Him/her, He/she, these simple pronouns have become somewhat controversial recently. As an author with transgender friends I do often find myself wondering how to better appeal to everyone and be inclusive of the non-binary gender terms. One of my Trans friends doesn’t really give a crap what you call him, as long as you’re respectful; another feels that she shouldn’t have to explain why these simple words are so meaningful.
Words have so much power.
I have been called many things throughout my life. When I shaved my head at 16 I was often called sir at work. My natural sense of humor led me to turn around and stick out my chest and say “yes,” with the most feminine voice I could while batting my eye lashes. It was funny to me, but it’s not a joke to everyone, and I am working to be understanding while reflecting that in my own writing.
To me it is very simple to call someone who has transitioned from a man to a woman miss, or a woman who has transitioned to a man, sir. Sometimes HEY YOU is my go-to, when the timing allows it to be fun and good natured.
But here is a question, how do we speak of specific characters without gender terms?
I am opening the floor up here, because it seems of some importance to discuss this.
One could suggest that we address each character by their name. That would be the simplest exercise. Unfortunately that gets redundant. If I read “Terrance this,” “Terrance that”, “this happened to Terrance,” is sounds unprofessional and frustrating to read.
The Ze/Zir solution still has male/female connotations, so at this point I wonder if there is something I’m just not grasping. I’ve had a few discussions about this and they give some insight, but very few solutions.
I never really gave these simple terms much thought before, because I have been teased, abused, and so on (like a lot of others). I’ve learned the true value of Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. So I’ve grown up realizing that no matter what others do or say to me, MY self-worth comes from within. Not from how others perceive me or what labels they slap on me.
But what about the many individuals who are struggling to realize this?
What completely flipped my perspective was a simple trip to a small town shoe store while on vacation this weekend. I have 2 little girls whom I gave neutral colored clothes and toys until they were old enough to pick things out for themselves. My eldest is a girly girl times ten. The youngest is very feminine but also likes to get messy and play with balls.
So when I took her to a shop dressed in one of her favorite purple dresses (that SHE picked out) and the teenager working at the store continuously addressed her as “brother” in a very condescending tone, I was really fucking confused. I mean, if she were doing a Hulk Hogan bit she needed to work on it some more because she only confused my youngest and made the rest of us uncomfortable.
It came out of nowhere, and I’ve been having to give multiple talks to my kids that my parents never did. It comes down to explaining that different people have a right to be addressed however they want, BUT if someone tries to push that on YOU and how they address YOU and you don’t like it, say something.
I feel for any child who wishes to be born different than what they are. I respect any parent who helps their child do what is best for them. But pushing a masculine term on my obviously feminine daughter brings the pronoun politics to a new level.
We live in a free country. And people can address me and mine however they want, but if you’re in a place of business working to service someone and you try to push your own ideals or pronoun politics on them, they’re not going to buy your product.
It’s wayyyy easier to use non-gendered terms for kids. “Little one,” “sprout,” “peanut,” “jellybean,”…apparently addressing children as food is politically correct. Haha But honestly in the realm of adult novels and literature, calling your main character only by their name while not getting repetitive sounds like quite the exercise. I would like to read a book where this is properly done just to experience it.
I battle my own brain because I wish to stay modern and empathize with people different from myself, but I also see no reason why using gendered pronouns has to be a bad thing. “They” can work when speaking of a character, but only if they are always alone. Once other characters mingle into the situation, “they” becomes confusing.
I have been told that this line of thinking is a “slippery slope” and the same argument that many “anti-trans” people use. I have also been called a libtard AND a nazi (sort that out if you will-apparently being moderate makes you the opposition to all extremists). When it comes to me, I’m just trying to make sense of everything.
Life is one big puzzle and I like putting the pieces together. I love everyone. I don’t care where you come from, what you look like, who you worship, or what you identify yourself as, I am merely a writer trying to reach out and connect with others.
Communication is key in the success of all interactions.
So, what are your thoughts? Do any of you writers out there have non-gendered terms that work for you? How do you think pronoun politics and gendered terms affect the art of writing?
I’m all ears.