For more on pronouns, read this comment from S’18:

’m not going to wade into most of this because I think a lot of the arguing going on here is in bad faith based on some commenters thinking that the idea of someone identifying outside of the gender binary or using pronouns other than he/him or she/her is inherently ridiculous. That’s not an idea I know how to argue against because it’s simply an ad hominem based on a lack of empathy and respect for others.

I do, however, want to respond to the point Prof. Knibbs raised about gendered language, because I think this is a case where the email is poorly worded. The objection to referring to he/him pronouns as male or she/her pronouns as female is that male and female are nouns, and thus saying that someone uses male pronouns would imply that person is male. As an alternative, I (and literally every other trans person I know) describe he/him pronouns as masculine pronouns and she/her pronouns as feminine pronouns. Because masculine and feminine are adjectives rather than nouns, they simply describe the gender of the pronouns rather than label the person as being of a particular gender identity. As for the objection to referring to they/them pronouns as gender-neutral and instead saying they should be referred to nonbinary, I am a nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns and have never heard that. Actually, I have some pretty strong objections to referring to them as nonbinary pronouns because that would imply that all nonbinary people need to use they/them pronouns (which they don’t), but the administration probably read a thinkpiece somewhere that made that point and decided to go with it…

This actually gets to the final point I’d like to make, which is that so much of this comment thread, and more generally discourse around trans issues, suffers from not talking to actual trans students about what changes we want and how we think about things. I know most of the trans students on campus (I was one myself until June), and none of us would want to harass or report people for making honest mistakes. Using pronouns different from the ones you are socially conditioned to assume, especially they/them pronouns, is really difficult for a lot of people, and we get that. I really can’t imagine any student going to the administration about being misgendered by a faculty or staff member unless it was something that happened chronically and with clear malice. What we want is to be able to just do our work and be respected by others in our community; to be referred to by the names and pronouns we feel comfortable with and not have it be the defining issue of our lives. When my department (in Division III, lest you think that all trans people are confined to the humanities) made the decision last year to have people introduce themselves with pronouns at the beginnings of classes, it was awkward at first and people were nervous about slipping up. Mistakes happened, apologies were awkwardly muttered, and then everyone moved on. By the end of the semester, it was second nature to everyone that the weekly department lunch started with everyone introducing themselves with their name, class year, and pronouns. The building did not burn down, and our academic work did not degrade. We simply became a more welcoming and open department, and it is my sincere hope that more of Williams can follow in that pursuit.

Good stuff. S’18 should join us as an author! Their perspective belongs on the front page of EphBlog, not buried at the bottom of an (interesting!) comment thread.

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