing someone, under threat of legal recourse, to state that my identity is no different from theirs; I would be making that woman give away a part of their identity. How could anyone who respects women ask for that ?
There are some who would argue that it is disrespectful to “misgender” someone; the idea that to call a man “he” is hurtful because the message you send is “you are not a woman”. Why are women being made to validate biological untruths ?
How many of us growing up were forced to apologise and would mumble a pitiful “sorry”, only to be told to repeat the apology because it didn’t sound like you meant it ? What does it mean to force women to call a man “she” when it is done reluctantly ? Of course it saddens me to say that there are those for whom forcing women to use opposite pronouns, the more reluctantly the better, meets a misogynistic or fetishistic desire.
There are some who do refer to me as “she”; in fact on a daily basis it’s 50/50 between “he” and “she”. Whilst I do accept the “she” pronoun, it is never forced nor demanded. If someone chooses to call me “she” I do not have a massive problem with them doing so, as long as they do not feel coerced. I find that in the vast majority of cases those women who do refer to me as “she” do so as their way of showing support towards my journey and the path I tread, not because they consider me a woman.