Open Bar: Respectful communication key to navigating the world of genderqueer pronouns (column)
July 1, 2018
The ostrich's head is buried deep in the sand, a conscious effort to deny a reality that is anathema to the stubborn, closed mind. The purposely circumscribed view allows the ostrich to ignore the glorious plurality of the characters that comprise its habitat.
I am nauseated by the ostriches that live in our midst, those who terrorize any person who does not meet their definition of normal. Their disdain extends not only to the magnificent panoply of humankind but also to the evolving language that we use to describe the intricacies of our species.
Our taxonomical alphabet used to be only alpha and omega, strictly binary choices. But there are not only two kinds of people, so our descriptors are hopelessly outdated. As our ideas about gender expand, so, too, do the pronouns that we employ.
But the reactionary fear change, rail against anything that threatens their status, their fragile self-conception. They scoff at using co instead of he, ze instead of she. Ridicule being the weapon of the insecure, they taunt those who are born as he and become she or vice versa or both or neither or beyond. Gender is a spectrum and therefore not susceptible to reductionist or assumptive linguistics.
“Sticks, stones and words can all leave permanent scars. The way we employ language has incredible effects on how welcomed people believe themselves to be. Not being a hypocrite, I want everyone to feel embraced, to feel secure, to feel happy. I hope and trust that I am not alone.”
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As is often the case, those who lament the grammatical evolution are focused on the wrong interests: their own instead of those of others. Unable to summon even a modicum of empathy, they have the audacity to believe that the pronunciation of one more letter or less letter or different letter is a burden greater than the decades of mental turmoil haunting the pronoun's subject.
The determination of the appropriate pronoun to employ is an understandably sensitive topic to a genderqueer or transgender person, particularly one who is transitioning. The possibility of offense exists. But this potential awkwardness and difficulty does not justify complaint. It is a consequence of living in a full, open society. Any minor inconvenience positively pales in comparison to the press of suicidal tendencies, the confusion, the sheer terror that accompany the realization that one's identity does not conform to traditional conceptions.
Unsurprisingly, respectful communication is the key to understanding how to navigate the world of genderqueer pronouns. Engaging, with his/her/xyr/hys/hir/cos consent, in an earnest, compassionate, gentle query about a person's preferences is the best way to know what makes them comfortable.
And, this does not and should not arise in connection with people who may fit your image of a cis or trans person; it can be a universal inquiry when first meeting a new person. Gracing a transgender/non-binary/any person with all necessary leeway, without being condescending, is also a manner of ensuring that there is mutual ease in the conversation.
This progression is not limited to the genderqueer space. While the concept of non-binary pronouns may be relatively new, the idea of using updated language to describe people, particularly traditionally marginalized persons, has been around since the early days of the suffrage and civil rights movements.
Sticks, stones and words can all leave permanent scars. The way we employ language has incredible effects on how welcomed people believe themselves to be. Not being a hypocrite, I want everyone to feel embraced, to feel secure, to feel happy. I hope and trust that I am not alone.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Alpenglow Law LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.alpenglowlaw.com.