Guest Opinion: Remodeling Gender
- ACS received some feedback on this earlier blog post about gender pronouns and new norms, indicating that hearing a youth point of view would be a helpful way to better understand the topic. We were happy to have an Outlet youth volunteer to give us this point of view below!
Written By: Sasha Sobol, Outlet Program youth
Sasha, who uses “they/them” pronouns, will start their first semester at Foothill College in September. They are a unicyclist and a balloon artist.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” The little kid who came up to me waited impatiently to be able to categorize me.
Most people have no problem answering this question. They are also rarely put in a position where they have to answer it.
I was wearing a pink t-shirt with “NOT A GIRL” stenciled on the front and “NOT A BOY” on the back. I ran my fingers through my short hair, preparing to explain that I’m neither and that identifying as one or the other is not a prerequisite for existence.
In the eyes of a child, gender is simple: short hair makes one a boy, wearing pink makes one a girl. In other words, a kid sees stereotypically masculine and stereotypically feminine characteristics as indicators of someone’s gender. Their definitions of “boy” and “girl” are based on rigid gender roles that don’t reflect the complex realities of gender. Some women are masculine, just as some men are feminine. Their gender nonconformity does not negate their womanhood or manhood.
Separating gender expression from gender identity makes it difficult to pinpoint what a man is or what a woman is. There is, of course, the prevalent belief that gender is the same thing as biological sex. While there is an undeniable correlation between the two, they don’t always match. Trans folk by definition do not identify with the genders assigned to us at birth. To equate sex with gender is to invalidate our identities and to reduce all people to the sum of our body parts.
If gender is not necessarily based on anatomy or gender expression, what does it mean to be a woman or a man? All I can say is that a woman is someone who feels like a woman and a man is someone who feels like a man. I, however, don’t know what it’s like to feel like a man or a woman. I don’t relate to these identities and therefore I identify as nonbinary.
Because I am not a woman or a man, it makes me uncomfortable when people refer to me as “she” or “he.” Sometimes, it even feels like a slap in the face. This is why I ask my family, friends, and acquaintances to use singular “they/them/their” pronouns when referring to me. People often point out that “they” is grammatically plural. What they don’t notice is that “you” is, as well. There’s nothing weird about saying “How are you?” instead of “How is you?” to one person. Analogously, singular “they” belongs in the English language.* Besides being invaluable to many nonbinary people, singular “they” can also destroy the monstrosity that is “s/he” once and for all.
Using correct pronouns for people is a matter of respect. It’s a way to acknowledge our identities and our right to define our genders for ourselves. If you’re not sure what pronouns to use for someone, just ask. It’s similar to asking what someone’s name is: you need to know how to address them before you can get on with the conversation. If you feel odd about asking someone about their pronouns, introduce yourself first. My brother, for instance, would say:
“Hi, I’m Mark* and I use ‘he/him’ pronouns. How about you?” These kinds of exchanges are commonplace on many college campuses and in young queer circles.
It’s been wonderful to see gender identity become more widely acknowledged in the last few years. The more people are aware of gender pronouns and other trans issues, the easier everyday conversations become for trans people. One day I will not need to explain what it means to be nonbinary every time I correct someone who misgenders me. Soon enough “boy” and “girl” will not be my only options when confronted by an inquisitive child.
*There are numerous other gender neutral pronouns in use including, but not limited to, “ze/hir/hirs,” “e/em/eir,” “per/per/pers,” “ve/ver/vis,” and “co/co/co’s.”
*Name changed to protect identity.