My daughter started college last week and on the first day her professor, I mean ‘they’ professor, asked the students how they preferred to be indentified:
She, he or they?
“They” was recently anointed the singular gender neutral pronoun.
It sounds totally awkward and grammatically incorrect. But after researching gender, gender fluidity and gender-queer topics all weekend, already that usage doesn’t feel as awkward as it did when my daughter first described the scene at school.
My reaction was not discriminatory. It was not judgmental.
I was just flabbergasted.
This is probably a testament to how things make it into the mainstream: what seemed ludicrous on Friday, after a bit of research started to make sense, or at least feel more comfortable, by Sunday.
Months ago, I read New York Times article about gender and the use of ‘new’ pronouns, but I really didn’t comprehend the gist of the piece. It didn’t fit into my schema of things and wasn’t anything I could relate to.
We’re adding new pronouns and changing language to refer to gender?
We can’t use he or she anymore and if we do we risk offending someone?
“They” is now singular?
Some people don’t want to be labeled a specific gender?
None of this made sense.
So I did what I believed to be right and fair. I looked into the subject. This is some of what I found out:
“Genderqueer people are those who identify their gender somewhere between male and female, reject traditional notions of gender, or reject the concept of gender altogether.” – Huffington Post
“Genderqueer, along with the somewhat newer and less politicized term nonbinary, are umbrella terms intended to encompass individuals who feel that terms like man and woman or male and female are insufficient to describe the way they feel about their gender and/or the way they outwardly present it.” – Slate
I’ve written about how it’s impossible to fully understand the experience of another. (See blog post: Why Should We Watch Movies Like Still Alice?)
But it’s essential that we try.
Empathizing is the essence of our humanity and it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves.
There are some who think we need to stop this “madness,” this foreign concept of gender fluidity but there was a time lefties were forced to use their right hand and homosexuals underwent electroshock treatment.
I hope we are past discriminating in such cruel and insensitive ways.
There are new terms on the horizon that are being used to identify individuals and you might as well get used to them.
- AAB (assigned at birth).
- AFAB (assigned female at birth.)
- GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.)
- Gender binary is the idea that there are two distinct genders, one male and one female, with nothing in between.
- Nonbinary-having no gender or moving between genders.
- Transgender- you are born as one gender but feel more comfortable as the other.
- Gender Fluidity or All-Gender- you feel like you are both, that gender is flexible. It’s not about who you choose to be with sexually, it’s about how you identify yourself.
So yes this subject had me feeling like I was lost in a foreign land, unable to speak the native language, without a map. If that were ever the case, if I were ever in that situation, it would be on me to find my way out.
This past winter I watched Transparent, a television series created by Jill Soloway, based on her transgender father.
The show is fascinating and well done. It is informative and entertaining. Through the main character we learn to find our sameness—our shared humanity—how our families matter, how we want to belong and be accepted, how we aspire to find our true identity.
In 1900 women couldn’t vote.
In 1950 black people used separate bathrooms than white people.
And in 2000 homosexuals couldn’t get married.
While there is still a lot to learn, through conversations, television, books and art we have begun to enlighten and educate.