About Bravery


“I didn’t feel brave”

I’m not sure you ever do.

How often do you hear something like that? You’ll tell someone that they’ve done something brave- conquered something that scared them- and the first thing they do is deny that it felt the slightest bit brave to them. They were terrified the entire time.

I wasn’t brave. It took me two tries to even go into that room- the first time I panicked.

I wasn’t brave. I had to hold my hands together, they were shaking so hard. And- oh god- when it was done I went home and locked the door behind me and curled up and cried.

I was awkward. I was scared. I was weak.

I wasn’t brave.

Feck that. I don’t think that brave feels brave. We imagine that bravery feels powerful- feels like facing your demons, overcoming them and triumphing.

I don’t think it’s supposed to feel strong. Not all the time, anyway. I think the bravest things we do are when we feel weak. Those times when you feel tiny and scared, when you don’t know how you’ll get through that thing you have to do, when you can’t look more than one step or moment ahead and in that tininess and shaking and nausea or whatever it is you somehow take that step and do a thing? When you’re a goddamn mess and the smallest thing is everything you can do?

That’s a hell of a lot braver than squared jaws, narrowed eyes and confident stares.

To The Guy On OKC Who Messaged Me About The Friend Zone


It’s one of the worst-kept not-a-secrets in the world that I keep an account on OK Cupid. Sometimes I even reply to messages on the thing.

As a Woman On The Internet, of course, I’ve had to come up with a few guidelines for people who want to contact me. Not that I think that any of the internet’s asshats are going to take the tiniest bit of notice, natch. The guidelines do two things: weed out the people who actually bothered to read my profile before sending me a message, and provide me with ammunition in case someone decides to get asshatty all over my inbox. (Fortunately, as someone over 30 who has had an account for a while, this only happens a couple of times a week at the moment. Win!)

One of the things on the list? If you think the ‘friendzone’ is a legit concept, then we shouldn’t be talking. Which is relevant, because I just had this (thankfully brief) interaction over there:

 

OKC FriendZone

 

Since when am I capable of not replying to something like that? Never, is when. I even drew a comic about it once, and since when do I draw comics? Hardly ever, is when.

First, for the snark: This is a white dude who would strongly prefer to date within his race and who thinks burning flags should be illegal. There’s not much risk of him ending up in my friend zone, if ya know what I’m sayin’.

But I’m feeling pretty generous today. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day. I’m sitting out on my balcony with my plants. I’m feeling happy with myself. It’s the kind of day where I can summon up a bit- just a bit- of empathy even for the overtly racist misogynists among us.

Just in case they’re reading*? Here’s what I’m saying to that guy on OKC, and the thousands-upon-fucking-thousands like him:

I sincerely hope that some day you look back on your current perspective with a wry sense of mortification. I hope that you learn to treat the people you are attracted to with no less consideration for their own agency than your own. I hope that you grow to have full, rich and varied friendships with people of all genders, regardless of whether you’re capable of being attracted to them. And I hope that you learn that no matter how heartbreaking unrequited love is, it’s nothing in comparison to a culture that treats you as worth nothing outside of your appeal to others.

Because what the ‘friendzone’ teaches us is that you don’t see the people you’re attracted to as fully human. You can’t see that they have motivations that have absolutely nothing to do with yours. That your attraction to them- that stomach-churning, gut-wrenching feeling you can’t but have around them- doesn’t oblige others to feel a particular way, or to act in the way that you’d like them. And someday I hope you understand that, right in your guts. I really, really do.

In the meantime, though? Get the hell out of my inbox, thanks.

 

 

*If they are, I’m here all week, and don’t forget the tip jar on the sidebar!

Bandaids and Bulletholes: on privileging theory over practicality


I just got into a leeeeeeetle disagreement over on the Facebooks over this:

My views on this are that Clare Cullen is a massive ledgeface* who you should all go subscribe to immediately because she is saying words that basically mirror rants I have inside my head every single time anyone runs for election, ever. We don’t elect people to be Official Fixers Of The World and Havers Of Opinions. We elect people to particular jobs with specific responsibilities and powers. It’s insulting to the electorate (you know, the people who you’re asking to employ you) if the material you’re using to persuade people to vote for you is either vague to the point of meaninglessness or refers to things that are drastically outside the remit of the job you’re actually applying for.

Anyway, one of the people she targets is the Socialist Party** candidate, Paul Murphy, who’s looking to get reelected to the European Parliament. Grand so. She’s got criticisms that I see as legit- overly negative campaigning with a lack of actual alternatives put forward. Anyway, since I’m a leftie myself and since Ireland is a tiny country where everyone knows everyone, it was inevitable that a bit of a palaver would ensue. Which is fine. It’s  just that.. there’s something that happened there that I disagree with hard enough to write a blog post about it, and that was this comment by CH- someone who, by the way, I respect a shedload and who gave me the okay to :

Paul is running on a platform of party ideals/alternatives (anti-capitalist) to domestic policy and EU. It is merely to have a voice to raise issues that are railroaded in the EU and their wider agenda of Austerity… maybe you missed the part about wanting a socialist alternative not band aids for bullets wounds of capitalism. It not about legislative change which is a narrow outlook of oppositions role anyway.

Okay. You see, this? This is something I have a huge issue with. Not necessarily when it comes to policy or perspective- I agree with a bunch of Murphy’s views. But with CH’s defence of his actions. Let me explain why.

The Role of a Legislator Is To Legislate

The first thing that I want to take issue with is this:

It not about legislative change which is a narrow outlook of oppositions role anyway.

There are many ways to do opposition. Shedloads of ‘em. Despite what you hear, working through parliaments (as well as stuff like voting etc) is just one way of many to create change. In fact, I’d go further than that. The vast majority of the time here in Ireland, any legislative change that is enacted on social issues happens after shifts in public opinion. If you want to create change without engaging directly with the legislate process? Do that! Do grassroots work. Educate and communicate your views. Work at the local level to create models of how you’d like things to be done, and put in the everyday work of keeping those things going. Protest and demonstrate. Campaign, or provide support to campaigns. Write a book or a blog, submit articles for people to read, start a vlog if you like.

There’s many, many ways- most of which I’m sure I haven’t mentioned- that you can help to bring about the change you’d like to see which don’t involve legislation. Legislation is one tiny piece of a huge jigsaw.

But if you’re going to apply for a job as a legislator? I expect you to be interested in legislating. Period. End of sentence.

I expect you to take that job with the intent of working your butt off for your entire term at legislating.  And I expect you to show me that you can get legislation passed. I expect you to be willing to grit your teeth, hold your nose and work on the compromise legislation that isn’t exactly what any of us want because the alternative is so much worse. If you’re not wiling to do that, then you have no business looking for that job. There are many other spaces where your voice would be better used.

Hell to the Yes, I Want That Bandaid.

Let’s go to the next part.

maybe you missed the part about wanting a socialist alternative not band aids for bullet wounds of capitalism

To describe short-term legislative change as “band aids for bullet wounds of capitalism” is to use some pretty strong words and make some extremely strong assumptions. I’m going to take three premises out of this, and address them in order:

  1. That the harm caused by capitalism can be likened to a bullet wound- that is, is not just extremely serious but requires urgent action.
  2. That the small changes possible through immediate legislative change can be likened to a band-aid: something that will cover the wound, staunch the bleeding, but won’t do anything about the bullet lodged within you.
  3. That tackling immediate needs and creating long-term substantial change are mutually exclusive.

My answer to the first? Yep, there sure are some extremely harmful things going on which need to be addressed urgently. I wouldn’t personally use the single term ‘capitalism’ to describe the forces causing these- I think it’s a whole lot more complicated than that and there’s a lot of forces involved, and I also prefer to think of capitalisms as opposed to one unitary thing. But I have a feeling that that kind of pedantry isn’t terribly useful right here. Let’s agree that there’s some seriously harmful stuff happening and we need to do something about it, sharpish.

It’s when we get to the second part that we’re going to start to disagree. You describe the kind of legislative change possible from the EP as bandaids. I’d use a different metaphor: they’re more like first aid. Sure, they’re not the well-equipped intensive care unit of culture-wide change creating a society where each of us is able to live without fear of destitution and has real opportunity to thrive. But first aid will keep you alive. First aid is the thing that’ll keep you breathing until the ambulance gets here.

Theory can never, ever trump practicality

That third premise is one I have even more difficulty accepting than the other two. If that’s the case, then you need to take a long, hard look at where your theory is coming from, because I have no interest in theory that puts itself before people’s real and immediate needs.

A real alternative to the way we’re doing things now is all well and good, but some of us- a lot of us- don’t have the luxury of theory. Because of piss-poor, inadequate legislation here in Ireland, people now have a higher chance of surviving pregnancies that threaten their lives than they did a couple of years ago. Piss-poor, inadequate legislation means that as long as I don’t work in a school or a hospital I probably won’t get fired for not following Catholic dogma, the way I could back in the ’90s. It’s ludicrous that pregnant people have to travel overseas for abortion services if their lives aren’t in danger, and it’s a disgrace that the RCC can hide behind ‘ethos’ to force people into closets. But it’s better than nothing, and I’m glad we don’t have to live without it. 

In short? If you’re not going to actually attain that socialist alternative next week then fuck yes I would like some bandaids please. And if you can’t hold your nose and enact piss-poor legislation that is all you can get but better than nothing? Then there are far better places to take your activism than Parliament.

 

*Translation for non-Irish people: most excellent person who does things I approve of greatly.

** Surprise for you USian people- ‘Socialist’ isn’t actually a dirty word ’round this neck of the woods. Woop!

Enhanced by Zemanta

You have your opinion, I have mine


“It’s my opinion” “I’m entitled to my opinion”

Have you any idea how much those words set my teeth on edge? Let me give you a hint. Imagine nails on a blackboard. Someone else using up the last of the milk and putting the carton back in the fridge. The whine of a mosquito right by your ear as you’re trying to get to sleep. That guy on the bus who insists on playing his music loud enough that you can sing along. Put all of those together, add a pounding headache and let’s throw in having just stepped in a freezing puddle that is seeping its way through your shoes. And you still haven’t had your damn breakfast. And someone just drank the last of the coffee.

That comes close to the level of headdesking, facepalming, oh-god-not-this-again frustration bubbling up in me whenever I hear that phrase.

We all have opinions. Isn’t that great? We all have opinions, and we all have the right to say whatever words we like in the vast majority of situations without getting carted off to jail for it. This is an excellent fact. It’s a thing that many people fought and sacrificed a hell of a lot for.

And do you really, really think that the people who fought for freedom of speech did it so that some nitwit could justify their ridiculous beliefs with “you have your opinion, and this is mine”?

Let me back up a second here. Before I go any further, I’d like to state for the record that no matter how irritating I find this, it is still marginally better than, say, the Inquisition. Okay, significantly better. I’m not saying we should go back to the old days of rampant censorship or anything. Not, of course, that that was particularly long ago, or that you’d have to go particularly far away to find it today.

But I digress. From a point that I haven’t even made yet.

It would be entertaining if I got to the end of this post without making an actual point, wouldn’t it?

Saying “it’s my opinion” is meaningless. It adds nothing to a conversation. It isn’t an argument, it isn’t a justification. It isn’t even a grunt of acknowledgement that the other person has said something. It’s less than all of those.

What “it’s my opinion” says is this: I can’t be bothered coming up with a reason why I think the way that I do. In addition, I can’t be bothered listening to a word you’re saying to me. If you’ve put effort into communicating with me, you really needn’t have bothered. I have this thing called an ‘opinion’. I’m too lazy to have it challenged or contemplate the possibility that it isn’t correct.

In fact, whether my opinion is correct or not is absolutely irrelevant to me. I don’t care if my opinion is as real as the moon being made out of a lovely sweet Emmental*.

What “I have my opinion, I’m entitled to my opinion” means is that I don’t care about truth.

And, well, as a person who cares a great deal about truth, this matters a hell of a lot to me. It doesn’t just matter to me because that’s my opinion- although, of course, it is. I’m willing to back up that opinion. I’ll justify it. Because truth matters to me for reasons. Having an accurate picture of the world around us is what allows us to base our decisions on reality. It allows us to make ethical judgements based on real-life factors. It ensures we’re not accidentally trampling over others in our ignorance. It also, incidentally, is what led to my being able to communicate to you in a great big string of ones and zeroes. Truth about how the world works. It’s awesome.

*Everyone knows it’s Gouda. And it’s kind-of old and a bit dry by now. At least, that’s my opinion. You have yours. I have mine.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Unsolicited Advice: It Came From The Search Terms


In a small, secret part of my mind I’ve always wanted to be an advice columnist. I mean, don’t we all? In the absence of any actual people asking me actual advice, I’m going to take the next best thing. That’s right! It’s time to respond to the search terms.

 

1. How to not be a douchecanoe

I find that it helps to take a mental step aside from my own perspective to try to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Don’t assume everything’s about you. Be considerate and kind and understand that people don’t owe you more than consideration and kindness in return. Be clear about your own boundaries and gracious about the boundaries of others.

If you’re having a specifically pronoun-related attack of asshattery, try my detailed advice. For simply being more excellent all-round, spend a few days reading through Captain Awkward. Pay close attention to the comments.

2. blackface.com

Please refer to question one. Repeat frequently until you understand the reasons why it is truly terrible. Then promise to do better next time.

3. ah women unicorn bisexual

You wouldn’t want to hurt the unicorn, would you? Would you?

But seriously: if by ‘unicorn’ you mean ‘a hot bi babe who will sex up me and my girlfriend/boyfriend’, then I’d recommend starting with a couple of understandings:

  1. The amount of ‘unicorns’ in the world is far outweighed by the amount of m/f couples who are looking for them. You gotta impress, y’know?
  2. Despite the name, they are people. Not mythical creatures. People with feelings and desires and boundaries all of their own, which are going to be every bit as important as yours are.
  3. The world doesn’t owe you a unicorn.

With these 3 facts, you’re now better informed than 99% of people out there looking for unicorns! Go forth and be lovely and have fun!

was jesus a vampire

Yes. Duh.

did vampire drink jesus blood

Probably.

was marie fleming afraid of death

Oh, I hope not. As far as I know, though, she was far more afraid of a long and painful end then death itself. According to her partner, her dearest wish was to die peacefully in her own home. She got that wish, at least, and I hope that she was loved and not afraid. What more can any of us hope for?

feminists shame men by calling them homosexual

Who are these ‘feminists’? Because they’re asshats of the highest degree and homophobes to boot, and I would like to have a word with them. Several words.

i am a lesbian dating a man

I hope you are very happy! A present for you: check out Erika Moen’s DAR. I just read it this week on the recommendation of my housemate. It’s a lovely comic about a woman who is, among other things, someone who identified as a lesbian until she met her husband. It’s super cute and full of <3

what sauce is chicken wings cooked in in ireland

Potato. Just potato.

need people to talk to about being closet

Oh, honey. The closet is a scary place to be, isn’t it? I don’t know where you are or what you’re in the closet as, so I can’t offer specific advice- although do try googling your location and LGBT, if you feel brave enough. There might be an LGBTQ switchboard or community centre who you can talk to in person?

If not.. well, there’s the internet, and there are plenty of supports and advice online.

If I could only give you one piece of advice? It would be to care for yourself. Being in the closet is scary. So is coming out and being out. Both of these are things you can do from a place of harming yourself or a place of caring for yourself. Ask yourself- is being in the closet stifling who I am as a human? Is it keeping me from flourishing and feeling connected to others? But also ask yourself- Would coming out be safe for me? How can I protect myself through that process?

If you do decide to come out, think carefully about who to talk to first. That first coming out? It’s going to be the most vulnerable moment of all. If things go well, then for every moment after that you’ll have at least one person who’s on your side and who’s got your back. Do you know someone who you think is supportive of LGBTQ people? Better still, is there anyone you know who is already out? Are any of these people who you think could be trusted, both to keep your confidence as long as you need it, and to be kind to you through the process?

It’s okay if you find people online first. It’s okay to take your time. It’s okay to come out to only some people, to one or two, or to everyone. Remember: care for yourself.

do you put cumin on vegetables

I sure do! One of my favourite comfort foods is potato wedges made by chopping up some spuds (skin ‘n’ all, natch) and then roasting them with loads of cumin, garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika. Then I nom them up with BBQ sauce mixed with mayo. Yum!

lesbians in my soup

Oh dear. Are they burnt? You probably want to take them out and cool them down. Maybe a nice cold shower? Unless they’re in gazpacho, in which case a nice hot bath would be in order.

Also, how did they get there?

Credit: thewrongbathroom.wordpress.com

why dont gay men date lesbians

Why don’t gay men date lesbians. Why don’t gay men date lesbians? Why don’t gay men date lesbians?

 

p.s. Yes some gay men are dating lesbians I am sure because sexuality isn’t always black and white and people find love in all sorts of unexpected places and I hope that they are all very happy indeed.

But still.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Interesting or Interested?


English: A bored person

This was WordPress’s suggestion for this post. Am I boring or is he just sleepy? Who can tell? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’ll be a continuation of my recent theme of being (fashionably) late responding to things. I, by the way, decided recently to say a hearty “feck that” to the imperative of responding to stuff immediately or not at all. Today: things I’ve been thinking about a Captain Awkward post from March. March!

Way back in the end of March, Captain Awkward answered a letter from someone asking advice on being less boring. The letter writer felt that their life was in a rut, that they didn’t do anything interesting and were worried about being a boring person to talk to. The letter broke my heart a little bit- the LW talked about having read tons of articles with titles like “best hobbies for 20 somethings” and “how to meet new people”, as well as on topics like being a good listener and building social skills, but that none of it really stuck for more than a few days and they just didn’t feel.. interesting.

We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be interesting, don’t you think? We’re a relentlessly social species living in a society where we focus incessantly on competition and act as if love and belonging are scarce commodities to be fought over. It’s not surprising that interesting feels like a thing we need to aspire to.

You’re going to say there’s a catch now, aren’t you

It’s a pity, then, that interesting doesn’t exist. Not in any objective sense, at least. We can’t learn the interesting things, tick the interesting boxes and become a person that everyone wants at their dinner party. Interesting is a subjective mix of who I am, who you are, what we have in common and how we are different, and that unpredictable spark of chemistry that may or may not be there between us. Interests in common help, sure, but we’ve all met people who like the same things as us who we find dull as dishwater. And we’ve probably met people who were drastically different who we found fascinating.

You can’t predict interesting. It’s one of those things that is too dependent on the whims and vagaries of far too many people to be reliable. There’ll always be people who don’t like you. I mean, there’s people who don’t like me, and I’m bloody brilliant, y’know?

You can’t measure interesting. Without seeing into the minds of every single person who encounters you, you can never tell for sure how interesting you really are. You’re stuck with your interpretation of the actions, filtered through your brain with all its insecurities and biases. Is that person bored of me, or has she just not had enough sleep in days? Is that other person trying desperately to find an excuse to get away from me, or are they simply preoccupied with the things they need to get done? And is this person listening to what I am saying because he’s interested in what I have to say, or is he just being polite?

I’m not saying that interesting doesn’t exist, or that some people aren’t more interesting than others. It does and they are. But chasing after interesting can’t be anything more than stumbling through the dark towards invisible, moving goalposts made from cobwebs so fine you’d never ben sure if you’d felt them or a trick of your mind.

That, and doing things because you think they’ll make people find you more interesting is.. a terrible way to become more interesting.

Got a better idea?

I prefer to aspire to interested. Where interesting is about other people, interested is about me, my brain, and what makes it light up.

In some respects I’m almost certainly a lot less interesting than I used to be. This past year I’ve bored more than one person silly talking about roller derby (I’m lookin’ at you, Ladybro. Thanks for putting up with me <3). The worst that happened? I got told to STFU after crowbarring skates into yet another conversation, decided to keep the worst of my rhapsodising to people who want to listen (I’m lookin’ at you, derbs. And also you, Tumblr), changed the subject, and moved on. It wasn’t the end of the world. And yet, despite becoming a person who really wants to bore the life out of a substantial portion of my friends, having that interest in my life made me a hell of a lot happier, and got me meeting dozens and dozens of new people who’ll talk with me for literal hours about wheelyboots and the finer points of the 2014 WFTDA ruleset. What’s yawnworthy to Ladybro is delicious to the derbs.

Interesting is subjective. Interested is subjective too, but it’s all about choosing what to do based on what’s subjectively awesome to you. Where we can’t really measure our overall interestingness, there’s nothing difficult about working out whether or not something’s interesting to you. Is there some spark to that thing that draws you to it? Do you want to learn more? Do you think about it even if you don’t have to? Does it make you smile, or fascinate you? Yep, you’re probably interested.

And fortunately, with a good seven billion of us on this rock, if you go with interested you’re bound to find yourself some of what’s interesting to you.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How To Not Be A Complete Douchecanoe To Gender Variant People: Pronouns Edition


We’re going to have to get something out of the way before I start this: I didn’t watch the Eurovision this year. Or last year. I think the last time I saw it was either three or four years ago. It was a perfectly pleasant experience, although I generally rather my rare moments of alcohol-induced patriotism come with less Jedward. What I’m getting at here is that while I completely understand the appeal of camp spectacle and national pride, I was perfectly content with my own decision to spend the evening knocking my friends (and bare acquaintances) over in stinky skate gear. We all have our hobbies, y’know?

I have gathered from the internet that this person likes to sing songs and also have fabulous hair on her face as well as on her head.

Anyhoo, even from where I was sitting it was impossible to miss that this year’s winner (or at least, the person everyone’s talking about) is Conchita Wurst. Unable to resist a palaver, I gave ‘er a google and a watch. Aside from having a daycent song (if you like that kind of thing, which I do), Wurst also presents as strikingly gender-variant. And also just plain striking (those eyes!). And while most people are cheerfully (and accurately) exclaiming about how great she is, there’s also the loudmouths who seem to have missed out on how to deal courteously and calmly with the fact that there exist people on this planet whose genders aren’t immediately apparent to bystanders.

This post is for them.

A little note before we start: I, your friendly blogger, am cis. This post is by me. If you read this and then talk to someone who’s not cis and they disagree with me, then for the love of all that’s cute and fluffy listen to them and don’t you dare refer to me to argue with them because I am significantly more likely to be wrong than they are.

That said, let’s go on.

Panic, Chaos, Dogs And Cats Living Together, Nothing In My Life Has Prepared Me For This!

I know it’s happened to you. You’re a person, right? You live in human society, which means that you come into contact with other people, probably on a daily basis. Chances are, a lot of those are people who you don’t know. People you’ve never met before. Near-strangers who you have to interact with every day. And because they’re (near-)strangers, you don’t know all sorts of things about them. What kind of house do they live in? Are they a cat person or a dog person or do they not like animals at all? Star Wars or Star Trek? Tyrion, Arya or Daenerys*?

Sometimes- even more of a shock, this one- you don’t even know what their gender is. Scary, eh? It’s easy to get scared by this one. We’re used to taking people’s genders for granted- there’s men and there’s women and you can tell by looking exactly which one someone is. We’ve even been saturated with tons of social scripts based on the genders of the people interacting with each other.

As a person who’s confused, scared and maybe even a bit annoyed- why can’t this person have a readily identifiable gender like all* the other people?- you might not know what to do next. It’s okay! Having spoken to many people with and without readily identifiable genders in my time and lived to tell the tale, I’ve put together a handy list of dos and don’ts. I’ve even explained why some things are Bad Ideas! The next time you’re confronted by someone whose gender you can’t work out within .5 seconds of seeing them across a crowded street, simply refer to this list and you’ll be interacting with other human beings like the non-douchecanoe we all know you are in no time!

Things Not To Try

1. Loudly talking to your friends about what gender the person is when they’re not there.

Talking about someone behind their back is considered rude, even if the person is gender variant! Especially if you’re not using your indoor voices. This is rude not only to the person in question, but also to any bystanders who might be trying to get on with their day and don’t fancy listening to you loudly discussing someone else’s personal information.

2. Loudly talking to your friends about what gender the person is, when they ARE there

Talking about someone in their presence is considered even more rude than doing it behind their back. And yes,  Basic guidelines of courtesy apply to people regardless of gender. Additionally, either your friends won’t know the person’s gender- in which case you’ve wasted valuable time- or else they will, in which case they will probably be feeling extremely embarrassed and awkward, and not want to spend time with you anymore. You do want your friends to want to spend time with you, don’t you? Don’t you?

3. Asking them “WHAT ARE YOU?”

This question could be considered both overly personal and confusing. You are not specifying the informaiton you would like to receive. Do you want to know if the person is, in fact, an android replicant? If they are, in fact, composed entirely of very small Lego bricks? If they are an accountant or a journalist? If they enjoy macrame? What on earth macrame is anyway? The likelihood of getting an answer that related to the person’s pronouns in this situation is extremely low. Particularly if you’re the tenth person to ask them that since they left the house this morning.

4. Ask them “ARE YOU A MAN OR A WOMAN OR A BOY OR A GIRL? ARE YOU? ARE YOU?

While this does have the advantage of precision over 3, it might be rather personal for the person in question. You are asking about something that could be rather complicated. They may not be a man or a woman! And also, it could be implied that you are asking about the shape and condition of their genitals, and that isn’t something a nice, polite person like you would ask a complete stranger. Is it? Also, they might have all sorts of feelings about their gender, the gender they’re perceived as, and how closely/often the two coincide, and they might not want to have to deal with their deep-seated feelings about things while they’re trying to get a latte or ride the bus to work or get through their second cousin once removed’s wedding or funeral.

Also, if you’ve been spending a lot of time worrying about near strangers’ gender identities, let me put your mind at ease. It turns out that someone’s precise gender identity isn’t actually a thing that you need to know! It might be convenient to know what pronouns they use, but that’s actually a completely different kettle of fish. The details of other people’s gender identities are like the details of their religious (un)beliefs or the relationship they have with their parents- a thing to be discussed over a few gallons of wine or tea among friends or blogged about endlessly online. Not really small-talk.

But if I can’t say that, what can I say?

You may think that if you can’t talk about a person behind their back or ask them intrusive questions, you’re without any means by which to communicate with them. It’s okay! Didn’t I tell you I’d get you through this ultimate test of your social abilities unscathed? Instead of the above, you can refer to this handy three-step guide to surviving situations where you don’t know what someone’s gender is. I’ve even laid them out in order of which to use first, so you’ll always have a backup plan. Win!

1. Don’t actually bring it up at all because it’s not relevant to the situation

It’s amazing how many situations you can navigate perfectly well without knowing what pronoun a person uses. The vast majority of shorter or more casual interactions can be nicely handled this way. The person making your coffee (or ordering a coffee)? The friend-of-a-friend who you’re briefly introduced to? Chances are that you won’t need to know their gender to order your vanilla soy chai latte or make awkward smalltalk about the weather until one of you finds an excuse to be somewhere else or a mutual friend shows up to rescue you both from uncomfortable silence hell.

But, you ask me, what if you do have to refer to the person in the third person? What do you do then? How do you get through the sentence without descending into a hopeless mess of confusion and embarrassment?

Don’t worry. I’ve got ya. All you need to do is this:

2. Use gender neutral pronouns until corrected.

“Oh hey, I think the barista’s made your coffee- they’re looking around and they’ve got a cup with your name on it”

“Yeah, I heartily dis/agree with that comment you made regarding NearStranger. I feel that they are definitely blah blah blah”

How easy was that? If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, just use a neutral one. There are plenty of neutral pronouns to choose from, but as this is a fairly 101 level article, I recommend using the singular they. It’s okay, grammar nerds, the singular they has been in use for centuries, dropping out of vogue in recent decades for some reason, but it’s perfectly correct. You can use it just like you would as a plural, and it has the advantage that you don’t even need to learn any new syllables. In fact, you’ll notice that I’ve been cunningly using ‘they’ to refer to people all the way through this post!

The vast majority of the time, Steps 1 and 2 shall get you through social situations nicely. Occasionally, however, it will become genuinely necessary to know what someone’s pronoun is. If you’re in this situation, then hightail it down to the next paragraph where the mysteries of politely ascertaining someone’s pronoun shall be revealed!

  • Super Surprise Possible Pitfall: You may think that as I’ve just recommended gender neutral pronouns when in doubt, that you can pick and choose any old neutral pronoun you like. While there are several perfectly polite options to choose from (they, zir and hir are three good ‘uns), it is never ever ever appropriate to refer to a human being who hasn’t explicitly asked you to do so as ‘it’. Ever. It is a word we use to refer to objects. People are not objects, and people who use this word to refer to people who haven’t asked them to do so deserve to go to the most special of hells. I ain’t kidding.

3. Ask them “Excuse me, what pronoun do you prefer/use?”

Remember how we talked above about how asking someone their gender is a complicated and personal thing that can open up all sorts of cans of worms? Asking someone their pronoun is far less fraught. You’re not looking for an exploration of their deepest identity. You would just like to know what set of one-syllable words to use to refer to them in the third person. Also, saying “excuse me” is considered courteous in most social situations, and you can’t go wrong with a bitta courtesy.

Now, sometimes people might answer this question with a pronoun you’re not familiar with. You know the basic ‘he’ and ‘she’, and by now you’re even acquainted with the singular ‘they’. Some people, though, use other pronouns- common are ‘ze’ and ‘hir’, but there are loads more. As long as you’re polite about it, it’s perfectly fine to as a person to briefly explain or confirm what pronouns they use. Questions like “just checking, is that spelled abc?” or “was that ze and zir you said? Thank you!”. When it comes to more personal questions (why they use that pronoun, for example, or where it came from), ask yourself if you really need that information about an acquaintance. Remember, you can always Google your general questions later!

..and that’s it. Easy, isn’t it?

Enhanced by Zemanta