Sunday, December 15, 2013

On the Subject of Pronouns (and names in general)

In which I piss off some of my friends by maintaining a consistent standard which is respectful to other of my friends.
My Achilles' heel with regard to my memory relates to names. Although I can remember circuit diagrams I worked on 30 years ago in great detail, I often forget a person's name when I'm not directly facing them, and sometimes when I am. This happens no matter how long I've known a person. It has nothing to do with not liking them... it's a mental quirk I have, that I have to work around with some rather complicated mnemonics, which don't always work, and which are sometimes as hard to remember as the names. So sometimes I get it wrong, and I'll resort to "buddy", or "pal" or some such, even knowing that the person prefers to be addressed in some particular manner. I try, but it's all I can do to keep up with names.

My friends span quite a large spectrum, politically, personally, economically, intellectually, physically, and by any other measure you'd like to name. I don't agree with them all of the time. In fact, I have some very good friends with whom I rarely if ever agree on some subjects. All that means is that we don't agree on some things. Here's one of those things.

Some of my friends have various non-traditional sexual orientations. Some are gay, or transgendered or transitioning male-to-female, or transitioning from female-to-male, or not-transitioning-and-not-gay-but-nonetheless-identifying-with-some-other-gender, or post-op and functioning as something other than what was on their birth certificate, or even post-op transgendered and now functioning as gay. And I will gladly use whatever name each person wants me to use, without comment (within my ability to remember names at all). All of this is their private choice and is none of my business.

I'm going to repeat that, slowly:    its.    none.    of.    my.    business.

I repeated that because, while some of my friends are rather private about their orientation, others aren't. Some want to be taken at face value, regardless of what's under their clothes, and would be completely mortified to be "outed". Others revel in correcting others as to their orientation, even when it has no bearing on a conversation. Again, this is their choice, and none of my business.

I repeat it again because sometimes those who revel don't seem to understand what that means. Here's a refresher. It means that it's not my business to instruct other people how to address you. Frankly, I don't know from one day to the next whether someone has "come out" without my knowledge. I don't know whether you, like very, very many people, choose to keep that knowledge from some of your social circles while privately sharing it with others. And frankly, it's a bit of a burden to expect me to keep up an up-to-date mental index of which of my friends and acquaintances wish to be addressed in which fashion in which circumstances. It's all I can do to keep up with names. So I leave it to you, and you alone, because it's nobody else's business.

One thing I can promise you: whether you're straight, gay, man, woman, transitioning, cross-identifying, queer, or WHATEVER... I will always directly address you with the very same pronoun: "YOU". YOU will be YOU no matter what you are or what you believe yourself to be. I have no interest in YOU other than YOU AS YOU and my treatment of YOU will not be colored by any other criterion. The only possible reason that sex and/or gender might become an issue involving me is if I were interested in pursuing an intimate relationship with you. However, I'm solidly married, and I absolutely guarantee that if you're not my wife, I have no such interest in you whatsoever, and never will. Your sexual and/or gender orientation, therefore, will NEVER be of any interest to me whatsoever.

I can also promise you that whenever I use some other pronoun in reference to YOU, then I'm not talking to you. It is very probable... virtually guaranteed... that I will refer to you with pronouns relating to the way you physically present yourself to others, so as not to confuse them. If you appear to be a man, or if you're even just trying hard though not quite successful, I'll call you "he". If you appear to be a woman, or if you're even just trying hard though not quite successful, I'll call you "she". That's because I'm not talking to you. I'm using language as a medium of meaningful communication, and I want the recipient of the message (which isn't you) to understand which person in the room I'm talking about. And since your sexual or gender orientation (which lies within your head) isn't any of my business, if you then want to announce it to this new person, then please... do so. But understand this... when you do it, it's not a "correction", by any stretch of the imagination. I use pronouns to communicate; and frankly, if that person understands the object of my pronoun to be you then the pronoun did its job. They knew it to be you because it was clear and understandable. But the only pronoun YOU ever get from me is "YOU".

Retaliate in kind if you wish. Call me "she" or "it" or "that frakking asswipe", and be disappointed to learn that I don't care. I have never in my life chosen the pronouns that are applied to me, or complained about those that were used. I don't place unreasonable burdens upon my friends to advertise my personal opinions for me... on any subject whatsoever. I've been propositioned a few times, and I've always responded, "No, thanks," and then, "I'm married." I've never insisted on being introduced as "your straight friend", even when I'm at a party surrounded by gays. I think that if I were to do such a thing, it wouldn't be because I was terribly concerned about the health of my self-image, but it would be about forcing information on others that they don't care one bit about, and grabbing attention for myself. Just as I refuse to be an attention whore, I refuse to be an "attention pimp". Do it yourself.


  1. Dave,,, you can say what you like.. but you KNOW you want me!! ;' )

  2. It's too late for us now, Joe... Ash won the arm-wrestling contest.