I dove into my article on gender and pronouns out of a desire, as a writer, to find a better way. While I have tried to use the singular they instead of the cumbersome “his or her” or visually irksome “he/she” (slashing is not the answer, I recall reading in an essay in college, because violence never is), my dear wife finally convinced me it was incorrect, and I was discontent. The fact that I was discontent is a form of progress: I am in essence a conservative, which means that I want good justification before I change something that appears to work perfectly well, and the generic “he” worked quite well in my mind for a long time. Once I accepted that “he” doesn’t quite include everyone, I wanted to get away from the clumsy alternatives, which happily led me to recognize the need to get away from gender entirely in pronouns, if possible.
Preferred pronouns, I reasoned, did not serve that end, because I saw them referred to as “the pronouns e prefers” rather than what these sets are, more inclusive pronouns than what we’ve got. What I learned in my research is that, even if they are simply a step in the right direction, it could be a big step if we start working on the cultural shift towards associating pronouns of preference with everybody, not just the few who stand up and say that two genders are not enough. I was further taught that, in such a world, quite a few of us identify as one of those genders might realize we’re not entirely comfortable with the binary system, either.
And then I got very, very stressed, because when you interview a lot of people with pronoun preferences, you need to keep track of them all and get them right. That’s not a comfortable place to be. Granted, it’s surely not even close to living a gender that our culture doesn’t recognize as legitimate, but as a writer, I thought my head would explode. Although I can envision pronoun preference being the norm, I think the generation that embraces it would have to be normalized to it in its youth. What we have now is a tiny sliver of society — transgender folks and their allies — attempting to navigate a difficult transition towards a new way of thinking and communicating, and these are chaotic waters.
While I’m an ally, I don’t know any trans* people that I see on a regular basis, so the only support I can offer is through my writing. I’ve learned more about the issues — far more than I could even cover for The Wild Hunt — but I’m left wondering if there’s more that I can do with words than simply reinforce the idea that special people deserve special pronouns, which will not sway the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people, who don’t even know the word “cisgendered,” much less that it describes them. My desire to unfetter English from this unintended bias remains strong, but the way forward for me is not clear. It is better, though, to lack clarity thanks to knowledge, rather than to be clear due to ignorance.