It’s not a binary, it’s a spectrum

If you don’t know you can ask, and that’s really okay

Photo Credit: McClure’s Magazine


“That makes absolutely no sense” is the most common response to the explanation of why pronouns are an article of the outfit that society has put together in order to categorize and structure human beings.

Using biologically given sex, society has come up with guidelines and regulations specific to one of two genders thereby excluding those who either do not fall into the gender binary or are not biologically the gender of their choosing. Where do pronouns fall in this issue? Since the beginning of civilization, humanity has created and “perfected” a system of words, specifically in this case pronouns, to label and name people and things, however it is not as perfect a system as it may seem, and it has the ability to create issues and unfair stratification. What many don’t think about is that the problem does not always necessarily stem from the pronoun itself but from the connotation it carries. Assigning a pronoun to a person assigns that person a specific set of rules to go by, a female is expected to raise children and maintain the household, while a male is expected to earn income to support the family. Although over time these rules have changed they are still present in many cultures around the world and they exclude those who do not identify as strictly male or strictly female. Transgenderism and other sexualities’s issues have become more prominent in recent times than ever before and as a result of the fight for equal rights, backlash and criticism inevitably follow. As explained by Jack Halberstam in his article “on pronouns” many people become “confused” or unsure of how to refer to transgender folk (which pronoun to use, “he”? Or “She”?) and while Jack himself doesn’t quite have a preference, many other people do, and as per usual, voicing their preferences is met with criticism and sometimes even mockery.

Recently in social media a video became very popular, a video in which a non binary identifying person is mocked by a YouTuber who does not quite understand the meaning of a non binary conforming life. In this video, the YouTuber reacts to the explanation of what non binary gender identification means by creating over the top “comparisons” such as “I identify as Chuck Norris” and while this may have been an attempt at a satirical opinion, it embodies the worldwide misunderstanding of what it means to fall in a gender that is not strictly either female or male. This lack of understanding goes further than just a reaction video. We see it everyday in the ever present issue of the “bathroom law”, in the way religious groups preach against anything that could be other than male/female, and recently in the way one Canadian professor ignited an entire college to protest against his tenure after he refused to use gender neutral pronouns in his class.

University of Toronto professor Jordan B. Peterson sparked a protest against his tenure in October of 2016 after it was revealed by various students that he refused to respect people’s personal preferences, in other words, if you were born a male you are “he” and if you were born a female you are “she”. Although the professor is tenured, numerous students protested in an attempt to get Peterson fired and although they were unsuccessful in that aspect they damaged to convince the school to ask Peterson to use gender neutral pronouns as form of respect for his students.

It is instances like these that help us see what the world still needs to work on. In this case, inclusion of those who do not identify is one of the biggest issues for gender justice groups, feminism is a belief and a practice in fair treatment not just among males and females but amongst everyone on earth regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or socioeconomic status. As such, we must work together to help improve the world because even sometimes that may seem small to some of us, such as asking individuals what their preferred pronoun is, can help make a significant difference in the long run.

Gender Theory

University of California, Riverside

Leslie Contreras-Morales

Written by

Gender Theory

University of California, Riverside

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