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male/female/more than that
December 22, 2011 11:34 PM   Subscribe

Gender: there's a lot more going on than just "male" or "female". [some links NSFW]
posted by divabat (40 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is free-form, go nuts
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:37 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fundamentally, based on outward appearances at least, there's little difference between babies regardless of gender, as well as the very elderly.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:40 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


this is free-er form, go ovaries.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:11 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am 100% supportive and welcoming of anyone who identifies outside of the traditional gender binary. Gender fluidity, gender rejection and alternative identification are all absolutely fine with me. But I will never, ever, not in a million years, be able to accept the singular "they."
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:16 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


If it were truly free-form we wouldn't restricted to going with body parts.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:22 AM on December 23, 2011


If it were truly free-form we wouldn't restricted to going with body parts.

The whole "body part" thing has a separate word for it: "sex". Gender is a different (though related) idea.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:38 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The kids came home recently with a school board approved list that included a new one on me - - Two-Spirit.

At first it struck me as another bit of frou frou PC terminology, but upon further reflection I find it to be a wonderful expression of many people's internal experience of gender.
posted by fairmettle at 5:16 AM on December 23, 2011


Okay, I am feeling fiercely crabby this morning.

But I will never, ever, not in a million years, be able to accept the singular "they."

So this means that when you meet someone who refers to themself using they/them pronouns, you're going to do what, exactly? Tell them that you are sorry to ignore their gender identification, but you'll be calling them "he" or "she" depending on how you want to gender them at that moment? Or are you going to say that you have an ethics objection to the singular they so you'll refer to them as "ze" instead? I'll be interested to see how that works out for you - in my circles, it's a (so to speak) dick move to refuse to use the name or pronouns that people request. I don't think you'd be invited to many parties anymore after you broke that one out.

(Also, jesus, what's the point? So someone wants you to open your mouth and say "they" when that person is going through a lot of shit about gender identification that makes their life - on that axis - much harder than yours. And you won't, because it gives you some kind of grammatical pleasure to bring the snark.)

"They" has been used as a singular quite often in the past by both writers and grammaticians - there's a fairly good summary here.
posted by Frowner at 5:21 AM on December 23, 2011 [24 favorites]


Two-Spirit is almost the right term for me, but not quite. I feel like it's co-opting a specific Native American term and trying to apply it more widely. Although possibly, the reverse is true and the culture from where it sprang is being a little too specific.

I'm about to head out on vacation and don't have time to follow all these links, but I squeed a little when I saw it here. Thanks for posting it.


Most gender-neutral pronouns and terms just don't sit well. "Zie/zir" is okayish. But I just stick with "he" mostly because the other words either suck or nobody has heard of them. And pretending to be male gendered is easier than explaining it all. I know this isn't the right answer for many non-binary folks though.
posted by Foosnark at 5:23 AM on December 23, 2011


Okay, I am feeling fiercely crabby this morning.

Yeah, you are. Some people get annoyed about this because Ms Jones told them in Year 2 it wasn't correct. I think it's merely sensible.
posted by Wolof at 5:58 AM on December 23, 2011


But I will never, ever, not in a million years, be able to accept the singular "they."

You refuse to be fully fluent in modern English? How silly.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:58 AM on December 23, 2011 [17 favorites]


http://rubbercat.net/misc/gender.html
posted by JingleButt_HiRes_REAL.gif at 6:05 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always liked Ursula K Le Guin's comments on the singular they:
... I utterly refuse to mangle English by inventing a pronoun for "he/she." ... I still dislike invented pronouns, but I now dislike them less than the so-called generic pronoun he/him/his, which does in fact exclude women from discourse; and which was an invention of male grammarians, for until the sixteenth century the English generic singular pronoun was they/them/their, as it still is in English and American colloquial speech. It should be restored to the written language, and let the pedants and pundits squeak and gibber in the streets.
posted by Forktine at 6:14 AM on December 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


So this means that when you meet someone who refers to themself using they/them pronouns, you're going to do what, exactly?

Probably say something along the lines of, "Aargh! The singular 'they'! I hate that. But okay."

I'm a pedant and a prescriptivist, not a jerk.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:18 AM on December 23, 2011


But I will never, ever, not in a million years, be able to accept the singular "they."

If it's good enough for Jane Austen, it's good enough for me.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:29 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, if it's good enough for the Bible, it's good enough for me. Singular "they" has been around for a while.

God, I love the obsessive quirks of grammar peeveology. Though I will never stop marking the word "alot" wrong when I grade student papers, I realize it's not because the usage is actually against the laws of physics.
posted by Peach at 6:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is such a funny thing. To pick one singular point in the history of English, call it a day and refuse to alter it in any way (even despite prior use over a century ago by the luminaries of writing). Yes, English, the language built from a clusterfuck of Ango, Saxon, Germanic, Norse, Latin, and Norman. The language that is only 460 years old.

1950 was as good as it got, guys. Time to go home.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:59 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Funny how discussions of third/nonbinary gender always turn to two things: grammar and... well we haven't gotten to the second one, so maybe just one.
posted by Foosnark at 7:05 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another good link:

http://androgyne.0catch.com/
posted by Foosnark at 7:35 AM on December 23, 2011


My guess is that grammar matters so much because non-binary gender is so hard for many people to imagine that our very language is constructed against the idea. How do I picture a person like that when the only words I have are he and she? We use words to think; words matter, and without the words we are limited.
posted by Forktine at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting, the focus on grammar, because I prefer to think of 'gender' as a grammatical term rather than a sexual term.
posted by MtDewd at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2011


Fundamentally, based on outward appearances at least, there's little difference between babies regardless of gender, as well as the very elderly.

KokuRyu, you may - MAY - be half right, but you're dead wrong about the latter point. At least, Ruth Ellis was getting busy at 98 (not a link to the quote, but a reference to her "seducing women for almost a hundred years").

Sexuality and gender are important to our identities at all points of our lives, I believe. Fear and anxiety about the same are bad. That is all.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 AM on December 23, 2011


I'm a pedant and a prescriptivist, not a jerk.

Faint of Butt, my thesaurus differs from yours. As does my dictionary.

Prescriptivist:linguist :: faith healer:medical researcher
posted by IAmBroom at 8:56 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Ontario recently, there are provisions in an "anti-bullying" bill coming under attack from conservatives in the province. They included some stuff to encourage acceptance of diversity in gender and orientation, and of course a bunch of conservatives start going, "What? That has nothing to do with bullying! It's some sort of gay agenda!"

It's become a bit of a talking-point fixation that the bill will teach kids there are six genders and then scoff about how ridiculous that is.
posted by RobotHero at 9:24 AM on December 23, 2011


> So this means that when you meet someone who refers to themself using they/them pronouns,

To themself? Not "we"?
posted by jfuller at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I am feeling fiercely crabby this morning.

I'm pretty sure Faint of Butt meant it as a joke. I thought it was funny at least, the way it made English come off as more set-in-stone than gender. "I can accept any kind of gender, sexuality, even if it changes on a day to day basis! I don't really care about society's idea on that subject. But grammar? Please don't touch my grammar!"
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:33 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


> So this means that when you meet someone who refers to themself using they/them pronouns,

To themself? Not "we"?


See, this type of thing is precisely what I mean about not getting it. Look, I promise you that someone who calls themself "them" has put plenty of thought into gender identity and has faced a lot of homophobic/transphobic/misogynist abuse for their gender presentation. They are a real person, going through real life stuff. And yet in all these conversations there's basically an undertone of "LOLwut, you seriously expect me to believe that?" The idea that it's okay to mock somebody's gender presentation - on the theory that trans and genderqueer kids are somehow just playing, even though it's the kind of play that gets you harassed on the street, and thus their wishes about pronouns should not be indulged. And the idea that somehow taking the retrograde position on a debated, ambiguous point of grammar is more virtuous than standing up for gender-nonconforming folks.

The reason that non-binary gender stuff always turns into talking about pronouns is because deep down a lot of people are very resistant to others' self definition (especially around gender), but it's a lot less acceptable among nerds to say "fuck your non-conforming gender identity, you know you're really a guy" than to say "I am an awesomely old-school and virtuous person because I think how you describe your gender identity is wrongxxzzors". (I've never met an anti-they person who was down with ze/zir, for instance - "they" isn't allowed because it's a plural and ze/zir sounds awkward and "no one will ever use those"....which pretty much means that gender non-conforming people can just suck it up and use 'he' or 'she', which is pretty much saying that you're not cool with folks being visibly gender-nonconforming.)

I mean seriously, now that I am Old, I recognize in myself the desire for things not to change, and the tendency to feel that new music, new words, new social formations are silly and frivolous and useless. I feel frustrated sometimes with having to keep up - can't language and politics just stay in place the way they were when I first learned about them? I sometimes feel threatened and criticized by changes in language - you mean I have been doing it wrong?. That stuff is real. But it's also the way we ossify and get disconnected from life - it's Theodore Adorno hating on the dissidents in 1968 even though he'd been a dissident in the thirties, it's Jello Biafra being all dodgy about paying his bandmates royalties even though he started out super-duper against that kind of cheating and greed, it's second wave feminists becoming big ol' transphobes because they couldn't bear to acknowledge that they'd been wrong about trans people. Change - even change at the level of language, which seems like it should be trivial - can be hard and threatening, but it's important for all of us to let ourselves grow. If we're not busy being born, we're busy dying and all that.
posted by Frowner at 10:28 AM on December 23, 2011 [15 favorites]


Two-Spirit is almost the right term for me, but not quite. I feel like it's co-opting a specific Native American term and trying to apply it more widely.

Interesting. What does it mean in the Native American context?
posted by modernnomad at 10:29 AM on December 23, 2011


I've never met an anti-they person who was down with ze/zir, for instance

Well, you've met me. I'm totally fine with neologisms. If you think of yourself as a ze, or a sie, or a s/he, or a co (that's an obscure one from the '70s, I believe, that never gained much traction), or any other new singular pronoun, I will refer to you by that pronoun without a moment's hesitation. If you insist on being a they, however, I will inquire as to why there is only one of you. This is my grammatical hill, and I will die on it. Think of me as a fool if you must, but I am no bigot.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:06 AM on December 23, 2011


Two-Spirit is almost the right term for me, but not quite. I feel like it's co-opting a specific Native American term and trying to apply it more widely.

I disagree. Two-Spirits (previously known as berdaches, amongst other terms specific to tribe/band affiliation) played many different roles among different nations. In some tribes, female-bodied Two-Spirits were allowed to be warriors. In other tribes, Two-Spirits were medicine people. The term Two-Spirit is a pretty modern catch-all for queer tribal people.
posted by kamikazegopher at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2011


If you insist on being a they, however, I will inquire as to why there is only one of you.

Why would you ask that if you know that "they" can be singular? That makes absolutely no sense. It's like refusing to use, and pretending to misunderstand, irregular plurals.

"Did you say 'children'? I don't understand. Maybe you mean childs...?"

This isn't pedantry; you think something is agrammatical that isn't. You can justify it by saying you're a prescriptivist 'til the cows come home, but that doesn't mean it makes any sense. The "grammatical hill" you're defending is actually a useless mud hole.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:48 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Would it help if I were to mention that I'm also quite upset about the singular informal "you"?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:01 PM on December 23, 2011


I'm not even remotely tribal though, and that's what I meant by specific. Neither would we call a biomale living as a woman "kathoey" if she isn't Thai.
posted by Foosnark at 1:50 PM on December 23, 2011


My mother's cousin, a very proper New Zealander, classic feminist, New Yorker contributor, and English department chair, always addressed her business letters thusly:

"Dear Gentlefolk, "

She informed me "they", "them", and "their" were correct usage when referring to a single individual, or a group being addressed as a single entity. The growing public appearance of queer and trans folks didn't require any changes in my usage at all. Thanks, Cousin Margaret!
posted by Dreidl at 3:01 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you've met me. I'm totally fine with neologisms. If you think of yourself as a ze, or a sie, or a s/he, or a co (that's an obscure one from the '70s, I believe, that never gained much traction), or any other new singular pronoun, I will refer to you by that pronoun without a moment's hesitation. If you insist on being a they, however, I will inquire as to why there is only one of you. This is my grammatical hill, and I will die on it. Think of me as a fool if you must, but I am no bigot.

Faint of Butt, I think that the reason you're catching ire here is that your comments are making it sound like you're placing your attachment to a somewhat antiquated (and debated) grammar rule over your respect for other people's personal identities, which they've likely already went through a lot of shit for.

Placing grammar above people's feelings/identities (which you're invalidating by questioning their preferred pronoun) doesn't make any sense to me, but if that's your hill, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.
posted by kylej at 5:53 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


More binary-blowing gender can be found at MTF Butches and Femme FTM.


And if you want more contemporary hard theory (think post-Judith Butler but way more accessible) and/or manifestos about gender, Not Yr Cister Press has an amazinggggg compilation of free PDFS!

I especially recommend My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage by Susan Stryker and Dress to Kill, Fight to Win by Dean Spade.
posted by Suparnova at 6:27 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is sub-community culture being pushed upstream. While accept dialogue, personally I can't accept the notions, personally. I didn't accept gangster rap or the gangster atti-rude in my community when it was popular to do so. Bitch! If that means I get invited to fewer parties, then so be it. I'd likely not enjoy such a party anyway.
posted by xtian at 9:24 AM on December 25, 2011


Thanks Suparnova! This is awesome. Dean Spade is fucking terrific.
posted by prefpara at 4:22 PM on December 25, 2011


yeah haha awesome xtian, different genders are like people being rude-ass misgynist thugs
posted by beefetish at 9:07 PM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The singular "they" is just the easiest substitute we've got. Most people are never going to say "hir", however the heck you pronounce it.
posted by latkes at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2011


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