Talk about gender and pronouns
This post is based on a conversation I had on FB with my friend Yehuda. He agreed me using the conversation in a blog post.)
An ex-friend of mine once claimed to be offended by my request to use “אתה” — “Ata” (Hebrew: male form of “you”) when my presentation was masculine, and refused to use it, even though I asked her very politely every time she used “את”- “At” (Hebrew: female form of” you”) during a meeting. There is no gender neutral “You” in Hebrew.
As a genderqueer, I feel that when people demand not to use my pronouns, mock me or just pretend not to hear when I say “אתה””Ata” I feel pain, hurt and not respected. I respect their gender identity. I wouldn’t do the same on propose. Why would they do that?
Some people say that it is hard for them to remember what pronoun to use with each person. I think that using “they” as a go-to gender neutral term is fine. Also, well, it is easy for people to remember the “he” and “she” list in their memory. Some even activity want to know, even if it is not relevant. I don’t think it is hard to add “ask at the beginning of the talk” or “they”. If it is about sir/madam — I guess there are gender neutral possibilities that are common enough? You can also just ask, if you have the time to add a sentence into the interaction (It is not always possible) — or so you say, because it seems as an easy solution. Is it?
Yehuda replied to my suggestion with an interesting perspective: “There are many people who would be offended by being asked about the pronoun, because it implies that their gender presentation is unclear. The fact that they would also be offended by overt misgendering doesn’t make the question better.”
I think that many cis-gender folks also need lots of recognition in their gender, and because misgendering is used a lot as punishment to people, they feel like you are imply that their gender is not valid.
I asked Yehuda if adding a really polite phrase will help. Something like “I don’t want to hurt you by misgendering you. If I use the wrong pronoun, please correct me.”
Yehuda wasn’t satisfied, and rightly so: “I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of the question. In my mind (and perhaps only there *smile emoticon*) it’s an added barrier to communication with new people, which can be difficult enough. It feels like it adds a need to ask the person for data before addressing them, rather than just addressing them.”
And I agree with Yehuda. I may be not an introvert like I suppose he is, but being autistic and past bulling and always feeling misunderstood. Both of us need some personal space that adding sentences like this into an interaction with a random human being can add lots of stress.
The issue is not easy because the problem about is not between you and me, but between lots of people and me or Yehuda.
Both of us want to feel safe and also want a lot of personal space.I guess this is one of the reasons Yehuda talks a lot in English. My English sucks, so my own solution is try to talk in as gender neutral language as I can (it is not that easy in Hebrew. In Russian it is easier, but most people don’t talk Russian and for some reason many adults don’t like the use of “polite you” which is gender neutral and also plural, unless they are at least 30–40 years older than me). If I can I minimize my communication to single words and gestures, because sometimes just talking is hard.
I try not to talk at all to people I don’t know, or even I know very well if I am trying to do something else then talking like concentrating on what I want to do in 2 minutes, or just listening to blogs or getting ready in the morning because talking can be really hard for me sometimes, and I wish I could just show written words or keep quiet.
Also, talking to people can be scary. Yehuda said: “I can say that there have been people that I have not spoken to because I was unsure how to address them and how to ask without causing offence […]I also feel that gender can be a minefield if mis-addressed, so I don’t want to start communication that way.”
And I get it. Some people were hurt and will willingly hurt others if they think someone mocks them. Yehuda and I have the need to feel safe while communicating with people. I am also afraid from misgendering people, or afraid from their reaction if I even ask about their preferred pronouns.
If I choose to share my gender identity (and if I use my “male” name and pronouns in Hebrew, it is hard to ignore that my gender is not cis) I need to feel respected as a human being when I talk to other people. When people misgender me, after I ask them to use my pronouns, I feel pain and sadness, because our communication is not mutual.
But cis-folks are being misgendered too. Yehuda added something I haven’t thought about before: “Saying “I don’t want to hurt you by misgendering you” would. For many people, imply that they could easily be mis-gendered, implying that they are externally gender-non-conforming. I know many people who would likely take offense at that, or at least need a whole conversation to disentangle it.”
Many cis-folks have the need for their gender to be recognized and respected. Just like me. It must be really painful for them, because they don’t hear that I try to respect them by not implying what their gender is. It is not their fault. I know person’s gender is very important to them in our much gendered society, where even a question about person’s preferred gender is seen as “mocking”.
I don’t have much gender, but I do have some, in addition to some gender dysphoria and the idea of gender stereotypes is very painful for me because every “flaw” I had was expected to be eliminated because “girls shouldn’t have” this or that — bad handwriting, even a little messy room, my own taste in clothing. It is hard if one is a girl, but if one is not a girl and expected to act like one it makes things messed up too. Trying hard to be something I am not and failing is different but also painful.
So for me and other Trans* people, the misgendering is also painful, but differently. We are not failed in having our gender, but we fail at something we don’t even want and the idea that we can even choose differently is seen as worse than failing.
When I started to wear and look more androgynous, a lot of gender dysphoria left me. When I am gendered again, it just reminds me that my needs as person with some non-binary gender are seen by the dominant culture as a joke and with people who tell me that because what I experience is different from them, I must be wrong.
My ex-friend from the first paragraph was offended by my gender, and told me that talking to me in my chosen pronouns was something I have to choose — over our friendship. It was very painful, and I choose the friendship, which wasn’t real at that point and told her I will not talk about my gender with her again. We had lots of miscommunication. It makes me sad to remember that. But I am lucky. Others suffer from much more violent reactions towards them.
People are afraid of not cis and not binary gendered people. Or else, why are they so violent towards us? That is why Trans* people are so defensive about their gender. Because people are afraid of gender, and see our own gender as something to do with them. We go to the bathroom not to pee but to sexually assault them, we dress in that way in order to trick them to bed, or to come into their society, we ask to use our pronouns because we just want lots of their attention.
The truth is we don’t want to hurt anybody, we just want to express our gender, thing that many people get without struggling, and be respected as a human beings.
Sadly, many cis people think has to do with them and hurting them, because they have issues with their gender too, though different than ours.
Isn’t it so tragic and sad?