Monday, 31 December 2018

Pronouns again.

“Just Do It,” Lynn said. Just write. Okay, so. And as it happens I do have something to write about...

The problem of pronouns has surfaced again. I got referred to as “he” and was surprised by how much it grated. The feeling of wrongness was visceral. But while “he” may be wrong, there isn't anything that feels exactly right either. Despite the fact that I said, only the other day, that I prefer gender neutral pronouns – a neutral singular “they" and its associated cases (them, their, themself, etc) – which at least acknowledges my genderqueerness.

Sigh. It seems I'm going back and forth between things I wrote three and seven years ago, without ever getting them resolved.

US history professor, Jen Manion, has recently written about pronouns too. This bit certainly struck a chord:

My pronoun was “she.” But saying it felt that I was consenting to a denial of my gender nonconformity and masculinity. My gender, something I then described as butch, was not legible as transgressive in this new gendered order. Saying “she” implied that I was cisgender and not trans, which I resented. Saying “she” implied that I was unaware, out of touch, or in denial of my gender.

But Professor Manion is concerned with a specific context, that of pronoun go-rounds, and what her usage of “she” implies there, how it renders her invisible. Elsewhere, her “gender — a lifetime of non-conformity, masculinity, butchness, and transness — is neither validated nor undone by a one syllable word.” Whereas I feel that “he” erases me in all contexts.

On the go-round, US law professor Dean Spade argues for its continued usefulness here, writing that “it is not meant to and cannot take care of all the many complex problems of judgment, identity, and anxiety that exist around our complex lives and our political movements. It is merely an attempt to create a practice of not assuming we know what someone goes by just by looking at them.” Fair enough.

As for me, what I'd really like is a non-gendered pronoun. One that doesn't say anything about my gender at all. One like Marge Piercy's “per”, or the Finnish “hän” (pronounced “hen”).

According to Wikipedia: “The Finnish language does not distinguish gender in nouns or even in personal pronouns: hän is ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’ depending on the referent.” In other words, it won't stop people automatically gendering on sight and categorizing you on that basis. But at least the language doesn't inflict it on you.

So then: hän, hänen, hänet. As someone with some Scots heritage, I have to say I quite like the idea of being called “hen” :)


  1. "Okay our hen?" :-) Funny the things your learn about language, gender, and other cultures. Great post!

    Congrats on being the first post on 2019 on T Central.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. And so I am. Splendid. There's encouragement for me :)