Oct. 16th, 2013

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There's a backlog–as always–to write about, what with the move back to the west coast, but one subject that has come up with surprising and gratifying frequency in my recent visits there is pronoun preference. Since I exacerbated the problem during my move east, people have often tried to guess, corrected themselves, followed each others' lead, desperately groped for syntax, and generally caused me more than a little amusement.

But for all that it's a little late for National Coming Out Day, let me take this opportunity to set the record straight, or at least–pace Adams–firmly crooked.

I should first confess that my own views on this have evolved in the last few years, and I'm in no way guaranteeing that they're now stable. But since I'm feeling pretty comfortable in my skin and soul for the first time ever, there's a reasonable chance that I won't wander too much further afield.

An ever-increasing number of people ask "which pronoun do you prefer?" It's always a good question to hear. It's someone saying that they recognize that this might be an issue that's important to you, and that they want to be sensitive to it and act in a supportive way. But despite appreciating the question and wanting to validate their concern, I've never had an answer to it that I felt particularly comfortable with.

Initially I devised a tortuous response that amounted to it not mattering when speaking to me directly, but when speaking about me, in the third person, they should choose whichever pronoun would make the story more interesting. In retrospect, I doubt that answer really helped anybody. I then came up with a worse one, which was to point out that here was an opportunity for my interlocutor to signal their gender reactionism or open-mindedness via their choice of gender pronoun to use for me, and that I'd then judge them in turn for it. It's amazing I've made any friends at all, ever, really.

Part of the problem with the question–aside from my apparently having an otherwise well-managed streak of asshole in my makeup–is the implicit gender binary. Which pronoun do I prefer of the two? Well... that's complicated.

Male pronouns don't fit too well for dressy occasions; female ones are similarly awkward when I'm ruthlessly exploiting body privilege to be lazy in the heat. But, most of the rest of the time, either works. Some of my friends consistently use one or the other, some switch, a tiny minority use nouveau constructs, if only in written form.

When required to identify on paperwork or online signups, I take the first option that's available and contextually reasonable from the list below. I'm OK with the first three; the remainder are compromises.
  1. gender-queer/-fluid/-etc
  2. other
  3. decline to state/prefer not to say
  4. transgender
  5. female
  6. male
I have two passports and two driver's licenses, from three countries. Of these four legal, official documents of identity, no two make the same statement about my gender. That works for me.

(For the record, it isn't because I particularly like having discordant ID; the four different systems that generate the four documents simply allow different sets of options from the list above. I'd be entirely happy for all my IDs to conform to my Australian passport, despite it confusing the heck out of United's check-in machines.)

Pronouns are hard. I have gotten them wrong with other people in ways that I am ashamed of, and doubtless will again. If I automatically make a mental classification that turns out to be incorrect, I often find it incredibly hard to switch to their preferred pronoun. I feel awful every time I get it wrong; for some of these people, I've run out of time to make it up to them. I have no desire to put my friends through any of this.

So here's the deal. My preference is to avoid gendered pronouns. Use my name. Use they/their. But if you can't, or get it wrong, don't sweat it overmuch; you won't ruin my mood or my day.

...but I will judge you.

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Miki Habryn

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