Tuesday, October 24, 2017

He’s and She’s and In-Betweens

I’m meeting with Earth-Writer tonight, as National Novel Writing Month approaches, largely to provide feedback on her novel draft which I recently enjoyed. It features a delightful character without a reproductive arrangement of a standard formation. Perhaps hermaphroditic is the correct term? I have no idea if that term is currently considered respectful or not but you probably get the idea.
I found it very challenging to read the narrative concerning this character; let’s call him/her “Taylor” for now. Each time the narrative came back to Taylor from somewhere else I would trip all over the pronoun “they” or “their”, the same way I have tripped over it many times when talking to friends about common associates who have recently discovered a lack of gender-specific identity within their own psyche. I instinctively (selfishly) do not like this solution. To me it hampers the fluidity of communication. I keep thinking we are talking plural and must shake my head and realize again that we’re talking one person of unspecified gender.
I can see that we’re going to have a difficult time as a society coming to terms with these non-binary gender ideas when it comes to language.
There are some intelligent people out there with great respect for science and logic and who recognize that language is indeed a construct of science and logic who insist that a person with a penis who reports they “feel” like a girl is indeed still a boy regardless and should be labeled appropriately in terms of law and societal operation (such as which bathroom to use).
On the other hand there are places where non-binary is an official legal option with regards to gender.
The number of personal friends I have who have physically changed gender or are considering it or who have come out as having significant thoughts about it has gone from zero to five in the course of the last two or three years. The number of tertiary associates under these circumstances is probably about ten, I’m not bothering to count. Plus who knows how many are in that state but in the closet?
At a party recently, one of the hosts was in the state of thinking themself a they and many of the party guests showed a lot of outward signs that they were probably in the same camp or else were indeed fully post-operative trans-gendered - or else fitting some particular variant of the wide trans spectrum.
It was a very new experience for me to witness this and I am grateful for it. These folks (some of each cross-direction should that interest you) were obviously well-acquainted, perhaps via some official support community - and they were very gentle and loving toward one another. An outsider might even get the impression of a poly amorous subculture but I have no evidence of that, nor did I inquire. Though the trans-gender idea is instinctively a foreign one to me, I found myself disarmed by this group. I found them to be quite lovely and graceful people.
My heart totally goes out to anyone in such a circumstance. I would like them to feel comfortable and happy with whoever and whatever they are - or feel like they are. But dictating what pronouns other people use to describe them is not necessarily entirely wise in my opinion. Let me close here with a few suggestions:
1. We all would do well to try not to care and worry quite so much about gender identity. Everyone is unique and deciding what gender someone should be labeled does not automatically confer any facts about that person.
2. We all would do well to be less sensitive as to what label someone uses when referring to us. What matters about you is what you think of you; not anyone else. If you decide tomorrow you have become a “he” instead of a “she”, well fine. Someone calling you a “he” doesn’t make you one. It only betrays how they instinctively think of you. And frankly, everyone you have ever met (and I’m talking about all of us when I say “you”) has a different idea of who you are and those ideas will all be different, and different than your own idea, and different than the real authentic you.
3. We all would do well, I think, to remember that words have multiple meanings and that words are only signposts. It is not words that matter, it is intention that matters. “Woman” has always been meant to specify the female gender but “Man” was not originally intended to specify male gender. It was supposed to mean human. I think we would do well to try to allow such words as “man” and “he” and “him” to reclaim that unspecificity and let them all mean “person”
4. To those who propose the new pronoun “Ze” as a non-specific alternative to he and she, I urge you to keep in mind that the words he and she come from the mouth instinctively. Our language/communication programming does not include a pause for thought at such a juncture. Nobody will automatically absorb Ze into their lexicon instinctively, and so expecting people to use it in conversation - much like expecting people to suddenly reverse their he-she usage right after you come out of the closet as trans-gender-feeling, can amount to a bit of a witch hunt. You’ll discover that people have a firm instinctive preconception of your gender and when in conversation with another person, frankly, their idea of your gender is not necessarily less relevant than your own. I think it’s only realistic to be patient. As for the Ze idea, hey, we can go ahead and start using it but it will likely take root in writing well ahead of speech - if it takes root at all - for language is a process of group organics and cannot be intentionally regulated except in contract law! - and we’ll have to be okay with that. I doubt the word will ever find its way out of my mouth - and I can’t possibly apologize for that - but it might, if we start to put it in writing - become an instinctive reality a generation from now? I think that’s about the best you can hope for. And if you do think we should use the “Ze” word, the way to go about it is not through seeking consensus. The thing to do is just start using it! That’s how language evolves. People throw it up and it sticks or it doesn't.
5. With regards to the plural confusion which currently badgers me; the use of they, them and their: I suggest that such a tricky migration might be significantly smoothed if we take an extra step by habitually changing the plural use of those words to - I don’t know - “they all” or “them all” or something like that.
I hope I am not misconstrued. I care about your feelings and I would like to try to help you feel comfortable with your body and your role within society and (gratefully) within my life. But we have to keep it real. The evolution of language naturally seeks clarity and thus changes with the times. The evolution of language does not seek confusion.

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