Pronouns are the most important thing about the trans community.
Personally, I think there are more important things to talk about:
Trans health issues, queer youth, or hate crime violence.
I believe that full heath care benefits should include transitioning
surgery, psychiatric consultations, and free universal medical treatment.
I think trans history and queer studies should be taught in grade schools.
I think there are millions of interesting questions about power dynamics,
male/female interpersonal politics, and violence connected to gender.
But we're not going to talk about any of those topics. Instead, we're
going to concentrate on pronouns and beat that topic into the ground.
You're supposed to ask every transgender person you meet how they want to
be referred to. But nobody actually does this. Sometimes, it works if you
get to know someone well, and find a quiet and appropriate time alone with
them. That rarely happens.
In a busy party, or when meeting people quickly, you'll never get the
chance. And asking someone you just met in a few seconds, "So, what do you
want to be called?" is about as rude as blurting out, "So, are you trans or what?"
So, you do like I do: you remain quiet and feel stupid. If you're lucky,
you hear someone else use a pronoun to refer to your new acquaintance, and
you try to copy them. If you just met a dozen people, good luck keeping
the pronouns straight.
This is a HUGE issue. Failing even once will lose your friends, and offend
people you don't know. Often people will be offended at the behest of
other people... even if the person incorrectly identified doesn't care.
Those busybodies will carry slights and grudges even for other people.
Once I was a slave at a party, and I met dozens of new people.
Right away, I was confused at who I had already met, and which name went
with which Master or slave. Plus, I was high on the joy of serving...
floating in an erotic buzz. Simply delicious.
So, I decided to call everyone "man". "Hey man... having a good time? May
i refill Your glass?" It worked pretty good for a while until a dominatrix
was offended, and I lied and tried to convince Her that I had actually
said, "ma'am". It didn't work and I got my ass spanked (rightfully so)
by the Master I was serving. So I went back to not talking much at all.
If you meet enough people in the leather community, you will come across
women who are referred to as "Sir" but use a female pronoun. I love that.
When I'm in full slave mode, I tend to feel subordinate to *everyone* and
call everyone "Sir". Again, that was (rightfully) perceived by my Master
as incorrect and disrespectful. Damn.
I've never seen a male dom referred to as "Ma'am". I'd love to see that. I
also have a dream of one day seeing a woman drive a Harley Davidson
motorcycle with a man riding behind, clinging on. But I'll have to keep
I'm speaking out of ignorance, but it seems to me that investing pronouns
with such a huge power to offend really blows them out of proportion. If a
non-trans person wanted to offend, they would probably say something like
"Are you a woman or a man?" And that's it. That's the only insult they
could probably think of. They would follow that with, "What is that thing?
He or she?"
I don't know, so I apologize. But is that really an insult? Would it hurt
to hear that? Especially if you've heard people say things like that
I can imagine how much it must suck when you've worked so hard to
communicate what your chosen gender is and close friends or coworkers
still screw up it. And when someone looks you in the eyes and deliberately
offends you with a single word.
That's one of the worst things about being the target of something
insensitive. You're never sure if the person was being deliberately mean.
You walk away from the event thinking, "That was weird."
Maybe you didn't hear it right. You can drive yourself crazy trying to
divine the motives and see into the thoughts of a someone who may or may
not be an asshole. It's a lot of work.
But I think you're punishing people who are new to being friends with
transpeople, people who are just not good at speaking, and those of us who
just make a lot of mistakes.
When I first fell in love with the bear community, it was all about a DIY
ethic. Lots of bikers and guys with long hair. Sleazy sex and drawings by
T.C. Smudge and the Hun. Bears were guys who knew how to use their hands,
and getting dirty. Today, I worry that the bear community has devolved
into strict Carhartt dress code where you have to be fat and hairy to be a
member, or you don't get to join bear411.
I'd hate to see the trans community similarly talk only about words, and not actions.