fake debate

Recently I gave a talk to a progressive group on the Peninsula. I was sharing my experiences as a parent of a non-binary gendered child and talked about how I have learned to view gender differently. I flatly told the group “they” is my child’s preferred pronoun and I was not interested in discussing the issue. I said, “please accept that this is a simple matter of respecting the personal identity of my child.” This was said at the beginning of the talk as a part of the introduction. I went on to describe some of the milestones of my own education on this topic. I’ll post more about what I have learned later.
There was a q&a afterward and there were a variety of responses to the talk, some supportive, some good questions, and a couple surprisingly negative. One person came up afterwards as I was putting my laptop away to talk to me about grammar.
Grammar rules are fine but should not be allowed to get in the way of meaning. Basically, the rules are for people who cannot put coherent sentences together. The split infinitive in the prior sentence does not detract from its meaning or impact.
I was informed that ‘they’ cannot be used as a singular pronoun. This is strange to me because according to Webster’s dictionary (which this guy could have looked up on his phone in about 30 seconds), “[it can be] used with an indefinite singular antecedent in place of the definite masculine he or the definite feminine she”. Using it for an non-binary gender rather than an unspecified person is a slight stretch but language does that and the meaning is clear, after all, neither she nor he are appropriate.
When I gave examples, “my friend went to the beach and they had a great time”, “the doctor said they would call back”, he replied that he would never say that. I found myself drawn into a pointless argument with someone ignorant to start with and too close-minded to accept simple facts. I broke away as quickly as I could – lunch was being served – but I could not get the confrontation out of my mind.
At our next PFLAG meeting I had a chance to talk about what happened. I was still angry. I mentioned during my talk that according to the American Foundation for Suicide prevention, over 40% of gender nonconforming individuals attempt suicide sometime in their lives, roughly 9 times the rate for the general population. The main mitigating factor they found was acceptance by family and community. The guy arguing about grammar was putting his discomfort above respecting my kids identity, a matter which I take very seriously after spending an evening in the waiting room of an emergency psych ward. My kid was fine, they told us they could not get thoughts of cutting themselves out of their head. Junior High is rough for anyone but especially for the gender nonconforming.
Talking about the conflict at the PFLAG meeting allowed me to get past the anger and look at the conversation more rationally. I realized the guy was intentionally provoking me. In this matter, ‘should have said’ serves a purpose: I know I will encounter this reaction again. We happen to have a great speaker at that meeting who is a practicing psychologist. She advised that I could de-escalate the conversation by putting myself in their situation, “I know this can be a difficult thing to get used to, it was hard for me and I still make mistakes, but it is important.”
I also realized later that the grammar instructor must have know that it was important to me, after all I had been speaking about it for about 40 minutes, but still felt compelled to approach me and refute what I had said. I thought about the transphobia that would create that compulsion. I think the grammar issue was something he could complain about without seeming too un-PC. I know the next time this comes up if the soft approach the psychologist suggested doesn’t work, I will confront the prejudice directly and not be taken in by the seeming attempt at debate and distraction.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.