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Gender pronoun names

Taylor11's picture

So I read this article to my family over the break and it provided a very interesting dicussion.  My family didn't understand the reasoning behind the point of using different pronouns instead of just using he/she pronouns. I attempted to give them a gender studies lecture and explain the reasoning behind it. Also I found the comments on this article to be interesting as well.


kwilkinson's picture

gender 101

I have had similar experiences at home too, specifically with my friends.  Although my friends are relatively accepting/liberal people, it is interesting to observe my black male friends in how they express their masculinity and reinforce gender role "norms".  In many of my classes I have studied black males with both a sociological lens and within the political sphere, however I believe that my interpersonal interactions with them have been much more fruitful.  

One day I began a conversation with two my best friends (pretty much my brothers) and I was talking about our class, specifically the gender spectrum. Although they were respectful of my thoughts and opinions I was instantly met with resistance.  They argued that I was not using facts in argument?  

So then I asked for them to define "real" (specifically in the context of a person)--they said real is someone who is authentic and honest.  I then proceeded to tell them that we were saying the exact same thing: being one's unencumbered self--but they were still resistant.  

I do not want to make the claim that this is due to them being men, or they are ignorant because I actually think they agreed with me but we were speaking different languages and come from entirely different contexts.  They honestly appreciate anyone who is "real", honest/loyal, and friendship is more important than anyone's identity.  

BUT I believe that their masculinity (specifically BLACK masculinity) dominated not only their socialization of how they perceive gender, but also the way in which it is deeply correlated with one's sexuality—therefore manhood, power, respect.  Considering that black males are deeply embedded in the tight constraints in which they perform and express masculinity to be accepted/survive in both within predominately black and/or white societies.  Although I DO NOT believe this IS A VALID excuse and that Black America as a whole needs to be more progressive in regard definitions of one’s sexuality and gender.  I believe that the acceptance of these ideas at times threatens their identity.  

*Sidenote:  I also believe this is has alot to do with the Black church, but I digress. 

It is interesting because in theory I know that my friends believe the same way I do, but I wonder if I leave the matter somewhat untouched because I have gender privilege?  

Is it because I know them so well?  

Is it because I am black, and although I am a woman--I understand how deeply socialized and accepted these beliefs are within the black community (but it is still varied)?  

I know I have embedded the idea and our conversation definitely created space for productive conversation, where ideas were for sure expanded upon--should I do more?  

shainarobin's picture

Does a focus on identity compromise values?

I had a similar experience with my family over break so it's interesting that this happened to you too. In that instance, I was talking about what my favorite parts of this class has been so far and reading "The New Gender Workbook" came up as one of them. When I was describing to my family all of the different gender pronouns I had learned about, they were taken aback somewhat by why someone would spend so much time trying to define themselves and seemingly form their lives around this one identity. Both of my parents expressed that they felt that people who focused their lives around their identities - whether it be race, sex, religion, sexual preference, etc. - were not truly achieving social change. As my Dad put it, he is friends and works with people based on their values. In his case that would probably be someone who believes in social justice, equality, activism, and the need to speak up and out. While I wasn't totally surprised to see my parents respond this way (it seems like many adults in their age group are having trouble understanding this change in the use of gender pronouns) I was a bit thrown by their reaction to me bringing up the possibility that if I had a baby, I might not assign it a gender. My parents felt strongly towards the idea that by not assigning said baby a gender, they would grow up confused, feeling like an "it". I had never realized up to that moment that either of my parents identified with their gender so strongly and to the point that they felt like if it hadn't been expected of them, they wouldn't be who they are now. I wouldn't characterize either of my parents as conforming to gender roles per se. They switch things up in terms of which personality traits/actions are traditionally associated with men and women. So in that sense I wouldn't view either of my parents as being traditionally feminine or masculine. I realize now though that over the years, their identities have been expressed and emphasized to them over and over again. For example, during the 1970s, my mother was teen who was encountering both feminism and the black power movement at full force. It was empowering and unifying for her to identify as a black feminist. Conversely, my father knows that as a white, cisgender male, he has been afforded certain privileges and advantages that my mother has not been given. So in this sense I can see how growing up in a different era/time period has affected their perception of certain actions. However, that question of how important is identity, starts to come into play again. My experience with my family didn't feel too polarizing for me because they genuinely tried to understand what I was learning and where I was coming from. Each of us made good points, some of which can be saved for another post, and they did agree with a good number of the points that our class had made from our readings. I don't know about you, but my family likes to use humor in many of our discussions, so much of this conversation took place with us making light-hearted jokes at one another that in many instances turned into moments of understanding. For example, my mom told me how back when she was growing up, people who didn't consider themselves to be male or female where called "shim". Another one of them was that for the first time ever, I'm possibly the most progressive person in my immeadiate family. And let me tell you, that status is pretty hard to achieve. I believe that with stronger arguments, more examples, and better explanations (it can be hard to out talk professors...) I will be able to help my family understand the importance of gender neutral/open pronouns.