Latest Letter (January 22, 2021)
I've recently come out as transgender (Female to Genderqueer, I use they/them pronouns).
I've been having problems getting anyone to use my pronouns because of my feminine name (which I chose), and even my own husband won't use my pronouns. It's frustrating.
Should I just get used to not being addressed properly, or should I change my name and work towards a top surgery to come across as more masculine? Is there another option?
Thank you for your time.
* * *
Thank you for your excellent (and very relevant) question! I've been waiting for someone to ask me this :-3 Okay, so, here we go . . .
First of all, I would like to stress that you should never ever ever get surgery in order to please other people. Surgery is extremely serious and should never be performed unless it is either to correct or to fix a life-threatening or other serious medical issue or because you yourself have a deep personal commitment to the procedure (and I mean deep). I would say the same thing about any hormone therapy you might consider. If you don't want to do something like that, then you certainly shouldn't do it just so people can get a grip on their perception of you. No, what is important is how you see yourself and what you want for yourself. It is your body and your life.
As for pronouns, I can understand, I think, what you are feeling. While I am not transgender myself, I am a gay bear who is attracted to masculine men and I feel masculine myself. For this reason, I feel it is very cringy when people call me "sister" or "girlfriend" or use the feminine pronoun on me, as some of my gay friends are inclined to do. No, I'm not a girl and I am not your sister. If a gay friend of mine likes to be called those things and wants me to use "she/her" when referring to them, I'm fine with that. But don't do it to me, please.
When my late husband, Jim, called me "girlfriend" and "sister" a couple of times, what I did was quickly correct him. "No, Jim, I'm not a girl. Please don't call me by any feminine pronouns or other descriptions." It took a couple of times, but he eventually got out of the habit and we were fine.
Pronouns are an interesting thing. Some people think using "they/them" to refer to one person is wrong, but in English we do it all the time. Example: "My friend Bob left their keys in the car." No one has a problem with that, and, in fact, important dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's have been saying that using they/them in the singular is perfectly fine, grammatically speaking. For years, as a book editor, I struggled with the awkwardness of editing text to say he/she and his/her in some of the manuscripts I corrected. I was told, when I was a young assistant editor working in Detroit, that I should do this. It made for very clumsy prose, in my opinion. More recently, after some research and consulting with authorities in the language, I am now happy to use they/their in the singular.
There have been proposals by some in the gay and also straight community that we should just dispose of feminine and masculine pronouns entirely and use they/them all the time. The counterargument is that this denies the majority of people of all genders and sexes the right to be called by a masculine or feminine pronoun if that is how they self-identify.
Sooooo (deep breath), the bottom line, in my opinion, is for English speakers to adapt to the idea that they/them has evolved somewhat and can now be applied to use for general discussions of the singular but also for trans people or anyone else who has that preference. English is a living language, and words change their meanings and usage all the time (e.g., "gay" used to mean "happy" and that was all it meant; "ugly" was often used as a synonym for "mean"; and so on).
Sorry for the long walk-through, but now to your specific question: How does one get family, friends, and coworkers to start referring to you with they/them pronouns? Look at it in the same way a teacher might. When you are teaching someone, and they (they!) get an answer to a question wrong, you calmly and clearly correct them. Each time they get the answer wrong, you correct them. You keep doing this over and over until they get it right. Repetition is how people learn. So, repeat, repeat, repeat. Eventually, they will either get the concept, or they will be so exhausted by your endlessly correcting them that they will finally relent and use the proper words. Depending on the person, it will take more or less time. But do not give up. Don't get angry or sad or upset. Just smile and correct them. It's like someone mispronouncing your name. What would you do? Why, you would correct them, of course. Same goes for this situation.
Hope this helps.
Big Bear Hugs,
Ask Papabear has been nominated for an Ursa Major Award in the website category. Also, the Good Furry Award has been nominated in the miscellaneous category.
Poster by Dan the Bear
(Cover art by Charleston Rat)
Writing for The Furry Book (see below) continues. This is a much more massive project than I thought. Sorry for the delays. The deaths of my husband and mother delayed it, too. But I'm workin' on it!
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