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Room for Squares
by Philip Wong on Aug 24, 2008
It’s happened to the best of us. One second, you’re talking to your friends about so and so doing this and that, and then within the next second so and so, while still doing the same thing, has inexplicably switched genders. Pronoun slips like this are normal and relatively harmless. A giggle and a quick apology later, and you’re on to the next topic. But things, especially things having to do with gender, aren’t always so simple in our community.
You don’t even have to be gender queer to feel the brunt of these misplaced pronouns. I can’t even count on two hands the number of times my friends and family have accidentally referred to me as “she” or mistakenly attributed my possessions to “her.” And that’s not counting the countless times strangers have addressed me as “miss” or even “M’am.” Although there isn’t ever any discernable malice, I can certainly detect an undercurrent implying, at the least, that homosexuality is in my instance equitable to femininity.
But most of the time, when people mistake me for the opposite sex, their misstep is quickly rectified. I do not, after all, look anything like a girl (at least I don’t think so). Maybe just out of the corner of your eye. But what about the hundreds if not thousands of us who don’t have the same luxury of an outward appearance that fits with the socially ascribed notions of gender? For a lot of these people, gender misrepresentation is an everyday occurrence...no, annoyance.
Just imagine being unable to reconcile how you look on the outside with what you feel on the inside, and then to be expected to submit to archaic classifications of “he” or “she” that have absolutely nothing to do with you. The problem with our third person pronouns (the only identifiers of gender in our language) is that they’re limiting. If you’re neither “he” nor “she,” then you’re just “it,” which incorrectly denotes neuter. And people are definitely anything but. Take an FTM, who, though biologically female, wants to be physiologically male. There is no categorization to accurately encapsulate that.
In the past, when something came along to make the status quo obsolete, society usually adjusted current ways of thinking in order to make new allowances. But that hasn’t been the case for the gender queers in our community. Our views on gender have remained largely outmoded, a point illustrated by the confusion many of us experience when we can’t quite place whether someone is a boy or a girl. Frantically, we ask “is it a he or a she?”
This confusion drives many to subscribe themselves to either taxonomy. If you can’t tell what a person is, that person usually has decided for himself or herself with which gender he or she most identifies. They’ll tell you to call them a “he” or a “she,” because, quite honestly, that’s how they want to live their lives. It’s an easy solution to a unique head-scratcher, but that hasn’t stopped many people from ridiculing this game of pin-the-gender-on-the-queer.
We like everything to be neat and organized. We like to see something and immediately be able to place it. It’s an exercise we do almost unconsciously. And whatever we can’t place is either weird or laughable. Sure, this active subscription to personal pronouns may seem like a farce, especially if you don’t understand its importance. But then again, so does the whole notion of gender.
by Philip Wong on Aug 24, 2008