Gendered Language — Part One
Finding Quarrel in a Straw
I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish recently and for no other reason than I was once reading fluent and being out of practice, my ability to use the language is quite diminished. That, along with some recent online conversations about language, took me down the rabbit hole of gendered language, which is present in approximately 25% of active languages, such as Spanish. I paused to wonder how trans-related linguistics work when language is explicitly gendered. Are there Hispanic trans activists who get triggered by cisgénero vocabulary?
Are there words in English that are explicitly gendered? I expect in some circles this is subject for debate and if I were to say the word ‘penis’ is explicitly male, I expect some would push back much as if I say ‘vagina’ is explicitly female.
Is the gender of ‘mother’ in question? I’ve read recently that some seem to be bothered by it, but I wonder at that. Prior to transition, I fathered two children. ‘Fathering’ is an explicitly male act and my role in the process was the biologically male role. I am not my children’s mother. She was the one that played the biologically female role in the process. Now if a trans man carries a child in his womb, does that womb gain the status as a male organ? Does his biologically female role in the process, the role of the mother, require different terminology because he is a man who can mother a child? Do we need to have gender neutral terms for all parents?
Real quick tangent: does it bother you that I speak of something being biologically male or female? I have wondered at that. Perhaps it doesn’t bother me because I, even as an out trans woman, am a woman who has no issue with the binary, especially as it applies to procreation. I fathered two beautiful, brilliant children and if their existence required me to exist in a biologically male role, to deal with all the crap of being trans, then it was all worth it. There is no life I could have led that would be improved by their absence from it.
Of course, the gender neutral term for parents is, well, parent. I often introduce myself as the parent of my children, rather than their father. I do this mostly to save time in conversation. And when others refer to me as one of my kids’ ‘moms’, I tend to not correct them because, again, it saves time in conversation. My kids don’t call me ‘Dad’, but they don’t call me ‘Mom’ either. They have their own term of affection for me (which many of their friends use for me as well).
Am I triggered by any of these terms? No, but then again, even if I was, I would tend to deal with it as I deal with being triggered by politics or bad movies or bad drivers — I let the emotion pass through me, I write about it, and then I move on. My being triggered by something or being offended by some ‘microaggression’ is not cause for me to demand they reshape the way they speak on my behalf.
Others may do that and their demands might be shouted to such a degree that they may appear dogmatic to some who feel oppressed by the dogma of others. Sometimes we seek out reasons to be offended as opposed to asking why we are offended and if our taking of offense is rational.
I am offended by some elements of minimalist art and parts of the Italian Modernist manifestos. I’m very offended by bad design. I’m offended by people who talk in public venues (theatres, concerts, movies, etc.). I’m offended by any religious person who feels their religious beliefs should be encoded into law.
And yet, aside from dirty looks at disruptive audience members, I allow that people will make art that does not please me or believe their gods require them to rule the world, as irrational as either seem to be to me.
I’m actually a little offended that some cis people take offense at the word cis, especially cis women who believe the word is somehow the product of some strange trans female cabal that seeks to sublimate cis women through the cis label. That rationale does not seem rational to me in the same way that being offended at the word ‘vagina’ being explicitly female does not seem rational to me in the same way that being triggered by a cis woman talking about her period does not seem rational to me.
I truly believe people pick fights for the sake of fighting.
There are words that are truly pejorative; vocabulary loaded with negative history that ought not to be used by folks unless they are part of the group against whom they are historically applied. There is language that can be abusive and concepts that can be abused. This amazing and wonderful and awful internet allows for all of that abuse and all of the dissemination of ideas about language that can be read and taken as dogma or as a grain of salt.
This essay, which may reach perhaps 30–50 readers, is simply a grain of salt as are those that express the idea that cis is a pejorative or that offense should be taken at a pussy hat at a women’s march because not all women have vaginas and not all those who have vaginas are women.
Not all fathers are men and not all mothers are women and yet ‘father’ is explicitly male and ‘mother’ is explicitly female. Both are truths of biology and both are likely to offend when stated and even if I say that they rationally should not, that if we step back from being reactionary, from taking offense when none is meant (as I don’t take offense when a religious person prays for me or my kids because it’s a positive action and not an aggression against me as an atheist), then the world is made better.