Belenen (belenen) wrote,

discussing genderfree language / I no longer use gender-specific terms at all / realizations so far

Switching to gender-neutral pronouns has been difficult, but has been really incredible. Unfortunately it has had the side effect of making me even more aware of when people speak in gendered ways -- "oh yeah, he's a guy, got a one-track mind" "dressing girly" etc. (note: the pronouns don't bother me from other people's mouths, except in reference to me -- just the gender assumptions) Even though usually it is done in affectionate ways, it bothers the hell out of me. I feel like saying "no! that is a HUMAN quality" every time but I don't. I think it is my silence that bothers me. It's just such a complicated subject and people get SO UPSET about it. I don't mind challenging/irritating people but I do mind being misunderstood, and I feel like it is so easily misunderstood. So if I don't feel like devoting a large chunk of time and energy to a weighty discussion, I just keep quiet.

But my wonderful partner decided to 'out' me as genderfree to zir sibling, Samuel, as we were driving home from Samuel's dorm (fortunately it is a fairly long drive):
Sam: "So what's new?"
my partner: "[Bel] is saying 'ze' now instead of 'he' or 'she'"
Sam: "what??"
Bel: thanks a lot, [partner] *explains*

... and a long discussion ensued, which went far better than I thought it would! A few times in the past I've said something anti-gender and Samuel has responded by scoffing or getting downright ruffled, but this time ze was really open, really listened to what I had to say. And my partner added zir thoughts -- that ze had initially disagreed and then realized that ze could not find any positive purpose for having gendered pronouns (which was news to me, heh -- our conversation had ended before the admission of agreement). I had been worried that Sam had thought that I was brainwashing my partner (into my evil feminist ways, muahahaha), so I was happy that my partner expressed zir own reasoning in such a clear and firm way.

I think my partner's family has concluded that I am incorrigibly weird and they're no longer surprised by my oddities :D


An interesting thing I have noticed is that when speaking of people I do not respect, I have a hard time referring to them by gender-neutral terms. For me, calling a person 'ze' or 'zir' is a recognition of the spirit within, the purest self with no societal affectations. So I have to wrestle myself when it comes to those who have buried their trueselves under piles of societal affectations (my bioparent 'M' for instance!). And people I respect and admire more than usual are the easiest for me to refer to in gender-neutral terms (though I still slip up a lot) -- when it comes to my partner it actually feels more accurate to refer to zir as 'ze', even though ze is not much of a gender-transgressor, outwardly. (incidentally, ze has agreed to help me by reminding me when I slip up if ze catches it! that makes me so happy!)

On first undertaking this, I was planning to abide by others' wishes if they specifically asked to be referred to a certain way. I've since changed my mind on that -- I am not going to use gender-specific pronouns for any reason. I see how it could be disrespectful to refer to someone in a way they do not like, so if a person doesn't like to be referred to as ze/zir, I will try to avoid that. Referring to someone only by name seems to ME as if it would be most respectful and acknowledging of their individuality and identity (though hella more difficult!). So far I've been lucky in that respect. Only one of my friends has requested gender-specific pronouns, and I've agreed not to use pronouns at all with that person (instead referring only by name, and by doing this sort of round-about in this sentence, heh). With strangers, I've also been using names and round-about to avoid confusion if I didn't want to get into the explanation (I'm hoping to get more comfortable with that once I stop slipping up all the time).

A lot of people seem to feel that to change my language is to force my belief upon others; I vehemently disagree. I consider it freedom of speech for me to express myself however I feel is best. The only way I could force my belief on others would be for me to insist that they use my language when speaking with me* -- which is why I ask people to refer to me in a gender-neutral way, but I'm fine if they don't. People are still free to identify however they want, and use whatever language they want; but the words in my mouth and mind are MINE and changing them does not force anything upon anyone. I am expressing myself in such a way because that is how I see -- and if I were to use gender-specific pronouns, I feel that would be hypocritical of me. I would be thinking/believing one thing and saying another -- I would be lying. (I recognise that this is not true for all people but it is true for me) I would feel that I was pretending to agree that the other person is a gender, when I don't believe gender exists. To me, it would be more disrespectful for me to outwardly agree when inwardly I do not, than it would be for me to disagree in language as well as mindset.

In my head and in my heart, I do not believe in gender. I simply cannot -- it is not something I can believe in! And I understand that might be upsetting to some but I will not feign a belief in something. I very well may hurt people with my belief but it is a part of me that I will not lie about. My Christian friends/family might feel betrayed and hurt to know that I do not believe God/dess is the way they say ze is, but I will not pretend agreement to protect them. It does bother me that my belief may hurt others, but it is integral to me, so I have to live with it. I am willing to make compromises on most things, and I love going out of my way to show respect, but I do not feel that it is respectful to use terms I do not believe in. As tempting as it is to me to do the easiest thing, I will not tell a lie even if it would be kinder than the truth. Maybe in the future I will realize I was wrong and gender does exist, and then I would be very sorry, but I do not think that will happen.

*there is one aspect of language that I do force my belief on others -- I will break off relationships over casual or 'humorous' use of the word 'rape' (after discussing it with zir, if ze is important to me). Though I still don't see that as 'forcing' -- I see it as a boundary that is necessary for me.
Tags: b - ex-partner, communication / words, ex-in-laws, gender, social justice / feminism, the essential belenen collection

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