Sunday, April 11, 2021

Writers’ Pantry #65: The Complexities of Gender Identity in Writing

Some months ago, an acquaintance stopped talking to me after I congratulated them on completing a difficult project. I didn’t even know this person was upset with me. So, when they stopped taking my calls or replying to messages, I got a hold of their family. I was concerned, you see. Their sister finally called me, and she said that they had stopped talking to me because I addressed them as “he”.

As you might be imagining, I was confused (and slightly hurt). So, since I am a true believer in the power of communication, I facetimed the person to let them know that I was sorry I offended them by calling them “he”. And that they should also acknowledge that I couldn’t know something I was never told. After some virtual glaring (and the exchange of phrases like ‘I’m sure I told you’ and ‘I’m certain you didn’t’), they apologized for not being clear with me and said I could address them as “them”, “their”, “they”. And after that, all was well.

Then, I met someone who said that I should address ze as “ze”, “hir”, “hirs”. I was not confused this time around, but I can’t deny that I felt (and still feel) sort of out of my element (and slightly oldish) in the evolving world of non-binary pronouns. Still, I’m excited to live in a time of language evolution and revolution. What about you, my dear Poets and Storytellers, are you finding the changes easy or challenging?

Now, let us open our 65th Writers’ Pantry! We welcome poetry or prose that is old or new, fiction or nonfiction that is jolly or gloomy. Let your contributions be short or longish (if you choose to delight us with prose, then the word count should be 369 words or fewer). One link per participant, please. This prompt shall stay open for a week. More than enough time to write and read and alchemy our thoughts into comments.

- for our next Weekly Scribblings, Rommy says that it “is all for the birds”. Your bird (or birds) can be real or imaginary, literal or metaphorical (they can even be crows, crows can be anything they want). And Rommy welcomes old pieces that have been significantly rewritten.

31 comments:

  1. Hi, Magaly. That's a very pertinent question in these times. I'm happy to call people whatever they would like me to call them; everyone has the right to self-determination, and I'm all for anything that has people feel comfortable, accepted, and seen for who we are. But yes, I'd like to be told rather than having to guess, seeing that preferences can vary so much these days. The transgender person I'm closest to is a dear friend's son who has become my friend also. He was once, physically, her daughter. I first met him as already male, and have no problem thinking of him that way. He seems OK with it when his Mum and I refer to him by masculine pronouns. Another friend's gay daughter seems fine to accept feminine pronouns but her ex-partner is transgender and likes 'they' and 'their'. One adapts to whatever is requested. And why not? I wouldn't like to continually be addressed in terms that didn't feel congruent with me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Magaly! I hope your Sunday is sunny and bright. Like Rosemary, I'm happy to call people whatever they ask me to call them. Living out here in the middle of the countryside, I don't meet many people with that kind of request. The only transgender woman I am in contact with is an ex-pupil of mine, a lovely boy who became a lovely lady, and she has never had to ask me to call her anything as I already knew. .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are getting a bit of rain that's making the lettuce very happy, so I'm enjoying it too. It seems the sun is taking a break until the 13th.

      I think things were easier when people had more face to face interaction. Not so much virtually. In the virtual world, if someone doesn't say it then no one knows it.

      Delete
  3. Hello Magaly. Sometimes it's a bit scary. I mean I feel some trepidation over the whole thing, i.e. offending people by calling them pronouns they don't identify with, and what's next.... It could also get a bit confusing, eg. a hard butch happy with she or her, someone who looks like a woman wanting to be referred to as they/them, etc. So a heads-up or something would be great as I have no problem calling people whatever they would like to be called. There's this FB reading group (that I belong to) of women who love women. They're some of my favorite people - intelligent, mysterious. I'm glad there's always room for learning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think "trepidation" is a good word to describe the feeling. The idea of offending--or worse, hurting--someone who most of society has hurt so much already isn't an easy feeling. I, too, I'm glad that there is room for learning. And I'm even gladder that many don't mind teaching us what we need to know about them.

      Delete
  4. A Good Morning to you from the UK Magaly,

    I agree, in matters of language, evolution and revolution all the way - it reflects our soul, both light and dark...
    And speaking to this, last week we released my second brand new poem of the year, which I guess, like my first one in 2021, in some way, still speaks to what we’ve all been through these twelve months and maybe learnt along the way…
    So, once again, really looking forward to my reading this Sunday, especially now that Spring has sprung here! And there seems to be more hope in the air.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting thought, but I guess that's generally correct--there is light and dark in everything, I'm just not quite sure what it has to do with this. Then again, it's very likely that I need some more coffee.

      Enjoy the reading, Scott. I shall visit your cyber-home shortly.

      Delete
  5. So this is an issue very close to home for me - LOL, in my home to be exact. As some folks may have guessed, my Darling Youngest is non-binary. I started referring to my children as Darling Eldest and Darling Youngest when they (DY) came out. I've adapted to their new pronouns sort of well, though the troubles come when we are both in the presence of someone they have indicated that they are *not* out of the closet to and I have to switch to their old pronouns (but stick with their new name, Rozz).

    My husband ended up calling everyone "they" for awhile until folks at work told him he was being confusing using "they" as the default. He's gotten better about being more specific.

    The general etiquette I'm told is never guess, ask if you feel comfortable asking, but if/when they correct you, don't make a big deal with it and just roll with the correction. The embarrassment shouldn't be in 'guessing wrong', but in persisting to misgender or deadname (call people by an old name) in some sort of passive aggressive power play. A lot of Rozz's friends are LGBTQ+ and are very upfront with how they prefer to be addressed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your Darling Youngest was my first very close to home lesson. I'm happy (and extremely grateful) that they are patient with me. Goodness knows that I still make mistakes. At one point, I tried doing the same thing your husband did. And I, too, got some funny looks, so I went back to just saying "they" when I wasn't sure. And most often, just asking.

      The idea of people misgending or deadnaming (thank you for the new word) is both distasteful and despicable.

      Delete
  6. I have had the online experience of not knowing whether a person was he or was she (before the days of zoom meetings). But i didn't have the experience of wrong gender calling a person, but the happy experience of noting someone who
    knew persons addressing them correctly and me getting that gender issue clear in my head

    Happy Sunday


    Much💛love

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've had that happen to me on the phone. So, I started asking "How would you like me to address you?" It make things very easy.

      Delete
    2. That's a good idea! I have a husky voice and have gotten mistaken for a man on the phone more than once. It's a bit annoying.

      Delete
  7. It's no problem to remember the he/she pronouns, my problem is when we get into not only they but the invented ones. At my age it's not easy to remember.
    Plus, I am a member of the grammar police, in my mind, I don't tell people they are using the wrong tense or pronoun (unless they are my children!), and "they" is plural. I have a huge problem using it singularly! And "it" sounds insulting, if correct grammatically, like a neutered cat (although I still use he or she for my neutered pets). It's awkward to use proper names all the time to avoid making errors too.
    I think more patience is needed when we use the wrong pronoun, especially when it's with someone we knew who used a different one formerly. I know someone who used the wrong pronoun and got a very heated, angry response. He didn't mean any disrespect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All language is invented, so learning new words isn't a real problem for me. Besides, known that I'm doing even that small thing to help someone feel more comfortable in their own skin makes me happy. Change is not an easy thing, especially when the the things/behaviors we must change is so fresh. You're right, we must be patient with each other, take our time to figure out what someone really means, correct each other--in gentle ways--if a mistake has been made.

      Delete
  8. This issue is too complex for me to address my entirety of thoughts on it. Suffice it to say, I align with J.K. Rowling, who said she respects “every trans person’s rights to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them.” She went on to say she would march “if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”
    There is a lot of misogyny in the gender identity movement, and that is my biggest problem with it. Referring to women as "menstruators," "birthing parents" and "chestfeeders" is utterly appalling to me. I also don't believe in putting children on a path to lifelong medicalization via puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery. No ethical surgeon would give a 13-year-old girl DD implants. Why do surgeons deem it ethical to remove the healthy breasts of a 13-year-old girl struggling with gender dysphoria?
    Like J.K. Rowling, I have received death and rape threats and been branded a "TERF C*nt" for my concerns regarding the erasure of women and the rising number of young women wanting to take steps to transition to male.
    Also like J.K. Rowling, I don't hate transgender people. My housemate is a bisexual transwoman. I'm very much a live and let live kind of person. But I think it's very dangerous to have an ideology where no-one is allowed to explore or question. Those who question gender ideology risk being ostracized, blacklisted, and even physically harmed. I consider this to be a very serious problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ostracizing and blacklisting are certainly serious problems. Just as terrible as believing that we know or understand better what's best for other people. We, as individuals and as members of society, have so much to learn.

      Delete
  9. Posted an oldie from "the vault" today .... for sixteen years I was one of five trustees serving on the board of a foundation launched by the gay founder of the travel agency I worked in for eighteen years ... after his death and the official beginning of the Foundation's work, many of the most profound moments came from personal accounts (happy and sad) revolving around gender identity. Happy Sunday all ........

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you share some of those personal accounts with us one day...

      Delete
  10. I've never known a transgender person, so haven't encountered that dilemma. When I managed an office I had both a lesbian and a gay fellow on my staff. Both became great friends, and we've stayed in contact through all the years. My office comprised a microcosm of life styles -- those two, a spinster, a divorcee, a single girl, and a common law wife among them. It was an experience in management!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "A Spinster, a Divorcee, a Single Girl, and a Common Law Wife" sounds like the title of a fun story. In my mind, it would be full of mayhem and delicious gossip. And of course, it would have gardening😁.

      Delete
  11. I think physical gender confusion, homosexuality, and my own cis-het sterility are all biological reactions to our overpopulation problem. Nature is encouraging more of us not to reproduce. We need to respond directly to the problem and not blame the individuals showing physical reactions to it.

    That said, I think both homosexuals and gender-ambiguous people are being badly mis-served and misrepresented by the most extroverted members of these small minority groups, who are trying to bully the rest of humankind into relating to their differences from us in ways that aren't even what the members of the groups that we know actually prefer.

    I think any "women's" group needs to keep its focus on the needs and interests of the majority type of women--the kind who probably have or want husbands and babies. Even women who prefer being baby-free probably cost women's groups support if we take them over. So, no apologies for saying I think "trans women" have their own interests and should form their own groups.

    It's easier to be polite to individuals when we relate to one another *as* individuals. If someone tells me "I prefer to be called (whatever)," I don't mind that. If someone (e.g. Bruce Jenner) tells me "Everybody needs to speak differently all the time to please one or two percent of the population," I tune that out. Courtesy is one thing, and encouraging verbal and social bullying or, worse yet, censorship is another thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...and yes, unfortunately...although I think this question may have been raised here with good intentions, I've seen a *lot* more about it, especially on Twitter, coming from biological males attacking women. In theory I sympathize with the young person who looks like a girl but has Y chromosomes. In practice the noise all seems to be coming from woman-haters.

      Delete
    2. I never understand the reasoning of people who make blanket statements when it comes to issues as personal as identity. The same goes for my understanding of people who think that they can dictate their beliefs on other people. Everyone has the right to be known/called how they wish.

      Your second bit is one of the reasons why I left Facebook and Twitter. I was sickened by the nastiness that spew out of certain individuals' head.

      Delete
  12. fascinating topic of which I am on the fence and don't know quite how I feel. I KNOW I do NOT think transgender from male to female should be allowed into female sports. And "they, them" I can't abide. Defriend me as you are either female or male - I'll call a transgender her if they like or him ... but not they, them. It makes no sense to me. I know a sweet girl who is "they, them" and I like her a lot, but I try and call her by her name. I don't think anyone should ever be treated unkindly or be hated because of these issues though. I think understanding on both sides should be taken into account - not sure I could ever call a son or daughter of mine other than what they were born as though. In the end, science will show their skeleton bodies as male or female... I have no hatred for the issues they face - I think it is highly psychological as the mind is the most powerful organ in our body... and I KNOW many people will be angry with me for saying that... but I said it. And maybe I'm wrong, but that is my opinion. (I'm not taking about being gay - I'm talking the they, them and the transgender issues). But with that said, the mind is powerful, and we need to have compassion and a caring attitude - I'd never hate anyone for being trans or "they, them". A long response... but I knew I'd have a different take than many on this comment listing... I'm off to try and write a poem after recovering from an operation - a hysterectomy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My friend whose daughter became her son did indeed have huge difficulties adjusting to the change – on top of a mother's natural concern about a child (a) having surgery (b) facing all sorts of emotional stresses consequent on the decision. Fortunately her child understood her difficulties as they were always very close and still are. It might have ended with alienation and estrangement but didn't, as both parties put love ahead of other considerations. After all my friend supported her child in whatever made him happy. It is, when you come down to it, what any mother wants for her child. She is proud of him for being the kind, intelligent, compassionate person he always was in either physical form – and for the courage the transition took.

      Delete
    2. Yes. I understand this. I think the ones changing need to realize their closest friends and family may never quite be on board but still love them. I think a give and take needs to happen on both sides - and a child especially needs to allow some leeway with parents. Love is what matters.

      Delete

Please be respectful of all the people on this site, as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.