GENDER PRONOUNS - AN IMPORTANT ISSUE, OR AN IMPORTANT DISCUSSION?
This a chapter that ended up being cut from my book, TRINITY. It simply strayed too far off the overall topic of public speaking and its implications on our ability for communication. However, there was something in the hot topic of gender pronouns that really interested me and still do. Not from the sake of the pronouns, but for the sake of how we talk about it.
Here follows what was cut:
... The discussion of gender pronouns is much more interesting from a communication point of view. Not just because of the complexity of the problem, but because it ties into a question about the definition of the context of communication. I will not go into the discussion of gender pronouns in itself, but there is a side aspect to it, which has huge relevance to this book. You can choose to identify, label or describe yourself as whatever you want, as long as you are by yourself. However, as soon as you’re in communication with someone else, meaning out in public, you do not solely get to decide who and what you are to others. They have a say in it too. Racism is a more tangible debate as race is visible. Both sides of a conversation can see the colour of skin. Gender identity and the use of alternate pronouns is a tricky issue to discuss, as there is a matter of what we can see and what we cannot. How a person identifies, when it comes to gender, is something that can’t be seen on the outside, as they may not reflect it in their behaviour or appearance. A person may not identify as a girl, just because they dress like a girl. They may not identify like a boy because they behave like a boy, and who decides what boy-behaviour is, anyway. Someone else will not know how you identify when it comes to gender unless you tell them. Gender pronouns is a question of how people see themselves versus how others see them, and as gender identity belongs to the deepest part of our definition of Self, it naturally becomes a sensitive issue, when something like gender identification can’t be seen. As soon as you’re not yourself but in the context of someone else, meaning as soon as you take yourself into a context of communication, then you’re not just what you believe yourself to be, but also how you behave with those you are communicating with, and they will address you according to your behaviour as well as your appearance, before understanding or accepting your personal definition of your own identity.
I know gender pronouns is not an issue of behaviour per se. Gender identification is an invisible definition, which I don’t even think people can control. It’s a separate issue from how you will be perceived based on your behaviour, but identity and perception will inevitably get tangled up in each other by those being at the receiving end of someone’s gender identification, as they are easily mistaken for each other on a visible level. Both aspects, however, have to do with a willingness to respect people who do not feel like they fit into the unfortunate binary construct of our current language and modern societal structures. I know, for many LGBTQ+ people, the problem is that, to them, it’s not a black/white binary spectrum of male or female and maybe neutral in the middle, but an ever-sliding grey scale on multiple different parameters of gender, and that is an issue that deserves light and recognition.
OH, MY GOD, SO DUMB! (Guess a movie reference)
Recently, I watched a program produced by the public television broadcast network in Denmark, with a female Danish comedian, who had ventured into the LTBTG+ community to explore what the big fuss was all about with the gender pronouns. Her take seemed to be to make LTBTG+ people understand how “everyone else” found their insisting on individual pronouns silly and just made “everyone else”, meaning her, scared to go anywhere near the LGBTQ+ community. She spoke to a distinguished humble man from the community, who explained their reasoning for a need for individual pronouns and how people within the community usually go about revealing their choice of pronouns. She also spoke to the foreperson of LGBT+ Denmark, who diplomatically and respectfully explained the intricacies of why this is not a simple or easy-to-relate-to matter, as we’re talking about one person’s individual identification of themselves. Therefore, it’s understandably difficult to navigate, even for people within the community. Followed by cameras, the comedienne then went to an LGBT hosted event to test her newly acquired navigational skills. She continuously walked up to strangers and as the first thing blurted out: “I identify as She!”, much to the caught off-guard surprise of whatever LGBTQ+ person in front of her. There was not a shred of willingness or honest interest in letting the other person who might be the one with a need for a specific use of pronoun, lead the way, and let that person steer the introduction. There was only a desire to mock the person by displaying the obvious silliness of her having to say that to a stranger. It was an inspiring case study in how to disrespect a person you don’t even know. From my personal view, having an interest in the linguistic side of matters, I got a kick out of the comedienne completely missing the fact that the pronoun debate centres around the 3rd person gender descriptive pronouns, he, she, et cetera. When you’re in a conversation with someone, you say, how are YOU doing. 2nd person singular. Gender neutral. She could have had a conversation with every single person in the room and never have to use a 3rd person pronoun. It would be so simple to walk into the room and let “the room” come to her, but there was no curiosity to understand and no interest in respectful conversation. There was only a conviction to make a point.
Should we legislate about such matters as gender pronouns based on political correctness?
Absolutely not. Never in a million years. That would be a terrible idea. Is it fair that certain people demand the right to individual pronouns? As a demand, no, I don’t think so. You can see the complexity and potential mayhem of setting demands on this, right? If we allow everyone to insist on how others should view them and what to call them, we’re looking at everyone being entitled to a language of their own in which everyone is the centre of their own universe. Should I call Kopernikus for a reality check?
Okay, so what do we do? Can’t we respect the wishes of those who want their own pronouns? Yes, that is exactly what we can. We can respect their wishes.
But legislating about which pronouns we must use and not being a dick about respecting people’s wishes are two different things. One is governing our language to the demise of free speech. The other is simple human ethics and respect for competent and curious communication. The reason I wanted to pull the gender pronoun issue into this book is because it is symptomatic of our general problem with communication. The world is a whirlpool of chaos, driven by a quest to solve 21st century defined ethical problems, rather than solving our dismal decline of communication. I, myself, am a heterosexual middle class, middle-aged, white male. I have no assumption to ever fully understand the complexity of the struggle many people in the LGBTQ+ community have faced on a daily basis for a lifetime. I don’t live a lifestyle that provides a perspective anywhere close enough to grasp something as intangible as gender identity. I’m a good old, binary kind of guy. If I talk to, let’s say, a transgender or a gender fluid person, without knowing how they identify themselves, should I try to understand the entire perspective of a lifetime in the body, mind and soul of a transgender, or should I strive for a conversation, where we can both just be comfortable? The problem is not whether I can understand the reasoning behind the identity of the person in front of me; the problem is whether we mutually engage in a conversation on the grounds of respect. I know a few people, whom I consider good friends, who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it saddens me when I hear of turmoil and conflict within that community as well. Even among the people, which has had a hell of a time as it is, there is conflict and despise. Here’s what I think, while looking around from my comfortable chair of white-hetero-maleness onto that enigmatic realm of LGBTQ+, which I will never fully understand: If I was in a conversation with someone, I suspected to have a non-binary definition of their identity, I would, as with anyone, strive to make that person feel comfortable in a conversation with me. If that person asked me specifically to address them by a pronoun I would have otherwise not suggested, I would do so and strive to remember their wish. But here’s the thing. I will dare to mediate a notion that as soon as we are in the context of other people, we don’t get to decide how we are being perceived. Only how we identify. If someone asked me to use specific words to address them, I would be tempted by my narrowminded binary Scandinavian view to ask that person: Would you rather I call you what you have decided to be, or what I perceive you to be, based on your behaviour? Which, in the long run, will be of most value to you? If so, that would be a result of my lacking grasp of the complexity and involuntary, invisible nature of gender identity, completely severed from behaviour, despite my believing that it was an interesting question.
So, before asking that question, I would probably lead with, please explain your choice of pronoun, because I don’t understand it. I get that this is important to you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t tell me, and I would like to understand why.
I understand that the fundamental problem of gender identity is that the traditional binary gender scale of male vs female is also under a debate of whether it is simply a social construct. What is biology and what is our interpretations of the concepts of maleness and femaleness. In my Scandinavian corner of the world, gardening is considered female and farming is considered male. If I went to Africa, this definition of a binary scale would not apply. Here women are equally active in farming. And what is a social construction should of course be de-constructable. Nevertheless, despite all my honourable wishes to a understand a perspective other than my own, I will be left in my hetero-maleness with my deeply rooted urge to judge a book by its cover, and judge based on behaviour instead of the unseen certainty of someone’s identity. I will most likely never understand the person in front of me, so all I can lead and contribute with is communication.
Like I said, I am not aiming at the gender pronoun issue itself. My suggestion is, to not focus on the insistence of reaching a mutual understanding of a one-sided, personal matter but insisting on creating a conversation that is based on respectful, two-way-communication, out of which an understanding of something as complex as identity may grow. The person with a need to vocalise a gender identity outside of the binary scale or outside of the visible appearance, should have the right to do so, and should be respected for their wish. However, I fear that that person will, nonetheless, never be able to avoid being gender-perceived partly on their appearance and behaviour. You can tell someone how you identify and ask them to address you as such. You cannot demand of anyone to view you in a certain way, but you can demand a conversation of respectful communication.
To talk about issues as sensitive as gender identity, we first have to get to a higher and more competent level of communication, and we all have a responsibility to achieve that competence. Not only that, but we must have the possibility. We can do it. Becoming better speakers is not that difficult. It’s just a choice. Alright, let’s leave those lovely LGBTQ+ folks and focus on We, the people; the god-forsaken, god-awful humans, with all our needs, urges and opinions. …
Thank you for reading. Have a lovely day.