The Pronoun Paradox

By Lisa P.

SHE/HE/THEY? 

Pronoun use is a big hot button political issue these days.  On one side, there are those who think that requiring a person to use the pronouns another person prefers is “woke”; persons on that side of the fence can’t understand why they shouldn’t be able to use whatever pronoun seems most obvious to them and the person being referred to should live with the consequences.  I sometimes think of this argument as “if you want to be referred to as a woman you better damn well sure make you look like one to me!”  On the other side are those who believe that refusing to take into account a person’s preference is a microaggression that should be avoided, if at all possible.  The way I hear that last point described in corporate speak is that using the proper pronouns is a way to be more inclusive. 

Personally, I will admit to some mixed feelings on the subject, and some of you may feel the same.  As Lisa, I want to be referred to as “she” and “her”; definitely, not “he” or “him”.  For me, the way I present is the way I want to be referenced.  Frankly, that is easier for a “hybrid” model like me; that is, someone living squarely inside each of the two gender categories of male and female.  If I were genderqueer, I might feel differently.  But, I am faced with a conundrum now in the workplace setting.  I have been asked to identify the pronouns I prefer on my Outlook email replies.  Thankfully, so far I haven’t been forced to specify, because I would prefer not to have to say.  To use “she/her” would be to out myself, and I cannot risk being outed right now.  To use “he/him” feels wrong, even if I present as a male at work.  It feels like a denial of whom I am.  Admittedly, the male me wouldn’t know what to do if someone referred to him as “she/her” — but that doesn’t mean it sits well with me to be forced to actively tell people that they should use “he/him” when it just isn’t true all the time.  In other words, even if I only put the pronoun choice under my male name, it would feel like I am dishonoring my femininity if I do that.  What a pronoun paradox! 

Interestingly, because of that paradox, pronouns may be able to function as a gauge of whether you are a crossdresser who doesn’t identify as female or a transgender person who identifies as female (note that in this respect that is the distinction I hear being made by participants on this website).  The concept I am articulating here is that pronouns reflect your identity in a tangible way.  If it bothers you to be referred to as “he” or “him” while you are presenting as a woman, then it probably means you identify as a woman, even if you haven’t accepted that in yourself.  I suppose a crossdresser who views themselves as a femulation artist would be annoyed if their artistry is not appreciated, but it should not bother them all that much to be misgendered in person or in writing, as they see themselves as males anyway. 

A transgender person may accept the fact they are misgendered given the “tells” they can’t cover up, but it bothers them nevertheless whenever it happens because it denies how they identify.  For myself, I can say that Lisa feels strongly that SHE should be referred to as “she” or “her”, both verbally and in writing.  But, then again, as I have said here before, I accept that I am a transgender woman now, regardless of whether I ever decide to live full time as a woman.  I should add that I am not advocating telling anyone off if they fail to use the proper pronouns with you.  As Kandi reminds us, we are all ambassadors for the crossdressing/transgender cause, and we should seek peace not war.  It is perfectly fine, of course, to expect others to engage with us in the same spirit of live and let live. 

So — how do you feel about pronouns?  Much ado about nothing or the very essence of your identity? 

30 thoughts on “The Pronoun Paradox”

  1. Lisa, I put “he/him” on my work email without a second thought, as I am a member of my company’s LGBTQ+ group and present as male at work. When I am out dressed, I am thrilled when people refer to me as “she/her”, but I do not have any issues if someone does not. Maybe if I had more opportunities to be out, it would be different. I do use “transgender” in describing myself, albeit at a low point on the spectrum. So I agree that “peace, not war” is the most appropriate way to handle the pronoun question. Great topic!

    1. Tina,

      I am also part of the LGBTQ network at work. It in interesting to hear your take, because I am out to only one person at work, who is a member of that network. But, in my mind I feel a bit like I am being dishonest by pretending to be an ally. That could be part of the issue I am grappling with.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. It gives me another perspective to consider.

      Lisa

      1. My take is that you ARE an ally, even though you are transgender. Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve found the courage to come out (even to only one person) whereas I remain hiding in my metaphorical closet. Continue to be an ally and find your moments to be yourself.

  2. Lisa,
    It is quite a dilemma, certainly one that is close to me . Being fulltime doesn’t guarantee people will slip up, the problem is the ones who choose to intentionally misgender you. I admit when I started to attend a trans group I often slipped up.

    So far I haven’t applied for official name changes (in the UK it’s either by deedpoll or a statutory declaration) but saying that many have allowed me to drop MR and use MS and use the female version of my male name. It’s worked out fine. I now get “she” all the time, it’s as you say appear like a woman so you are treated as such.

    The problem is with Non-binary, I still find it insulting to call a person “them or they” but then I’m still very confused over the NB situation. I feel it’s living in limbo, I need to confirm my gender for my peace of mind and be accepted as such in society.

    In the trans world it’s all too easy to upset someone unintentionally.

    1. Teresa,

      Thank you acknowledging your discomfort with thhe non-binary approach. It is ironic that internally Indo not understand it at all (because I am a transgender woman,, with the emphasis on woman), but given my life circumstances (like Kandi, I am not in a position to transition to full time), my current goal is to move toward a non-binary physical appearance so that the “clothes will make the man/woman” and (hopefully) people will as much as possible think I am the gender in which I al presenting.

      Lisa

  3. I am going to add a comment on my own post, because I thought of a footnote to it. I reference in the post people using “she/her” but in fact those pronouns are typically used not directly to a person but in the third person referencing someone else. We might overhear someone talking about us as “him” or “her.” The affirmation we more often seek is “ma’am” or “lady” not “sir” or “‘man” as the latter is an obvious way to misgender an transgender woman directly to her face!

  4. Ooooo, I love a bit of controversy!

    My late mother always used to say that no one would respect me as a boss in the workplace if they called me by my first name. I used to reply that I was more concerned about what people called me behind my back than what they called me to my face. And that segues nicely into the pronoun debate because, of course, pronouns are words that others use about you and unless you’re in a group situation, you’ll have no idea how you’re being ‘pronouned’.

    What I’ve seen from all of the amazing people who contribute here (and also the vast majority of trans people in society) is conformance to what society expects from females. There should be no ambiguity (and very rarely is) and if there is any ‘misgendering’ it’s either accidental in which case a quiet word will resolve the issue if it’s causing undue upset or vindictive in which case no amount of saying ‘my pronouns are…’ is going to make any difference.

    At the risk of causing a furore, I feel that there’s something sinister about the increasing obsession with pronouns. None of us has the right to demand acceptance, we can only earn it and specifying one’s pronouns just feels like an extension of that other current hot potato – the erasure of terms like ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ from officialdom. Convention renders the need for pronoun specification meaningless and whilst the use of ‘them’ & ‘they’ is at best clumsy, perhaps that’s one area where we should allow the language to evolve to cover situations where there is ambiguity.

    And please don’t get me started on the ‘neopronouns’ so beloved of the ‘TikTokerati’!

    The only pronouns I wish to take ownership are ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’. I will gladly hand ownership of any other descriptor of me, pronoun or otherwise, to the world at large which is where they belong!

    1. Amanda,

      I can count on you to grab the microphone at just the moment. You are absolutely right, I believe, that none of us has the right to demand acceptance. But, respect is something we have a right to expect. But, if someone says “sir” especially loudly to someone presenting as a woman, or loudly proclaims “this fellow wants…” is not trying to be respectful. Mind you, it hasn’t happened to me, but I certainly understand the consternation that type of misgendering can cause, particularly to someone trying to come to terms with their own identity.

      I suspect the pronoun discussion will go on long after I am no longer around to comment.

      Lisa

      1. Lisa, I agree. Sadly, for the bulk of the misgendering lobby, it’ll take far more than pronouns to bring them round and in a lot of cases, there’s an attendant risk that dictating one’s pronouns to them will make them double down and actually exacerbate the problem rather than resolving it. In the end, and hard though it is, people like that need to be ignored as causing conflict, upset and disharmony is their oxygen.

  5. It was one of the realisations that the status quo was no longer acceptable when I found myself being called “sir” when in male mode. I am glad that this did not come into fashion until I had left employment, and was “full time”. To use they/them could be just as confusing sending yet another incorrect signal.

    1. Paula,

      I completely agree on the “they/them”. But, I do worry that it marks my age that I am stuck with traditional notions of what it means to be a man or woman. Then again, don’t most of us have at least one gender we are most closely aligned with? (Sigh). Nothing is easy in our world!

      Lisa

  6. This interesting topic especially since just two days ago I was asked about my pronouns
    If you here don’t know I’m very fluid at work I wear makeup and feminine clothes and yes even my breast forms. No wig just my natural hair
    But most know me as my male name so usually it’s male pronouns but to those who ask I will say I prefer she/her as that is my preference but I don’t push for it.
    I’m just happy to have great advocates at work who support and care about me
    Great topic Lisa

  7. Rachael,

    I like your attitude as well as that of your co-workers. You are who you are and you deserve their respect for being the genuine you (and they deserve our support for wanting to be your Allie’s).

    Thank you for being a genuine ambassador for us all at work.

    Lisa

    1. Jennifer,

      The king for commenting. It helps a lot to know that something resonates (or not). It is good to be am&Mong “mixed (up) comany!”

      Lisa

    2. Jennifer,

      Thank you for commenting. It helps a lot to know that something resonates (or not). It is good to be among “mixed (up) comany!”

      Lisa

  8. Lisa,
    Like Amanda, I feel that sometimes the obsession with pronouns is a little much. I think it is mostly the younger generation of CD’s & trans ladies who fixate on this. In the last four months I have been with groups of mostly experienced cross dressers half a dozen times and on probably four of those occasions I have mistakenly referred to someone as “him” or “this guy”. On one occasion someone politely corrected me but the other times nobody cared. The other experienced CD’s there also occasionally slipped up as well. It did not bother anyone because they were just honest mistakes, nothing malicious. I am lucky because I pass pretty well when I am out & about so I always get addressed as “ma’am, miss or lady” but if someone mistakenly referred to me as “sir” I wouldn’t care. I have more important things to be worried about.
    Fiona

    1. Fiona,

      It sure sounds like you have a healthy relationship with your pronouns! Would that we all could say the same!

      Lisa

  9. I appreciate we are singing from slightly different hymn sheets . Being fulltime pronouns are important to me . The one I’m trying to lose is the ” MR” handle . So then we enter the problem of some won’t change that without me doing it officially . The NB situation is alien to me simply because I identlfy as female , because that is part of me and hopefuuly what society sees . I’m not obsessed with pronouns , I’m just hurt if I’m misgendered , sometimes I have to accpet it’s accidental but when it’s malicious then we have every right to defend ourselves . Our voice is usually the biggest problem especially on the telephone , if the call me Mr. or sir I gently correct them by saying I’m transgender and what I sound like does not relate to what I look like . I can say that 100% have apologised nad changed my details where possible .

    The important thing is we need to make a clear distinction and be prepared to defend it .

  10. A final comment , “handles” are used out of politeness and not for abuse , we are all guilty of using the wrong ones on occasions . Consider how you would address people otherwise , mostly we read the book by it’s cover , people don’t know what’s hidden , they’re not mind readers . If someone chooses to go out underdressed , are they offended if they’re called Sir , it places people in a difficult situation , are they have supposed to see the underclothes or not and if they do how are they expected to respond ?

  11. Teresa,

    “I’m not obsessed with pronouns , I’m just hurt if I’m misgendered” I think reflects the most commonly felt response by persons visiting this blog who have been misgendered on purpose. You have raised another important angle. Not being full-time, the “Mr” designation has never come up for me. It may help that I have a credit card without Mr and only my initials that Lisa uses, so no one can make the mistake by looking at the card and repeating the information back.

    Thank you for your comments!

    Lisa

  12. Lisa,
    All my credit cards have Ms , my bank has agreed to use my femme name but can’t change my official account name until I go down the deedpoll route .
    Again I donate blood as Terri with the Ms handle but officially I’m still registered in male mode .

    I now try and avoid using the telephone if possible , using text or Emails instead as I can do very little about my voice .

    The last time I was misgendered I was out walking with a male friend and we met a couple who I’ve known for sometime . The guy intentioanally greets us with , ” Good morning gentlemen !” He’s basically trying to goad me into a reaction , his is a total AH ! .

  13. A controversial topic that has been blown up by hysteria in the media and fanatic activists. Granted that I am a crossdresser who is basically a male, I do not care about which pronouns people use with me in either mode. I don’t recall anyone addressing me as male while presenting as Cristy, but it is obvious that I am not a genetic woman and people notice regardless of how much effort I put in my appearance and deportment. Therefore, I would not mind if anyone uses a male pronoun while presenting as Cristy. In most of the cases that I have engaged in conversation with people outside our community, they have shown genuine interest in finding out more about why I crossdress and they appreciate the time I invest in explaining. They leave with more respect and better understanding of what a heterosexual CD is. I mention this because if the “right” pronoun is so important for us, we should, respectfully, ask the person to address us in the preferred form. If we act rudely, complain and/or demand the use of the right pronoun, people will be more resentful to do it than if we ask kindly. I have always said that respect is something you earn and do not demand. If we respect others, they will respect us.

    In my humble opinion, hepatic activism has earned more rejection and division than understanding and respect for those in the LGBTQ community. We are all human beings and should have the same rights and privileges. Being different does not entitle us to demand special treatment. the pronoun issue has been brought to absurd extremes and with the help of media has created less support. In the end, what matters the most to me is how I feel and perceive myself. I do not mind how others perceive me and if there is something about me that bothers someone, and that person lets me know with respect, I will either argue my case or change my ways if the person is right about it. Live and let live 😉

  14. Christy,

    Thank you for commenting. I was hoping you would, as a regular Contributor (and drinking buddy for Kandi!). I take you to be one vote in favor of a crossdresser not being bothered by being misgendered. I think we all agree that a little respect and acceptance by others (with hugs appreciated, per Kandi!) goes a long way, and for our part a lot of patience and thinking the best of others would go a long way too. We owe other people that much. Of course, that shouldn’t give free license to people to purposefully misgender us as a put down.

    I should add that getting misgendered is not my personal problem, but I am in the quandary I mention (which wouldn’t be a quandary for you at all, from what you are saying).

    Thank you again for joining the discussion! It makes this whole effort tons more worthwhile to hear what other people think.

    Lisa

  15. Hi Everyone,

    So, for my first comment on this blog I thought I would respond to Lisa’s piece on pronouns. I have strong feelings on the subject so I held back initially. Then I thought better of it, due to something seemly innocent that happened in my wider family recently, and also because I’m commenting from the inside looking out, not outside in, so therefore I have a relevant opinion.

    But I don’t have to now. Christy nailed it perfectly!

    If there is any subject that winds me up more than this one (or the current count of what appears to be 47,000 different genders, the alphabet will need more letters soon) I haven’t yet found it. The simple fact is that no topic seems to set the general population against us more than this one. And the more the push-back the more people dig their toes in.

    And I honestly don’t blame them. Whether you are here for the ‘craft’ or because you have genuine issues that will lead to transition, we seem to be receiving the blowback from the issues caused by those fanatics, the press and then people who get too scared to say anything lest they get it wrong.

    The way to change things is to educate people and if they want to wind you up, just HTFU. Things will change but people need to do it on their own terms, not be force-fed. It’s not like it’s a health and safety thing after all. Sticks and stones etc. As Lisa said at the start of the article, maybe you’d better work on presenting exactly how you want to be perceived. If a guy with a beard walks past me wearing a dress, he’s a guy in a dress and I’ll refer to him that way while supporting 1000% his right to present that way. But tell me he’s a ‘they’ and you’ve lost me, I’ll go back to practicing my eye makeup.

    Sometimes you just have to look at it from the other side. And be tolerant of their possibly uneducated opinions.

    I’ll probably get banned now …

    1. Maddie….WELCOME! I had to Google HTFU. This is very much a hot button issue and unlike the country at large, we welcome civil dialog. BTW, your paragraph 5 is spot on for me. Now I’ll allow our Lisa P. comment herself. Oh yeah, WELCOME!!!!!

    2. Maddie,

      Thank you so much for joining the conversation. What you say matters. There is too much to unpack to do any justice to your comments, so I will simply respond with just a few pithy teasers that I hope will get everyone thinking a bit more.

      1. Our words convey a lot of meaning. A “thank you sir
      “ (said without a thought) is much different from looking you in your beautifully made up eyes and saying “thank you SIR!”

      2. The issues we have with being asked to identify our pronouns doesn’t seem to be a problem at all for young people; they aren’t as set in their ways and adopt/create new words all the time. In the same way, many young folks today just don’t get the culture war.

      3. Because respect is something given, no one can demand it—one must earn it. True for everyone, but maybe more so for TG folks.

      4. Can you imagine having this conversation in a language that genders every noun, like German or Spanish? It will take many hundreds of years to completely reverse the gendered nature of their language. In English, we could do it in one generation.

      5. Our community, so often vilified, has a tendency to grab any opening and think it gives us license to get a lot more — that simply doesn’t work in interpersonal relationships. Some people have gone about as far they can go in accepting our alternative way of presenting our gender(s). Sometimes we need to accept what we get.

      6. Isn’t it wonderful that change happens, even if slowly and even if we need to be dragged along occasionally?

      I am really glad that you took the time to comment and that you are part of Kandi’s Land!

      Lisa

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