Fuck all gender pronouns
Why I use they / them for everyone
Two years ago, I decided to give up using gender pronouns when speaking to and about all people (funnily enough, not gendering animals has remained really hard to do but that’s a story for another day). I believe that assumptions of gender based on appearance are damaging, and I hope for a world where we can all perform different personality traits and roles in a fluid manner. My decision causes some tension and confusion for some people and so I thought I best explain where I’m coming from.
A brief introduction into the potential absurdity of gender
Before I begin, I wish to introduce you to where I am with gender. Consider this thought experiment: imagine that we split humans into two groups — those who have ears than are bigger than 3.5cm in size who’s ears are less than 3.5cm in size.
We collectively decided to treat the big-eared and the small-eared humans, totally differently from a very young age. From birth in fact. Those with small ears were given certain clothes to wear, those with big ears given different options. We ridiculed any big ears humans that wished to dress like small eared humans. We gave them different toys and different coloured lives. We talked to them differently, we told the big-eared humans that they should aspire to be this kind of thing, or can do this certain kind of job. Meanwhile we gently encouraged the small-eared humans to find satisfaction in other types of job. We told the big-eared humans that they have to be strong and cover up their emotions and we taught the small-eared humans that it’s good to let it, that to be valuable was to be empathetic. We cut their hair differently. We forced one group to join our militaries and taught them through propaganda that they should be willing to die to protect the others. We indoctrinated the small eared group into believing it was their job to clean and sweep the messes in our homes. When they grew up, we hired them for types of different jobs, and we paid them different amounts of money, not according to their ear size per se, but according to the traits we taught them to be good at according to ear size. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Then we let them live like this for twenty generations.
Understandably at this point they are more suited to different kinds of jobs and different tasks in the home, we’ve have raised them to be. We all believed that if you had small ears, a certain kind of hair, job, role in society was, well .. natural. And let’s be clear, no one is claiming that genetics doesn’t play a role in determining the size of the ear, that is for sure. Everyone agrees there are some fundamental, biological, nay - anatomical differences between the groups. In reality it’s not that there is a big ear and a small eared group, but that all humans have different ear sizes. No one is claiming that the big eared humans don’t have hearing abilities that differ from the small eared humans. That thermoregulation in the big eared humans is not distinct from those with small ears. And so on and so forth.
And as gargantuan alien civilizations gazed upon the Earth, they pondered why it was that in the face of grave existential risk from climate change, in the face of great poverty, starvation and oppression, in the face of an entire unknown universe to explore, humankind was somehow all obsessed with the size of their ears. “We must leave them to rot”, roared the voices of remote alien dynasties..“Humans are obtuse creatures, wasting all their earth minutes, creating wars where there are none, over the size and colour of their anatomies.”
My rationale for rejecting the use of gendered pronouns
1- To ‘identify’ verbally or otherwise as one gender, forces everyone to do so
To identify you by your chosen gender pronoun, puts everyone in under pressure to be identified by a gender pronoun. Every time I call you he or she, it reinforces the norm that we should all be labeled in such a way. And for some people, that is a dangerous thing — this is the very information that is used to discriminate against them. I wish to remove these markers for our day to day interactions. I wish these markers to be irrelevant. At the very least, we should default to non-gendered pronouns.
"Xenofeminism is gender-abolitionist. 'Gender abolitionism' is not code for the eradication of what are currently considered 'gendered' traits from the human population. Under patriarchy, such a project could only spell disaster -- the notion of what is 'gendered' sticks disproportionately to the feminine. But even if this balance were redressed, we have no interest in seeing the sexuate diversity of the world reduced. Let a hundred sexes bloom! 'Gender abolitionism' is shorthand for the ambition to construct a
society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power. 'Race abolitionism' expands into a similar formula -- that the struggle must continue until currently racialized characteristics are no more a basis of discrimination than than the color of one's eyes. Ultimately, every emancipatory abolitionism must incline towards the horizon of class abolitionism, since it is in capitalism where we encounter oppression in its transparent, denaturalized form: you're not exploited or oppressed because you are a wage labourer or poor; you are a labourer or poor because you are
exploited."- Shout out to Laboria Cuboniks for wording it all so much better <3
2 - I can’t possibly know what gender you are manifesting at this moment in time
I am pretty skeptical of the idea that there is a long term gender state. More specifically, I feel pretty unsure that the characteristics that go with being socialized female/male have to be permanent, or long term, and certainly not for everyone.
Given that gender seems likely to be for the most part, a social construct that we learnt to perform each day, presumably gender can change daily, or minute to minute depending on how one is feeling or who one is with. And, in my opinion, that’s a great thing. So I feel uneasy about assigning or assuming gender as a fixed things for anyone. I am not interested in the binary, and I will not use your binary, or your non binary status, even if that is what you want. I wish for a world where a multiplicity of genders can manifest every minute (for a hundred sexes to bloom), and that this has no bearing on our survival, or access to medical care care / wages / etc etc. My use of ‘they’ to describe you, creates the spaces for you to identify as want ever you wish, at any given point in time.
3 - Language shapes our thinking — I don’t want gendered thoughts
The way we think is strongly modulated by the language we use and I want to stop using gendered language in order to see if this changes my subjectivity. After two years, I think it really has. I recently wrote my first short story. I wrote it in one sitting with pen and paper. When I read it back to myself, I realised there was no gender in there at all.
4 - Activism
People ask me about it when they hear it. Then I tell them about big ears and small ears and why I don’t care about ears, that I want to live in a world where ear size doesn't determine what kind of benefits or threats you will live under. When people hear me use ‘they’ for someone else, they ask, ‘oh he goes by they?’, and I say, ‘I have no idea what they go by today’ etc etc. It’s a good chat.
And that. Is why I won’t use. Your gender pronouns.
Apologies in advance. I hope you understand my motivations. A little better. Now ❤
- I am not denying that gender is a thing. It is a very real thing, and it has devastating effects for many people. I take it very seriously.
- I am not denying your right to pick a gender and stick with it, I just refuse to label you according to that, verbally or otherwise. That doesn’t mean i don’t respect your choices.
- EVEN if you believe that gender is a biological phenomenon, these argument for not using verbal markers to identify each other stand.
And I’ll leave you with the pictorial version..
** This is dedicated to a dear friend. Cedar, for whom I started these efforts many years ago, thank you for inspiring me and bearing with us on this journey.