Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"What pronoun do you prefer?"

I was at a "mocktail" party for one of the seminars I'm in this semester the other night, the primary objective being to meet everyone in the class and get to know them outside of class. Most of the class is made up of freshmen, but there was another sophomore that I had seen around campus. I immediately drifted over. We'd had brief conversations at the student center before, so introductions were not required. As I approached, the first question I heard was, "So, what pronouns do you prefer?"

I don't think I've heard a better pick-up line in my life.

Okay, so, it wasn't a pick-up line, as we are both quite happily taken, but if we hadn't been, it would have been perfect. It was, however, an amazing introductory line, not only because it would have fostered an amazing conversation between us if I hadn't been dragged away by my professor, but because it seemed so wonderfully polite and considerate.

I know it was probably the first thing ze asked because I am, quite clearly, a big ol' queer. But I thought of how smoothly the ensuing conversation went. It didn't feel awkward or clumsy at all, as I've always been told it would be if we all had to ask people what pronouns they preferred at the time of introduction. It actually worked as a gateway of connection between us. I wouldn't normally have sought interaction with hir, merely because I didn't think we'd have much in common (and because I'm notoriously shy around strangers). But with that one simple question, we now have a bond, and not just because we are both transgender but because we both see a need for there to be a bit more etiquette in the world!

So why haven't we started this trend? Why haven't we enforced this in Miss Manners? Why is the subject of pronouns not addressed in introductions where we address the issue of what to call someone by name? It seems like the two would go hand in hand, as both are vital components of communication.

Well, for one, we assume that we can determine the preferred pronoun simply by looking (this is nothing that you don't already know). We assess the way someone dresses, keeps themselves, speaks, etc. and from that, we assume that we know their gender and, subsequently, what pronouns to use when referencing them.

How hard would it be to simply ask this question at introduction? For starters, most people don't see a need for it, because of the aforementioned aesthetic assumptions (gosh, look at that alliteration!). This would also legitimize transgender behavior and identity, and gods forbid we expand the binary! Next thing you know, they'll be letting those queers get married to each other! AND THEN PEOPLE WITH VAGINAS WILL BE ABLE TO VOTE!

Me? I still haven't moved past the issue of having gender pronouns at all. In the ideal world I've constructed in my mind, everyone would go by "he" and that would be that. But, of course, this is my quixotic dream and this would never happen because all the women would be pissed that we're taking on the male pronoun and all the men would be pissed because then they'd say they would be gay because everyone would be a man and the transgenders would be mad because they'd think that the binary they worked so hard to dismantle was just put back together by the patriarchy with duct tape and slammed into the backs of their heads. In my perfect world, "he" is not a male pronoun, it is just a pronoun, with no connotations whatsoever, but until I get that magic wand that lets me do as I please (it's been on back order for about 18 years, but I swear, it'll be here), this is not going to happen.

... and my response to the question? "Neither, really. But if you have to, 'he' will do nicely." Because I'm a he-man woman-hater.

GENDERGENDERGENDERGENDER. It's everywhere, it's inescapable, it's ALIVE! RUN, DON'T WALK, TO YOUR NEAREST GENDERQUEER BOMB SHELTER! I feel like gender was this atomic bomb that someone dropped on the entire world and although the worst has passed, we're still dealing with the ramifications that give the continuing generations third arms and crossed eyes. And it sucks. Sucks sucks sucks.

I will most certainly be returning to this post to make it less of a manic ramble with no direction, but for right now, Winston Churchill calls for my attention.