Previous Entry Share Next Entry
"I prefer feminine pronouns: she and her."
snugglebitch wrote in debunkingcis
I originally wrote this a few months back, but in light of recent discussions in this community, I thought I'd repost it here.

I've decided that I really don't like PGP (Preferred Gender Pronoun) Checks during presentations. For those who haven't experienced them, this is when the facilitator of a group discussion asks everyone in the group to, when introducing themselves, include the pronouns they prefer to be called. It's an attempt to make group discussions more trans inclusive, by ensuring up front that misgenderings will be kept to a minimum.

In theory, I think it's a great idea. And there are times when it's been extremely helpful, such as in groups with closeted or newly out trans folk, or groups with really butch women.

But more often what seems to happen is that the PGP Check will happen, and myself and the likely one or two other trans folks in the room will state what pronouns we prefer, and a few of the other people will state what pronouns they prefer. And then, without fail, about half of the cis people in the room say, "Oh, well, I prefer male/female pronouns, but really you can call me whatever you want."

And so, time after time after time, what started as an attempt to make the space more trans friendly becomes another display of the cis privilege I will never have. We go around that circle and I am given my opportunity to beg the people around me not to misgender me, and in return they are given the opportunity to remind me that they don't have to care about that silly gender stuff, that they have never had their identity called into question (or worse, denied outright) with those tiny little words, that this most basic piece of our language has never been wielded as a weapon against them. No, really, you can call them whatever you want, cuz unlike this tranny, they have the confidence to know that nothing bad was meant of it. Just don't call them late for dinner! (Yes, someone makes this joke every single time.)

I seriously wonder if I could call them whatever I want. If I could spend an entire meeting calling that oh-so-confident woman across the room from me "he," and she really wouldn't care. And maybe she wouldn't. Cuz seriously, it's just me doing it. It's not the entire room, it's not the woman at the grocery check-out, it's not the guy who delivers your mail, it's not your boss and co-workers, it's not the cops, it's not your government identification; it's just little old me, so of course you don't care.

I'm not really sure where to go from here, cuz the PGP Check is a good thing, but it gets used to flaunt this privileged cis bullshit so often that I can't stand doing it anymore.

  • 1
(Deleted comment)
My thinking is just that surely you'll get some people who are shy, so in a group situation, it's not fair to stick them under the spotlight on a sensitive subject.

See my comment right below for why I loathe group intros. Shyness,introversion, resentment, many reasons why pronoun circle jerks are a bad idea.

(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
My personal experience with this, which I find problematic, is that I appear cissexual, so when I say "I don't care", I know it's taken as the sort of privilege flaunting you're talking about, when actually, explaining how things really are is not in the realm of possibility for a 10 second group introduction. I assume there are other people like me for whom this is a problem.

Yup, you're not the only one with that issue. I've often used "I don't care" as a way of either avoiding the question when I didn't want to out myself or lie, or when I was in a mental place where I seriously didn't care. I hate the fact that there have probably been people who saw that answer as an ignorant cis-privilege flaunt because they don't know how me.

I admit I am uncomfortable with preferred pronoun checks and have been since I started getting taken to be a cis male, post-medical transition. I mean, I don't make a big deal out of it and I definitely don't say something like "it doesn't matter to me" cuz it actually matters a lot. I don't know.
I also don't particularly like it when another trans person (or cis "ally") uses ze/hir to refer to me because they have read me.
i think i have stuff to unpack re: this topic.

(Deleted comment)
I'm a cis woman, and I can't imagine saying "oh I don't care" about my gender pronouns, for the reasons you stated. I'd feel like I was trivializing trans people who often have to struggle to be called their correct pronouns. And also, if we're being honest, I probably would care if I was called the wrong thing. (But I do realize it would be nowhere near the same thing to use the wrong pronouns for me as it would be to use them for a trans person.)

I have always been uncomfortable with the group pronoun check but couldn't really put my finger on why.
After reading the OP I realize this is it exactly.

If the PGP check is worth retaining, might it make sense to use it as a teachable moment if appropriate to the presentation?

Could you elaborate on what you mean by this? "Teachable moment" is shorthand that can mean so many different things, depending on context.

I first encountered this after taking a hiatus from most things political. When we were going around and people said, "I don't care," I assumed it was because they were genderqueer, which was how I identified at the time, or in some other way not binary-identified. So I'd say another problem with the behavior you've addressed is that it can create a false sense of solidarity.

This is a really good point.

I should have clarified (but then thought it was more valuable to leave the post as is) that this post was initially spurred by a specific incident at a GLSEN Training of Trainers. I know all the folks who did this pretty well; none of them were genderqueer folks, and one of them gets his underwear in a knot at the mere mention of non-binary ID'd people, so in this case it was really just a lot of privilege flaunting.

I used to say "I don't care" because I had internalized a lot of bad things about transwomen being antifeminist and I was afraid of being taken as appropriative/domineering if I insisted everyone call me "she" when I *gasp* didn't even pass.

so many trans women I have seen do this!

there's a real timidity there, and the weight of internalized oppression shows.

thanks for reposting this. For me its often specific to mixed spaces, and important for me to make the distinction. its more dealable for me in trans only spaces, because there may be shit to navigate, and often people *still* wont use my preferred pronoun, but there isnt this fucked up enforced outing going on, and frankly its one of the only times i get the chance to say "yknow what? THIS is my pronoun. use it" . i often feel invisible (either by fucked up cissexist bullshit, or in groups of other trans and genderqueer people who want to respect what they think i want, which is often completely off the mark, but at least its a little closer. different reasons, different results. but in mixed spaces, where cis folks tend to dominate, i sometimes like the opportunity to say what my pronoun is, i just hate watching people do the stuff others have mentioned. and i wish more cis folks would do some learning around this.

This also made me start thinking about how there can be a fine line sometimes between being a supportive ally and being condescending or patronizing. And it's hard to say this in a way that doesn't come off as "it's so hard to be cis!" But basically, it's hard sometimes to figure out, by saying something am I being supportive, or am I talking down to someone/diminishing their experience? Is it okay to ask a certain question, or am I treating someone as just an educational resource and not a person? I guess the best thing to do is probably sit back, watch, and listen.

What kinds of questions/statements are you talking about, and in what types of settings and relationships? Those contextual details make the difference between asshole-cis-privileged-person-being-invasive-and-entitled and thoughtful-friend-trying-to-clarify-things-and-be-more-sensitive-to-trans-issues.

I think it all comes down to the space. The power dynamics and level of trans misogyny and transphobia.

No matter what linguistic antics, fancy tricks you use, if the space is toxic, the space is toxic.

if trans ppl are in charge and fully empowered, then the space has a chance. Otherwise, its just the cis ppl having more of the same: a guaranteed domination of trans ppl.

this is enlightening. I know I started an online group intro thread in a mixed space with the pronoun question, among others, but none of the questions were requirements to answer. and yes, very few people did answer it at all (which was fine, it was optional). and yes, I can see all the problems you're pointing out here wrt convenience etc. that said, no cis person to my recollection did the "I don't care" thing. I can't imagine saying I didn't care.

oh, it was included with, d'you prefer being referred to by your full name, online nick, some other nick...

which is something I've seen as part of a go-round in cis (openly at least) only space before as part of an intro, and was probably riffing off of, consciously: how would you like to be referred to? just not pronouns as such, in those groups.

which, as you note, says a lot in itself.

Yeah this is an interesting discussion to me, as someone who is involved with some community organizing groups that I want to make less cis-centric.

We've never done pronoun go-rounds but I have been in a couple meetings for other things where they were done.

The phrase "preferred" pronouns is problematic in itself, IMO.

This is an excellent point, and one all too often overlooked.

thank you for posting. This is an issue I've wanted to hear more about as I've had very limited experience with the phenomenon & wasn't sure how to ask about the implications and effects w/o putting disenfranchised folks even more on the spot.

Although I agree this is cis privilege . . .

I am a trans person. In the lgbt and t youth groups I facilitate, gender questioning youth will start saying they have no preference before they have the courage to ask for the pronoun they prefer. Also, most of the youth that say they have no preference are gender variant to a degree even if they do not identify as transgender. There are the occasional youth that just see it as a joke, but that's fairly rare. The youth have given me consistent feedback that they appreciate it in the check-in. The cis youth seem to respect the pronouns people state more than they don't.

I do like the idea of making it more optional. Everything in the introduction is optional, but maybe saying "You can state the gender pronoun you would want if you have one."

I think checking in with whoever is actually is trans and most effected whether it is helpful or not helpful- not to tell them to determine the policy, if that's not their responsibility, but just to see where they are.

I'm trying really hard to understand this but I guess I just don't. I can understand that it bothers you and I understand that being able to say "call me whatever" would be impossible/extremely hard to do. But why shouldn't they be able to say that just because they as cis? Why shouldn't they have that freedom? Unless they are trying to undermine you or throw it in your face, why should they censor themselves? Though I'd have to have been there to really judge this, it sure doesn't sound like they were doing it to be offensive towards you as a transperson, it sounds like they were having a little fun and/or genuinely expressing how they don't care.

... it sounds like they were having a little fun...

They were having a little fun with something that is really important, and that's what's offensive. Those two or three little letters might seem like nothing, but they are linked to a fundamental piece of every person in my society's identity. It's a piece of my fundamental personhood that is misconstrued or deliberately erased over and over and over again. The act of "having a little fun" with it becomes another jab, because once again my gender is being pointed out as odd ("It's fun! Why are you taking it so seriously?")

But really, I said most of this in the post and in the subsequent comments. And I'm not sure you're gonna get it this time either, especially because of this:

Though I'd have to have been there to really judge this...

Here's the thing. You weren't there. I was. And since I was there, I think I can judge for myself how offensive it was.

PS: I don't know what a "transperson" is, but I'm not one. I'm a person. I'm trans. I'm even a trans person. But you're making some kind of weird portmanteau there, and I don't really get why.

prior to transitioning in a cis group of nothing trans realated I would always (mind you, no one asked what you prefer S/HE yet even my name (male) I hate so all my life I have said whatever just don't call me something mean (they still do, ;( jk but not)

and when i first started groups i didn't like it cause i was dressed as a girl yet at the time my thoughts said but I know what my body is, so even there I would just say whatever.

lately i perfer or insist on female pronouns, but I agree that it's not neccassary in a group because some identify as bigender or nuetral.?

The problem (in part) is the English language


The foreign language I learned in high school/college is Japanese. They put an emphasis in names ("Suzuki-san", "Tanaka-chan", etc), not pronouns (and even the pronouns they have are more gender neutral by default -- "kare" means "him"/"her" instead of "kanojo" which means "her", etc). Granted the suffixes have some implied nuances when it comes to gender:
- "san" is neutral, but polite.
- "sama" is "super polite" (one would use "sama" when talking about superiors, e.g. the president, the Pope, a $deity, etc)
- "kun" is always masculine (well, ok... maybe not so much nowadays... I've been out of touch with what's been going on recently as there was some reappropriation of some terms in the language and women were using "masculine" pronouns to refer to themselves in the first person).
- "chan" is generally effeminate (women use it more), but it can also imply intimacy in terms of friendship between males and females (males usually direct it towards females), or females in general. But it also implies "cuteness", and is used copiously with children.

My viewpoint when I originally started in middle school was, "OMG this genderless language is confusing... how do I say 'he', 'she', etc to show respect"? I realize now after doing a lot of soul searching in the past year that identifying with people this way ultimately is better because you focus on the person ("I am my name, not my pronoun") and not the perceived sense of "gender", so you're empowering the individual and not the gender.

The tricky thing with GQ folks (and I go back and forth with this), is that some of us go too far over to the other end of the spectrum using gender neutral pronouns ("they", "them", etc). It makes the linguistic inside me cringe -- if we are one person, we shouldn't use plural nouns (this causes a lot more confusion when communicating things)!

I think we should just revolutionize the English language by using names instead of gender pronouns to evolve the language in such a way that is respectful to all cis and trans parties (and maybe come up with a different gender neutral noun as a backup as "them", "they", etc is too overloaded and imbued meaning wise in the English language today).

Edited at 2014-01-21 02:57 pm (UTC)

Re: The problem (in part) is the English language

While I appreciate your comments about the gender neutrality of Japanese, I have to disagree with the last couple of paragraphs you wrote. Firstly, the English language uses "they" and "them" as singular pronouns frequently, which people often overlook. For example, "I told someone a joke; they laughed." It's used when someone's gender is not relevant to the sentence. Secondly, if you truly had a linguist inside you, you would be aware that the correct grammar of a language is the grammar that its native speakers use. More and more people are adopting "they" and "them" as gender neutral pronouns that work perfectly well for a singular person. Standing by and defending grammatical rules is prescriptivist behavior; languages are changing constantly, so long as people are speaking them. Lastly, I can assure you that human beings are intelligent creatures and can easily use context to understand what someone means when they use "they" or "them" to refer to a singular person, if those are the pronouns that person uses.

Proper response for legitimately genderqueer people?

This was good to know. I tend to say it doesn't matter (at all oh, two, circles I've been to) because it doesn't to me, and on those occasions that my PGP does fluctuate I don't expect anyone to try and keep up. That would just be rude.
Anyway, point: I hadn't realized there were (nongenderqueer) cis people using PGPs that way, and that's.... very irritating.
What would you suggest for those people who ARE genderqueer, really don't have a PGP preference, etc?

  • 1

Log in