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My Ignorant Blog Post About Trans Issues (MIBPATI) #4 of 6


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.

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ACLC has a larger than usual number of trans members (both MTF and FTM). I've had plenty of experience with this issue.

Once I've identified a person as being trans, I've always considered it polite to assume the pronoun of their appearance. Pre-op, post-op, doesn't matter. If someone tells me they're trans (or is obviously trans), I'm going to use their "adoped" pronoun.

So once "Billie" got her mastectomy and started hormone therapy, and marked the occasion by saying how happy she was about it, in my head I switched her to "Billy" and started using male pronouns to address and refer to him.

If someone tells me they're trans (or is obviously trans), I'm going to use their "adoped" pronoun.

I agree that's polite to use the pronouns that people choose for themselves, regardless of whether they are transgender or cisgender.

But I'm a bit confused about your comment. Especially around appearance. What if you read someone as being an indeterminate gender, or of a gender that doesn't correspond to how that person might identify? Would you go by "appearance" or would you use whatever pronouns that person might prefer?

In the example you give of Billy, what if he might have preferred masculine pronouns prior to surgery and hormone therapy?

Well I think that you are trying to be respectful but it's fairly simple... if you call people by their names, you don't have to deal with the pronouns... If someone's name is Sylvia... call that person Sylvia regarless of how they look. If someone's name is John... call that person John.

I personally don't get it when trans people use the pronoun "they" for them when they are one person. To me that is simply a plural pronoun and I get confused using my English vocabulary... I feel like if I'm ignorant when I see one person and I have to call that person "they."

I think that there are further conversations about this topic even from the perspective of the leather and kink community. You don't simply call everyone man, ma'am, sir, boy or anythingelse. In this case is more about learning the structure that you are in and how your master or sir is setting protocol for you. In my case, I don't expect to be called sir by eveyone but those that I have earned the right to be called sir. I also know that I have to be respectful of others' properties and won't approach or talk to their property just because I feel like it...

I personally don't get it when trans people use the pronoun "they" for them when they are one person. To me that is simply a plural pronoun and I get confused using my English vocabulary... I feel like if I'm ignorant when I see one person and I have to call that person "they."

Heh. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the generic "they," either, although it does have historical precedent in literature -- Shakespeare, Austen, Twain, etc.

The thing is, until gender-neutral pronouns like ze/hir make their way into the popular lexicon, I'm just not sure there's a much better alternative.

More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

I've been a member of the trans community since 1996 or so and I will still avoid pronouns for folks I've just met until I hear someone else use use 'he' or 'she'.

Personally, at this point in my life, if someone were to ask me what pronoun I prefered I'd probably either stare at them like they were an idiot or just walk away. I wouldn't be offended but I'd rather have an honest mistake than some overly cautious bending over backwards pussyfooting around, particularly because it would then be obvious that they already knew I was trans.

There are some people who will be offended no matter what you do. There's a big difference between an honest mistake and being purposefully offensive. My rule of thumb when it comes to pronouns: when in doubt, abstain.

It's just so awkward. One poster above says to call everyone by their first name, one says to assume the proper pronoun based on looks, now you are suggesting not to use pronouns at all. It's like having a conversation while trying not to use any words starting with the letter "E"... it can be done, but it gets in the way of being human and connecting.

I hope to see you again at DO... you are a damn hot bear.

One poster above says to call everyone by their first name, one says to assume the proper pronoun based on looks, now you are suggesting not to use pronouns at all.

It goes without saying that you should address people how they introduce themselves, which in most casual contexts is by their first names. But it gets a little awkward saying John drove John's car here today, and then in a stroke of luck, John managed to find a parking spot right next to where John's partner's car was parked.

Enter pronouns.

In some cases, it's probably safe to assume a pronoun preference based on an unambiguous gender presentation. For example, If you see someone in heels, wearing makeup and a dress, chances are feminine pronouns will be appropriate. Similarly, based on your gender presentation, even though I have never asked, I assume that in most cases you prefer to be called "he." I may be wrong, but chances are I'll be fine, and if I'm wrong, I'll just hope you'll correct me, then I'll apologize and move on.

That's key with pronoun fuckups: Apologize, get on with the conversation, remember for the future.

How about when you don't know which pronouns to use for someone? Albeit awkward, isn't that difficult to avoid using pronouns. Alternatively, you could ask the person in question what pronouns would be appropriate, or you could even ask a mutual friend, depending. It's just polite to ask respectfully and in private.

The only difficult thing about asking is that it highlights that someone's trans. Early in transition, I welcomed the opportunity to assert my gender identity. Now, I'd raise an eyebrow if someone were to ask me what pronouns I prefer, because it should be pretty darn obvious. And the only time someone's done that lately is AFTER he found out I was a transguy, which I found annoying because he was just calling attention to the fact that he knew I was trans in that wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way. I informed him that I was a man who preferred masculine pronouns, and then enquired as politely as I could about his gender identity and preferred pronouns.

So, my answer? A bit of all of the above, depending on the situation. With some practice, being considerate about pronouns should actually aid in establishing human connection.

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