Apparently having wrongful assumptions about my ethnicity thrown in my face as a non sequitur yesterday wasn’t enough. Today I experienced another trip through someone else’s “Thou Art Not Trans Enough” transexual elitism.
This came about as a result of a–quite frankly–shocking decision on the part of Canada’s gay and lesbian news source, Xtra! One of the writers for Xtra! expressed a preference (shared by at least two other writers) to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns. In other words, they want to be referred to as “they” or not be referred to at all. And having written for Xtra! for eleven years already in this particular individual’s case, it would be pretty hard to not refer to them at all. But they would also like to be able to refer to people whose preference it is to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns, to refer to them as–hang onto the edge of your seat here–“they”.
You may notice already that the use of they as a pronoun is actually quite easy to pull off in the English language. In fact, this particular writer’s wife helped research it, and they took the pile of research to Xtra! to appeal to their employer about this use of gender-neutral pronouns. Xtra! decided that gender-neutral pronouns, however, are completely unacceptable because of how it allegedly muddies up everything one has to say in his/her/their articles (see what I just did there?). It is my opinion, as someone who has been reduced to silence watching people I thought were my friends, belittle select individuals because of their declared pronoun preference, that this represents a profound example of censorship.
It’s not as if the Globe & Mail is going to jump all over this issue and promote tolerance and understanding towards people whose identities can’t be neatly packed up into boxes marked “man” and/or “woman”. You won’t hear about gender-neutral pronouns on Global News or CBC. In other words, as far as mainstream media is concerned, it’s not even a subject. Who cares?
And this is the entire purpose for Xtra! as an alternative news source. Just like the LGBTQ movement has its own events, its own history books, its own politics, its own doctors and counselling resources, and unfortunately, its very own set of laws that reduce individuals to lesser status than every heterosexual person in the entire country; Xtra! is an alternative outlet for news, representing a more diverse set of perspectives from out lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and trans writers–and certainly some of these overlap, and I’m most definitely missing someone already even though I don’t mean to. So when even this newspaper won’t respect the pronoun preference of its own writers, I’m left to quite flatly remark “What? The fuck.” And I promise you, it’s out loud.
But all of a sudden, while otherwise minding my own business, I notice a conversation in which someone who identifies themselves as a transwoman claims that if the newspaper allows gender-neutral pronouns for someone she declares is a transgender individual, then everyone will start referring to her as “they”, which would be a blatant insult to her sense of self-actualized identity. In all honesty, I actually don’t know where the writer in question stands, on whether or not they personally identify as transgender. Maybe they identify as genderqueer, or simply as trans. Maybe they identify as metagender, even. Who are we to appoint labels to them? All they asked for was to be referred to as “they”, or not be referred to at all.
I took it upon myself to explain to this very concerned transwoman that I am genderqueer and trans–that you can call me transgender, transsexual, trans, genderfucker, genderqueer, or if you are so inclined, even metagender (even though I think I’ve met a few people like me, and thus, this is a bit of a stretch), and I won’t argue–my gender identity is complex and does not neatly fit into boxes like “transman” or “trans guy”. And that is no reason to argue that my gender identity is less strong or deep to me than hers is in her self-view, or that how I talk about my gender is going to cause people to question her gender identity, or that somehow I’m just “playing” with gender as a childish “fuck you” to the rest of the world. But there she is, arguing that one writer’s preference to be referred to as “they” (or my preference to be referred to as “he”) is going to unravel her entire identity and cause everyone to start calling her “they”.
But no one wants to call her “they”. Just one person wants people to call them “they”. But that’s not good enough for her. Unrelated to the conversation at hand about pronouns, she comes out with this idea of the “true transsexual”. I’m so tired of this, I don’t even feel like dignifying it with a full-fledged analysis of what this idea means and where it comes from. What it amounts to, is saying to people like me, and people like these writers who just wants to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns, “Thou art not trans enough.” She even argued that queering gender is an appropriation of her “true transsexual” culture. She called me an enemy of the transgender community, and declared that I lack humanity because I don’t hold Christine Jorgensen up on a special pedestal as the primary pillar of the community and of the movement on the whole.
Enough is enough. Really. The fact is that if there are “true transsexuals”, there are also “true men” and “true women”, and I can guarantee you these standards this will be to the exclusion of transmen and transwomen. Let’s cut the bullshit with the elitism and truism. Let’s just find ways to relate to each other through common experiences–such as accessing hormones for chemical transition, or experiencing both setbacks and ground won on the basis of social transition, or even navigating through the process of surgical transition–and stop subscribing to the same principle of Othering that keeps us all systematically marginalized and mistreated.
Say for a minute you don’t believe that the writers at Xtra! should be allowed to use gender-neutral pronouns, but then shouldn’t the writers for all other mass media sources be prohibited from using pronouns that are congruent with your social gender? Because they can’t just randomly misgender cisgendered people when they’re writing about them, right? That’s a step backwards, but it’s equality, right? …RIGHT?!
I want a different kind of equality. I want the kind of equality that means that everyone’s gender is honoured and respected. A world where only some genders are honoured and respected, while all others are speculated about and shat upon at every available opportunity from within and outside the LGBTQ(+) movement, isn’t good enough. Turning on your allies and calling them bullies, telling them they are less than fully human, and doing all the same things that have been done to you by the dominant culture, is not helping advance your rights, so just stop it.
I’ll tell you how easy it is. Start by asking what someone’s preferred pronoun is whenever you have any reason to be unsure. If you’re not comfortable referring to a person as “they” or “it” or “zie”, then just don’t talk about them. Don’t continue to be a shithead and wrongly assign random people whatever gender you’d prefer to project upon them at any given time, the way people do (or did) to you. You know how it feels. Why would you treat somebody that way? Would you like to be treated that way?
This is kindergarten-grade material. You don’t even have to be mature to pull this off.