Beyond the Binary: Question Nineteen
July 2, 2013 § 2 Comments
If mentioning someone whose gender is genderqueer but goes by male or female pronouns, are you supposed to make this obvious to the listener so they don’t make the wrong assumptions?
Hel: I love that we’re getting questions about genderqueer etiquette! Hurray for wanting to treat your genderqueer friends with politeness and respect. 🙂 But as with question 17, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules – the best thing you can do is to ask the individual(s) in question. Maybe she/he uses gendered pronouns because she/he doesn’t want to have The Talk with every stranger? Maybe her/his gender identity is a personal thing that she/he doesn’t want to come up in discussion the moment someone talks about her/him in the third person? But then again, maybe she/he does want everyone to know that she/he is genderqueer despite using gendered pronouns, and using gendered pronouns in that context is part of how she/he ‘does’ genderqueer.* The only way to know is to ask!
*I initially wrote that sentence with a singular ‘they’, then figured that in this particular context it would make more sense to use the gendered pronouns! It now feels like a really stylistically awkward sentence. I don’t understand anyone who says that singular ‘they’ is more awkward than writing ‘she/he’ or saying ‘she-or-he’ a load of times…
Jennie: I should think that would depend on the context. Gender isn’t always of much relevance.
GrrlAlex: Interesting point: if the genderqueerness is not performed or presented how is one to know? Will aptitudes and behaviours come across as incongruent with an apparent gender identity (in which case queerness is performed) or will aptitudes and behaviorus come across as congruent in which case gender is as gender does: where in lies the issue? Genderqueer at this level might usefully represent a position that illustrates a self that is incongruent with a social expectation of gender and performs it as such. Thus, if I am read as male bodied but present a self in clothing and appearance that communicates femaleness will a person know to use female pronoun as a default position (since the gender performance which I can control – appearance is clearly female) or will they default to male because they have still read my body as male historied? For my part I prefer to use female pronouns now but have to ask on occassions for that to be acknoweldged. Educating society about reading genders as presented rather than assumed will take time.
CN: Depends entirely on the individual and what they’re comfortable with you communicating – the same as any other potentially sensitive/personal area of conversation/information, surely?
Nat: It very much depends on what that genderqueer individual prefers, to what degree they’re openly or publicly genderqueer (or consider this to be private information), what sort of language they prefer to be referred to with apart from pronouns, how important and relevant gender is to them, how painful they find misgendering etc.
I would say that unless you’ve been told to specifically and immediately identify them as genderqueer when mentioning them, you should generally only mention another person’s gender when it is actually relevant to do so (I realise that English makes this difficult). I would also avoid using other gendered language to refer to people, especially genderqueer people, unless I’d been asked to use it. A set of pronouns should not be automatically considered to come as a package deal with other gendered language.
I would generally prefer if gendering were considered a personal thing that people opt into to the degree that they’re comfortable, but I’m aware that this is likely to be a minority view.
I think it’s also worth reminding ourselves that some genderqueer people also identify as female or male, or women or men, as feature of ‘identifying with’ the binary gender they are most commonly seen as, as ‘reclaiming’ their birth assignment and queering the expression of that, or as seeing their genderqueerness as arising from some other factor than gender identity. But again we shouldn’t assume that identifying with or as these automatically comes with comfort with or preferences for other language or treatment.