Monday, June 13, 2011

Genderless.

I know I'm late to the party when it comes to commenting on the whole "child raised without a gender" kerfuffle, but I wanted to say this:

I can't think of many things crueler than going up to a child and saying:

"Hi, little Storm! Welcome to the world! It's a big exciting place! But there are a few rules. Some of the fun things you see, you won't be allowed to do, even though other kids do them, because of the way you were born. You're able to do these things, and maybe you'll want to, but you're not allowed, because everyone says so. And if you do those things you're not allowed to do, other kids will make fun of you and grown-ups will think there's something wrong with you and when you get a little older you might even get beat up! In fact, you're not even allowed to want to do these things!

Because of how you were born, little Storm, there are clothes you can't wear, clubs you can't join, ways you can't talk, toys you can't play with, sports you can't play, names you can't use, haircuts you can't get, and entire ways of being and acting and expressing yourself will be closed off to you! For no particular reason!

Have fun out there, and remember, don't do the things half the other kids are having fun doing, or you'll get in big trouble!"

Now that's permanently damaging.

76 comments:

  1. I agree that what you described would be horrible, but I think you're exaggerating a bit on what parenting with assigned gendered children involves. I think "You're a girl, but you can still be whatever you like, here have some legos," is pretty common too. Granted, "you can still play in the mud" is not ideal, but it's a lot better than "no."
    I think it also gets undermined when families praise different qualities in their children, especially telling girls, but not boys, that they're pretty. It's hard to escape "your pretty is your worth, because of your vagina" when you've been getting it from your grandmother since you were two. I don't know what to do about it, though, since I think people would get creeped out if I went around telling little boys they were handsome (or worse, pretty).

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  2. Emma - It's harder on young boys than girls. "You're a boy, but you can still be whatever you like, here, have some dolls and unicorns" is uncommon and tends to be pretty harshly policed as soon as they get to elementary school.

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  3. Also, adorable gender-bending child story!

    My boyfriend's aunt is a lesbian and she and her partner adopted a baby girl, so the girl is growing up in a house with all women. She is super gender-conforming herself (and gets a lot of "what a pretty dress!" from the whole family... grrr), but she also uses female pronouns as her default. So last Christmas she (the little cousin) ran around flipping out about Santa, and whether she (Santa!) got her letter, was coming that night, etc. You could totally see it weirding out older relatives, and everyone used he/him for Santa around her, but she kept right on referring to Santa as a woman. She's five now, but I hope she keeps it up for a while.

    I loved it because it's such a little thing, but their extended family is pretty traditional, especially about Christmas, and also just... tense. It really stood out every time she said it, but she was so casual about it. Or oblivious. Either way, adorable.

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  4. You're right, and I totally didn't even go there when I read this post. I don't have any brothers so I haven't seen it first hand, but I think I also need to remind myself sometimes that patriarchy really is about everyone, not just women and girls.

    Also, I think homophobia is often used to control all boys, gay or straight. One of the cool things about the It Gets Better Project is that it includes kids who are straight but "perceived" to be gay as victims of anti-gay bullying.

    P.S. Sorry about replying in a million different comments... I was typing the above when you responded, and didn't see it.

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  5. I can think of something crueler.

    "Hi, little Storm. Because we care about ourselves more than you, the international news media is going to be watching everything you do from now into your late teens. Any inconsequential decision you make will cause rounds of public speculation into your biological sex.

    Any time you screw up or act out in the normal ways that all kids do, it will be taken as evidence that all intersex/transgender/genderqueer people are fundamentally flawed and can never be happy. And if you do feel a definite identity, it will be seen as proof that they're all deluding themselves. No pressure, or anything.

    And no matter WHAT things you enjoy doing, other kids will make fun of you and grown-ups will think there's something wrong with you, and when you get a little older you WILL even get beat up!

    To add insult to injury, we're going to give you a unique first name, so that by the time you're interacting with other people, even if you've found a gender identity for yourself, they'll know that you're that kid who was in the news.

    Also, we're going to keep you homeschooled, away from regular contact with other kids, so that you won't have the opportunity to develop the social skills which would help you cope with the people around you."

    I absolutely believe that a world where people were free to define their own gender would be a better place, but I don't think this is the right way to get there, because it's putting a huge amount of pressure on one child.

    I don't know, but my suspicion is that by the age of about 4 Storm will have found a clear gender identity for hirself, and I just hope that if that happens hir parents allow hir to live as that gender rather than enforcing genderlessness.

    And going to the press is just awful. No child should have to live through that level of public scrutiny, and it's going to be worse for a kid who differs from societal norms.

    (I appreciate that a first-time commenter coming down on the "anti" side of a gender freedom issue may appear trollish, but I feel strongly that this is terrible parenting and shouldn't be lauded.)

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  6. Dolbia - I sort of agree. The parents shouldn't have talked to the press, but--and this is important--only because the press are a bunch of regressive "but that's not the way white rich heterosexual cisgendered abled Americans doooo it!" jerkfaces.

    If the media were capable of actually reporting things, rather than judging them and turning them into Jerry Springer monstrosities, then I'd absolutely say this is the sort of thing that deserves media attention.

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  7. Or in other words: I don't think the parents are committing an injustice, but they are rather harsly exposing their kid to injustice.

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  8. Dolbia: Hey now, what's wrong with homeschooling? My own personal experience suggests that it's a much healthier environment than a public or even private school. It's also a much better way to learn social skills.

    So as not to derail the thread too much, I should say that I pretty much agree with the original post. If Storm wants to take a binary identity, they should be free to do so. But until they make that choice for themself, I think it's laudable not to make it for them.

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  9. I just can't figure out why anyone needs to know the sex of a child. Why? Is there some reason other than policing gender conformity, because I can't think of it.

    I also can't figure out why I need to know anyone's gender. My immediate thought is "so I know whom to have sex with", but shouldn't I be having sex with people I'm attracted to, rather than deciding whom I find attractive based on gender?

    Really, you think about this for more than five minutes and none of it makes sense.

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  10. Personally, I think being raised as the "parents" little pet social experiment/attention magnet is going to fuck little Storm up more than anything else would.

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  11. I agree about the attention magnet, but I find it creepy that it's considered an experiment to not saddle your kid with a bunch of arbitrary social expectations.

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  12. The fact that they're making a big deal out of it is what makes it the experiment(in the old LJ "soshul expuriment, you gaiz!" way, if you catch my meaning). Just doing it and not making a fuckhuge deal out of it would just be raising their kid a different way, and that in itself is cool.

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  13. Semiel: Wait, what? Not being around other kids is a much better way to learn social skills than being around them? That makes no sense to me.

    Holly: I agree that the media - as part of the broader culture - is reactionary and unnecessarily (is that one n or two? It doesn't look right to me either way) conformist, but if that weren't the case then this story wouldn't even be newsworthy.

    And to be honest, I'd rather we broke the link between gender identity and gender-specific activities, rather than keeping gender roles in place but allowing kids to choose one, both, or neither.

    Maybe I'm betraying my hippie progressive European background - I'm pretty sure I had a My Little Pony, and I know I never had any Star Wars figures (which the other boys did).

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  14. Dolbia - Homeschooling isn't house arrest. Homeschooled kids still get plenty of chances to play and interact with other kids.

    I kinda hope Storm isn't merely delaying the event of declaring a gender. I hope that they're being spared it altogether. I suppose I'm projecting my own identity here, but I don't understand the utility of gender labels--at best they incompletely describe, at worst they inappropriately prescribe, and they don't say anything about a person that you couldn't learn from all their other traits.

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  15. Homeschooling isn't house arrest, but it does require a lot more effort on the part of the parents to get the kid into social spaces. The (now adult) homeschooled kid I know did theater and other activities through the school he would have gone too, because it was the only place that organized group activities like that. I think homeschooling can be good for a kid, but only if it's combined with other integrating activities. I'm uncomfortable that Storm's parents seem to be trying to use homeschooling to keep hir out of gendering/otherwise oppressing society. Theater productions are for the most part only put on by gendering society, who will want to cast hir by gender. However much that sucks, if you use homeschooling to isolate your kid entirely from social pressures, ur doin it wrong.

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  16. Re: the arguments that the parents are subjecting the kids to international scrutiny, etc--this will be completely forgotten by the media in a few weeks, if indeed it hasn't been already. And all of the kids are way too young to be effected by a month or two of scrutiny right now.

    So really, it's the perfect time/way for the parents to raise this issue at dinner tables all over the world, without endangering their children at all.

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  17. You know, I wish our genitals weren't anyone's business. Instead, it seems our society is obsessed with them, and will take it as a huge personal insult if you refuse to tell them what you've got. (Because let's face it. When they want to know your gender, they REALLY want to know cock or cunt, unless you run in other circles.)

    Whenever I hear people talk about how gender pressure is so much less in our new, enlightened modern society, I kinda want to laugh in their faces, because YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

    We were raised in a liberal, middle class home, considered quite accepting of gay and such, and we AGONIZED over telling them gender crap. It took us until we had moved out of the house to tell them, and frankly, I'm glad I did, because hoo mama, was there a huge fal-de-rol! A buzzcut during Christmas would cause another Cold War.

    Because you know what? A whole lot of parents, no matter how badass they think they are, will completely fucking flip their shit when their kid insists their gender is not what Mom and Dad thinks it is.

    FLIP. THEIR. SHIT.

    Or maybe my home wasn't that liberal, and actually, in like, Canada or something, kids regularly tell their parents, "I'm not a boy or a girl today, Mama!" and they respond without any judgment, fear, anger, or shame whatsoever.

    But somehow, I REALLY doubt it.

    --Rogan

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  18. Whether Storm declares a gender or not should be down to hir. My concern - maybe baseless - is that should zie decide to do so, hir parents respect that decision.

    Being male is part of my identity, in the same way that being white, Jewish-atheist, and British-American are. There are a few innate qualities, but more importantly they impact the way people have treated me and the experiences I've had - and so the person I've become. I'll never know what it's like to be denied a promotion while someone less qualified gets it. I can try to empathize, but I'll never have that experience.

    I've spent some time thinking about what my maleness means, given that I have no interest in professional sports, fixing cars, or fathering children. And I don't really have an answer that's about the innate property, rather than the societal implications of it.

    There are some items which are male-correlated, albeit not uniquely male - like my facial hair (or my appearance in general) and the pitch of my voice. That said, I see those as symptoms of maleness rather than indicators, if that makes sense. (I got my beard from maleness; the beard is not what makes me male.)

    I totally appreciate that there are people who find binary gender constricting - I'm married to one of them. And they should absolutely have the right to non-conformity. But saying that gender should be done away with altogether, denying it to people whose identity it is part of (ugh, clumsy sentence structure), makes me really uncomfortable.

    And yes, I appreciate that in our society, the needle is currently way over on the side favoring people with clear binary genders, and it would be a better world to shift it towards acceptance. I'm sure there are millions of people out there who are presenting as male or female, when that's not who they really are, and I wish they weren't forced into that position. But going the other way doesn't strike me as any better.

    Maybe I'm missing your point, and if so I'm sorry.

    Oh, and there's a huge difference between going through 30+ hours a week of school with a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, sharing the full school experience, and spending a few hours a week at aikido training, with kids who have self-selected as enjoying that activity. Being able to deal with crap as well as fun is a really key social skill, and one that you'll miss from just doing extracurricular activities.

    In terms of theater productions, there are also tech jobs, which aren't explicitly gendered. Although I guess they're not suitable for very young children.

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  19. I agree with you, Holly.

    I also think it's not going to work. Within a couple years, Storm might develop a face that looks either masculine or feminine to most people, and will be treated thus, regardless of what clothes or haircut ze has. And that treatment will impact Storm's own perception of zir gender.

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  20. Dolbia et al:

    I was homeschooled, and so were most of the kids I knew growing up. We hung out. We went to the library, to parks, to museums, played kickball in the backyard, etc. I'm not sure where the idea of homeschoolers as 'never being around other kids' comes from. It's not isolationist, or at least it wasn't for me; it just wasn't as structured.

    I can't speak for the social thing, but I kind of suspect I would have been a maladjusted teenager either way, so...

    Also, as far as gender policing goes: I never got hassled for playing in the dirt, but my little brother was shamed out of wearing pink and playing with dolls by the time he was four. Even though my parents were cool with it, he picked up on just how unacceptable it was to everybody else on the planet when he was a fucking toddler. To me, that's a lot more messed up than anything in the Storm saga.

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  21. My teen aged son was attempting to snatch a snack I wasn't ready to let him have, yet. With what I thought was humor (well, it was funny to me) I grabbed a spray bottle, warning him that the next time I saw him reaching for the verboten food, I was going to spray him like he was a bad cat.

    He reached. I sprayed.

    It wasn't water.

    It was my wife's "citron ginger linen spray."

    He was mortified.

    "Dad," he said, his voice nearing plaintive tones,"you can't do that."

    "I can do what I want," I said.

    "Dad, I can't smell like this at school."

    "Huh?"

    "I smell like a girl, Dad."

    "Oh."

    "Yeah, oh. They'll never let me live it down."

    "Sorry, bub."

    "Whatever, Dad."

    (cleaned up for public consumption)

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  22. @LBT:

    Or maybe my home wasn't that liberal, and actually, in like, Canada or something, kids regularly tell their parents, "I'm not a boy or a girl today, Mama!" and they respond without any judgment, fear, anger, or shame whatsoever.

    Hmmm. I'm Canadian and I think I probably could have done that, so your comment amuses me greatly.

    But not everyone up here is as cool with genderfluidity as my parents are.

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  23. The whole "This child is being exposed to international scrutiny" business amuses me a bit, because I remember hearing this exact same hullabaloo two years ago over a couple in Sweden doing something similar with their child:
    http://hubpages.com/hub/Boy--Girl--or-Neither-Raising-A-Child-Without-Gender
    Google informs me that at least a few people who write things on the internet have remembered that story and connected it with Storm's, but there's nothing in between then and now. So I agree with Molly-- I don't think there's too much need to be concerned about media attention.

    And about homeschooling-- I have a friend who has been homeschooled most of her life. Her parents wanted her to try traditional school, so she attended a regular elementary for the first half of third grade. She decided to go back to homeschooling as soon as they let her. Why? "I missed all my homeschooler friends." Her hometown had a large community of homeschooled kids, and lots of group activities organized by their parents. Homeschooling is indeed not house arrest, and it isn't all extreme conservative religious people who do it, either. (That seems to be the other stereotype running around my college.)

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  24. My personal feeling is this is an absolutely horrible idea.

    I also think people are getting gender confused with sex. Gender = what you identify as, where as sex = what you are biologically.

    I do know that there are people that biologically do not fall into the category of male or female in terms of sex, but I'm trying to keep to the general populous.

    I don't care what the kid's sex is (though I think make), but I personally need to be able to say "he" or "she" (and the pronouns that go with it).

    I have never been a fan of "hir" and "shi". They seriously annoy me (on the level of shitty spelling and grammar). I can't stand to read it...it's like when people misuse the word "loose". They mean lose, but for some odd reason, people are always "loosing" things.

    *eye twitch*
    /random rant

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  25. Also, I apologize for spelling populace wrong x.x BAH!

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  26. On homeschooling and "being able to deal with crap as well as fun is a really key social skill, and one that you'll miss from just doing extracurricular activities", check out AnnaJCook's recent post about this topic http://annajcook.blogspot.com/2011/06/booknotes-feel-bad-education.html
    Quick summary: her post is a book review of a book by an educator who argues that the "life's going to suck so you'd better get used to it" approach isn't effective and also isn't kind to children. I haven't read the book yet but I'm eager to.

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  27. Twitchandshout - I don't call people "he" and "she" based on what's in their pants. I mean, most of the time I don't know what's in their pants! (Yes, if someone has an obvious beard and a square face and is six three I can guess penis, but that's not always true and anyway it's not the point.) I go off what they want me to call them.

    I'm not a huge fan of "hir" and "shi" etc. either (I like using the singular "they"), but I use the words people tell me to use for them, because their identity matters more than my grammar preferences.

    And frankly, I think it's a little gross to tell strangers about your baby's genitalia.

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  28. I should have signed with what I'm generally called (Xeph). I do not call people "he" or "she" based on what's in their pants either. I call them what they identify with (as long as they tell me).

    Like my friend Chloe. Biologically, Chloe is a he. But Chloe identifies as female, and so I'll refer to Chloe as she. Luckily, she's tolerant and understanding that some people take more time than others to "transition", and gets more upset at being called her given name (as opposed to being called Chloe), than if somebody speaks and blunders her gender.

    When I was first getting to know her, I would use he/his and she/her in the some conversation.

    I stopped saying he (and all the rest) within a couple of days, and just started saying her. No problem.

    So I think we're actually agreeing, and maybe I wasn't clear when I first responded. I don't like using "they" because I don't feel I'm talking about a person then. I feel like I'm talking about a thing, which is unpleasant to me.

    So I'll call somebody whatever gender they identify with, that doesn't matter to me what they are biologically.

    - Xeph

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  29. I wish my parents had done this. Even though they are progressive and accept my being trans and all that, I still had to grow up being told "You're a [arbitrary gender based on a brief examination by a stranger of your visible genitalia]!" and everyone knows me as [arbitrary gender] even though that's never how I identified, and it's been hell and a half getting people up to speed, and some of them will never get it. I so wish I could have just started out blank, and then got to tell people what I wanted, so that there wouldn't be all this fuss and embarrassment. I don't think it's any more "oppressive" or "damaging" to not disclose a kid's sex as it is to keep it private. (And frankly WHY does anyone need to know about an infant's genitals!?)

    Also: This isn't intended to be an attack or anything, but, I don't think one's grammatical discomfort with certain pronouns excuses one from using them when someone asks. I get pretty angry when someone blows off my request for a preferred pronoun that happens to be a little esoteric ("they") and insists I need to pick "he or she" because it's easier for that person. I *don't identify* with either "he" or "she" and it's really not cool with me when people decide they get to use them anyway, because my actual, preferred pronoun choice is somehow inconvenient for others. Misgendering is misgendering is misgendering.

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  30. OT, on homeschooling -
    I was homeschooled up until college and loved it. I never lacked for friends (who were both school kids from the neighborhood/extracurriculars as well as other homeschooled kids). I did have to learn how to be proactive about making friends, especially after my family moved when I was 14, but it was never an insurmountable obstacle.

    (also, I still had to deal with plenty of bullshit middleschool drama, but I would guess probably not as much as if I had actually been IN middle school)

    I don't necessarily think that homeschooling is for everybody, or that it's the One True Path or whatever. I was extremely privileged in that my mother worked from home (she's a writer), so a lot of the logistical issues that come with homeschooling weren't as big a deal as they are for many people. I'm also not convinced that parents are inherently the best educator in all things for their kids, like a lot of homeschooling advocates will say...I just think the public school system is super broken and homeschooling is one of the most feasible ways to work around that.

    "Oh, and there's a huge difference between going through 30+ hours a week of school with a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, sharing the full school experience, and spending a few hours a week at aikido training, with kids who have self-selected as enjoying that activity."

    In my own experience this was not a problem. First, because our homeschooling group happened to have kids diverse backgrounds. I was also rarely age segregated. And those extracurriculars took me a lot of different places, into a lot of different groups of people - ranging from the punk-rock loving kids from socialist families I took graphic design and pottery with, to the republican Christians I rode horses with.

    Again, not necessarily the best/most feasible/most beneficial choice for everybody, but a really good one for a lot of people :)

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  31. Xeph, please be careful with that "biologically". If you look at it closely, the biology of sex is hardly more straightforward than the social-identity aspect (what you referred to as "gender"), and for those of us in the neither-m-nor-f categories*, it can get very tiresome to hear variations on the theme of "okay but what are you REALLY". It's actually quite a bit more complex than "penis = boy, clitoris = girl".

    Also, couching your objection to the words people use to identify themselves in terms of correcting bad grammar, is... problematic. I don't like "shi/hir" either -- mostly because they're not distinct from "she/her" in speech, only in text -- but if that's how someone wants me to refer to them, how hard is it to just do that?



    * not a majority, but a nonzero number of people who don't actually deserve to be thrown out of these conversations as statistically insignificant

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  32. Firstly, I tend to agree this is an awful idea. It's a noble idea, but I just think that while the intentions are good, I feel like it's not the parents decision. They certainly should raise the kid lovingly, and let him or her do whatever activities they enjoy and identify with, and maybe help protect and/or educate them about the slings and arrows that could be headed their way when it becomes obvious what their biological gender is... but I feel like this the same as religion... let the kid make the choice to live this way when they are smart enough to figure out what the hell it all means. (Its something one can respect about the Amish/Anabaptists)

    I don't know, maybe I'm missing the point.

    ALSO, totally OT/Derail:

    @Dolbia

    "There are some items which are male-correlated, albeit not uniquely male - like my facial hair (or my appearance in general) and the pitch of my voice. That said, I see those as symptoms of maleness rather than indicators, if that makes sense. (I got my beard from maleness; the beard is not what makes me male.)"

    Actually those ARE "signs" or your biological maleness. They are biological indicators. They are only "symptoms" of your maleness if being biologically male was a disease state, and it's not.

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  33. "okay but what are you REALLY" <--I've never asked this. I know there are people that do, but I've not felt the need.

    but if that's how someone wants me to refer to them, how hard is it to just do that? <--It's a visual issue, not a verbal issue.

    That said, I have a lot of gay/lesbian friends, and only one trans friend (well, at least I think....it is hard to keep up with all the terminology these days).

    For those that prefer to referred to as they....well, admittedly I probably wouldn't hang out with them on a long term friendship basis, because it makes me uncomfortable. It doesn't make them a bad person (nor me one), but it's a lot of discomfort for me to work through.

    By the same token, I couldn't hang out with somebody that talked about themselves in the third person all the time either.

    * not a majority, but a nonzero number of people who don't actually deserve to be thrown out of these conversations as statistically insignificant <--Who was throwing anybody out?

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  34. I'm raising boys (now aged one and four) and have noticed that while their cousin (from Ohio) wouldn't touch a pink sippy cup at age three, my eldest has not yet acquired the anti-pink meme. (He goes to a mainstream preschool, which seems like an obvious place to pick it up.)

    So I think there's hope for going more softly on the "boys don't do that" at younger ages, at least in some extremely liberal areas...

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  35. Jess - I wasn't clear. What I meant is that kids need to learn to work together (in various circumstances) as well as to play together, and if you're homeschooled and only interact with other kids socially, that's something you're missing. A homeschooling group, like the one theLaplaceDemon mentioned, would avoid this - I was not aware such things existed.

    This family practices "unschooling" where the kids learn what they want and no more. Which strikes me as a great way to turn out kids who are experts in Celtic history and don't know how to cross the street safely.

    I call people "he" or "she" based on how they present. Which I assume is what almost everyone does. I haven't been in a situation where I've met someone who appeared ambiguous and needed to refer to them in the third person. I don't know what I would do. Maybe ask.

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  36. Xeph: Do you want a cookie? Oh, that's great, you'll refer to people by their preferred pronouns, how polite, but only if those pronouns are one of the two that makes you comfortable. Otherwise it's just icky. And, y'know, nothing's more important than your own comfort, even if it means that one of your friends can't come out to you and it means you keep misgendering them when you have a conversation.

    I've had the "I get to decide when someone is 'trans enough' for me to use their preferred pronouns" idea in my head before and it meant I was an asshole. I've had the "I don't like gender-neutral pronouns, they're new and awkward" idea in my head and it meant I was an asshole. That's not something to be proud of. It's a bias to recognize and work to eliminate.

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  37. I dunno, I think it's fine to dislike gender-neutral pronouns. While I'm not opposed to them on principle, I'm not happy with any of the ones currently in use.

    But when you meet someone who prefers a pronoun other than "he" or "she", you deal with your dislike, get over yourself, and call them what they want to be called. I mean, unless they prefer to be refered to as "you" or "I", because that's just going to confuse everyone.

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  38. The preferred gender pronouns everyone is fighting about seem to be inadequate. I would dearly LOVE to see a gender neutral pronoun in common use as I believe the english language has long needed one (as evidenced by the awkward use of "they" throughout time) but "hir" and "s/he" are hopeless as they can only be distinguished in written form.
    How about a word that lets you say it loud and proud?

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  39. Jazz 'likes' to wear his hair in braids. Is it that he actually likes to do this, or is it that his parents are proud of him when he demonstrates androgyny, and Jazz likes it when his parents are proud of him?

    I have encountered parents like this before. They LOVE to prove how wrong society is. Consciously or unconsciously, they will reward their boys for having long hair and their girls for playing with boys' toys.

    It doesn't prove anything except that children respond to incentives. Parents like this control their children even more so than other parents do, while depriving their children of a normal childhood and complaining about how OTHER parents force their values onto their children.

    :(

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  40. And frankly, I think it's a little gross to tell strangers about your baby's genitalia.

    lol, too right. I think it's even grosser that everyone else is so worked up trying to find out about baby Storm's genitalia.

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  41. Dolbia, given that you said you weren't aware that homeschooling groups existed, it sounds like you don't know much about homeschooling and so I'm surprised you came out against it so strongly in comments here. I don't know how to say that without sounding like a reprimand- I don't mean to stir up shit about an issue that's tangential to the main point of the post, but given that you just found out that you'd been judging homeschooling based on some erroneous assumptions, you might want to also question your assumptions about unschooling turning out kids who can't cross the street (specifically, if these are kids who are given more freedom to decide what to do with themselves all day, aren't they actually more likely to learn basic skills they need to get around town to the library, music classes, volunteering, etc?). I'm not going to preach that unschooling or homeschooling is The Best For Everyone, just want to say that pointing to homeschooling as evidence that the parents in this story are isolating their kid from human contact is not valid.
    I do agree with you on the concept of "get over yourself and use the pronouns that other folks request for themselves." Xeph/Twitchandshout's statement that "By the same token I couldn't hang out with somebody that talked about themselves in the third person all the time either" strikes me as sort of naive or unfamiliar with how prejudice and discrimination operate. Deciding not to be friends with someone because they have a nonbinary gender identity isn't the same as deciding not to be friends with them because they have speech habits that happen to annoy you, in the same way that deciding not to be friends with someone because of their race is different from deciding not to be friends with them because you're embarrassed to be out in public with them because of their awkwardly loud laugh. None of those is a particularly good reason to count someone out, but two of those are based on prejudice against (or at least lack of understanding and lack of willingness to understand) groups of people, and the other two are oddball quirks. There's a difference between systemic discrimination and individual personal preferences, and I think where you find your personal preferences aligning with broad cultural patterns of discrimination, you have to examine yourself and figure out whether there's something larger than just your individual taste at play.

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  42. What Xeph (Twitchandshout) has expressed in this comment thread with regards to genderqueer people is utterly reprehensible.

    Respecting who we are as people and the way we express it is not an option. It is the very minimum that is required for treating us humanely. Respecting our gender and the pronouns we use to express it is a fundamental part of this. Insinuating that it is okay for someone to disregard this when a person's gender does not fit into the binary because one is 'uncomfortable' with their identity or their pronouns is bigoted.

    Insisting that people are inherently male or female based on their supposed biological sex, and that their 'true' sex may be different from their gender, is bigoted. Prioritizing the state of my genitals over the state of my brain is dehumanizing. I am genderqueer because my brain is androgynous and therefore my sex is androgynous.

    The entire question of biological sex in this context only served to question the legitimacy of other people's genders. It was bigoted.

    Coming on-line and making comments trying to excuse and normalize this viewpoint causes harm insofar that it reinforces bigotry in others and in society. Doing so should not be tolerated.

    Bigotry does not have the right to stand without fear of condemnation and, as a genderqueer person, I have the right to call it out and condemn it.

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  43. David Thomsen: ... Have you met any kids, ever? They have preferences that have nothing to do with their parents' likes or dislikes. Parents can reinforce and impose on those, sure, but there's a difference between saying "I'm happy you do what you like, honey!" and "Boys don't do that."

    Untoward Lady: Hear hear. It's a privilege to not understand how fucked up this stuff is until someone points it out, so thanks for pointing it out so clearly.

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  44. Maybe it's just me, but I thought 'hir' was pronounced 'here' and thus distinguishable from 'her' in conversation?

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  45. David Thomsen - You have no reason to be so suspicious of a little kid's preferences for his hair. Do you think outside intervention is the only reason a boy wouldn't act Perfectly 100% Boy in all his actions?

    Jay R. - "It's not the parents' decision" is the whole point.

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  46. aris-tgd: Yes I have met any kids, ever. Including one kid called Orlando in particular who is influenced by his mother in exactly the way I described. I wasn't just making shit up, you know.

    Orlando's mother likes to talk about how special he is. She is very proud of the fact that he is brave enough to have long hair when all the other boys have short hair.

    Orlando is often mistaken for a girl. This visibly upsets him. Fortunately his mother is always there to tell him how proud she is of him.

    If she stopped telling him how proud she is for having long hair, would he keep his long hair? I doubt it, since he gets so upset when people mistake him for a girl.

    He's brave for having long hair, but is he brave enough to cut his hair short and risk losing the pride of his mother? Not when his mother is apparently his only friend in the world.

    It is not always a case of 'I'm happy you do what you like', it is often a case of 'I will LET you do what you like but I will be happier and therefore give you more positive feedback if you do this thing instead of that'. Especially when you get massive amounts of press attention every time your son chooses the pink skirt instead of the blue shorts.

    Holly: I can't say anything for certain about Jazz's hair, which is why my comment was phrased as speculation. Nor do I know enough about the case of young Orlando to say anything for certain, but I do believe I've observed enough of his interactions with his mother to be suspicious of whether it's truly his decision to grow his hair long, and for the same reason I am suspicious of Jazz's preferences.

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  47. David - I still think Orlando's better off that way (and if his mom is his only friend in the world just because he has long hair, wow, everyone else he knows is a complete asshole) than with the more usual situation:

    "People are making fun of your hair? Well, then let's cut your hair! Because people who make fun of others are the bosses of the world! And they were right about you!"

    That comes around and hurts like hell when you get made fun of for something you can't change as easily as your hair.

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  48. "This family practices "unschooling" where the kids learn what they want and no more. Which strikes me as a great way to turn out kids who are experts in Celtic history and don't know how to cross the street safely. "


    I was the unschooled variety of homeschooling, for the most part (my parents pushed basic reading/writing/math and a little history, other than that it was totally driven by what I wanted to do). In my experience, most families fall somewhere on a continuum of "school-at-home" to "unschooling" with few hard-lining on either end. Most of us turn out just fine :) If you're interested I can send some links your way, but I don't want to hijack the thread anymore.

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  49. but they are rather harsly exposing their kid to injustice.(Holly)

    Hmmm, interesting, parents potentially exposing their children to injustice. So, do you hold them accountable?

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  50. I hold the unjust people accountable.

    Also, fair warning from a grudgey grudeholder: if you make this into a million-comment wank, I'm going to start deleting repetitive comments.

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  51. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  52. Respecting who we are as people and the way we express it is not an option. <---Didn't say it was, but I do have the option of not hanging out with somebody that makes me uncomfortable, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    I get really sick and tired of people constantly yelling "ACCEPTANCE!" as opposed to just accepting that some "tolerate" as opposed to fully "accepting".

    Doesn't make me a bad person to be uncomfortable with something. Doesn't make me a bad person to not want to be around something that makes me uncomfortable.

    If I ever actually MET a cis gendered person, I wouldn't force it upon themselves to pick a pronoun just for me. But apparently, it's a horrible thing if I don't feel comfortable enough to do so.

    It's like people aren't allowed to feel certain emotions anymore, lest they offend somebody.
    It's ridiculous.

    Otherwise it's just icky. And, y'know, nothing's more important than your own comfort, even if it means that one of your friends can't come out to you and it means you keep misgendering them when you have a conversation. <--I didn't say it was icky, but if you wanna take it that way, you're going to.

    I'm not going to feel bad about things that make me uncomfortable. I'm not saying anybody has to change to be around me (that's ludicrous).

    I just always find it interesting that people (ANY people) that constantly want acceptance, and call out prejudice, are prejudiced against people that feel anything other than complete and utter acceptance from somebody else.

    I wouldn't stop a child of mine from hanging out with a cis gendered person. Nor would I not hire one for a job if I knew they were cis gendered. Nor would I not pick them up from a stop if I were a taxi driver, etc etc etc.

    People are welcome to be who they are. I am not asking them to hide it.

    I just think it's a bit hypocritical for others to demand that people feel/act a certain way that makes them uncomfortable, when it bothers them that others demand the same.

    - Xeph

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  53. "If I ever actually MET a cis gendered person" - it is fairly likely that you have encountered a cisgendered person at some point in your life.

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  54. Xeph - "Cisgendered" means that someone's gender is the same as the one traditionally assigned to their biology. That would be most people.(Also, you likely have met transgendered people, but you didn't necessarily know.)

    As for the rest of your post, it seems to be treading a bit close to "tolerate my intolerance!" Just because discomfort with someone's identity is an emotion does not mean it's unquestionable or immutable. It's an emotion to be questioned and worked on.

    To say "I tolerate you, but do not accept you" is... it's better than outright hatred. But it's not right or kind. If you think someone is fully human, you accept them; if not, well... I wouldn't get you fired from a job or anything, but you can't ask me to be happy with you or tell you that you're doing a good thing.

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  55. I will say I don't agree that not liking/accepting some part of a person equates to not believing they're fully human. Just like I don't agree with somebody insinuating that because another person stated they're uncomfortable with something, it means that they're spewing hatred for others not like them.

    I had somebody ask me why I hated gay people once. I was confused....I don't hate gay people.

    I left a room because people were making out, and I didn't feel comfortable. It wasn't just gay people...it was straight people too. People making out in front of me makes me nervous and uncomfortable, regardless of who is doing it.

    Apparently that means I hate gay people.

    No...it means I don't like seeing people make out in front of me....so I remove myself from the situation....which is wrong apparently.

    The blogger ate the rest of my post >.< I'll have to go back and rewrite it later.

    - Xeph

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  56. Xeph - "Cisgendered" means that someone's gender is the same as the one traditionally assigned to their biology. <--then I appreciate the correction, because that is not what I've been told

    And I'm not saying tolerate my intolerance.

    What I am ASKING though, is why it's not ok for somebody to remove themselves from a situation they're not comfortable with, without it being described as intolerance or hate?

    I'm not asking for anybody to be something they're not, or hide who they are.

    And yes, sometimes I'll say something just to be polite to somebody. I do feel that's a sign of respect. But that's not acceptable either I guess.

    What would people prefer I do?

    Not hanging out with somebody you're uncomfortable with is wrong. Being uncomfortable in general is wrong. People not being able to accept every aspect of life is wrong.

    That is the vibe I get.

    And along the same line "tolerate my intolerance" goes both ways (people not tolerating/accepting that not everybody is or will be comfortable around them, regardless of what the "issue" may be). It seems that one must respect one person's feelings on a subject, and to feel differently, or awkward...is wrong. So a person should just shut up and power through something they're not comfortable with, to make somebody else happy.

    I don't think that's fair on EITHER side.

    - Xeph

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  57. Xeph:

    Tolerance is better than outright hatred, for sure. But if your attitude is 'trans/intersex/non-traditionally gender-presenting people make me uncomfortable and I would rather not be around them'...that's prejudice. It might not be the most harmful form of prejudice out there, but it's still prejudice. People are allowed to call it that.

    No one is doing anything to stop you from feeling however the hell you want to feel, but they're not obligated to give you brownie points just for not actively being an asshole about it, either.

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  58. You can't control your visceral reaction to someone as a response to any characteristic of theirs, be it something innate and immutable like their gender or racial identity, or something they could change like dubious fashion choices. But what you can do:

    1) Recognize that the flaw is in yourself rather than in them.
    2) Treat them with human decency and respect.

    I suspect that if you actually met someone with a non-binary gender, you would feel differently. It's easy to feel squicked by someone you've heard about in the abstract. It's harder to feel squicked by Sandy, who works in the local FedEx Office branch and helped you print some photos from an SD card.

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  59. Xeph:

    You have every right in the world to be uncomfortable with people whose gender is non-binary. You have every right in the world to be made uncomfortable and avoid spending time around people because of inherent traits that make them a repressed and/or marginalized group.

    Our point is that it still makes you prejudiced.

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  60. *still means you're prejudiced.

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  61. I can't read all of these comments because I just don't have the spoons today, but I wanted to say that many of the comments about "the child could be harmed!" strikes me as a problem with gender roles and society more than the parents saying that the kid is free to be whatever gender they want. The example with the child with the long, braided hair (Orlando?)--maybe he likes long, braided hair, but everyone else seems to think it's their business to tell him that boys don't have long, braided hair. Don't knock the mother for being proud of this. We don't look down on parents who are proud of their boy for being the prototypical football player-they're proud of their kid, and as long as they're proud of the kid because it's what the kid wants to do and wants to be then whatever. It's their life and you only see a small part of it at any given time, and only the public side of it.

    The same thing is happening with this kid. Other people think it's their business to tell this kid what they should or should not be based on what's in their pants. There are studies that have been done where the experimenters show a picture of the same baby, which has nothing on it or in the face that denotes gender, and the people are told whether it's male or female and their responses change based on what they're told. There's no way to distinguish biological sex from the picture. Gender roles start from birth ("he's so strong", "she's so pretty").

    Raising a child is one big experiment--is it going to do this, can I make it stop doing that? Conditioning is part of raising people. Please don't get sanctimonious about using kids as an experiment, it's what we do. (directed at whoever made the comment)

    Finally, I consider myself androgynous. For the moment I'm fine with using the female pronouns and wearing female clothing. However, when and if I decide I want to be addressed by genderless pronouns I expect to be addressed that way--whether or not you feel comfortable with the words. That's simple respect. Maybe I don't like your name, or the way you spell it but I'll still use it and spell it the same way you insist on spelling it. 'Cause it's, you know, respectful.

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  62. @Feyline:

    No, there's a difference between someone who feels discomfort around people who are different than them and people who think it's okay to feel that way.

    Feeling uncomfortable is prejudice. Prejudice is, unfortunately, something that we all struggle with. Feeling that it is okay to feel that way and not working to better yourself is bigotry.

    Trying to get others to agree with you and hate along side you as Xeph has done here is violence.

    So no, Xeph does not have "every right in the world."

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  63. Xeph,

    I hope if you have a friend who is (unbeknownst to you) non-binary-gendered and they one day work up the courage to come out to you and tell you their preferred pronoun and ask that you refer to them as such, that you don't suddenly stop "hanging out with them on a long-term friendship basis" (to paraphrase your earlier comment). I hope that you would instead work to overcome your discomfort for your friend's sake.

    I mean, at the end of the day people do reserve the right to associate or not with whoever they choose--but that aside, if you were my friend (and for all I know you might be, it's a small world), and I came out to you, and you distanced yourself from me because you didn't like using my pronouns, I would be really hurt. And I think a lot of people on this thread feel the same way.

    As far as your innate discomfort goes, maybe you can't control the emotion itself; however, there are better and worse ways to react to an emotion. But other people have already touched on that better than I could, so I will leave it there.

    I'm not trying to dogpile on you here, but I hope you can see why people are reacting so strongly to your comments.

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  64. I usually try not to involve myself in big comments or things, but I feel like it's important I do.

    I use the pronouns 'zie' and 'zer.' I started using it last year, because I decided that the gender binary was not my home planet. (And we're a system, so using singular 'they' actually makes things MORE confusing, not less.)

    I was SCARED to tell even my system, because I felt like I was a freak, asking for special treatment, and so on.

    Since then, I've been lucky in that my friends are calling me what I want to be called! :D It makes me really happy, because now I don't feel like I'm being forced to be a boy or a girl anymore.

    But it makes me feel really bad to think that my pronoun is just so weird and horrible that people are more interested in their "normal" English then they are actually getting to know me. Come on, guys, I read comic books! I like animated movies and rainbows! Can't we, like, make a connection over THAT? Is my pronoun really so obnoxious that you can't look past it?

    :(

    --Sneak

    PS from Rogan: We're a Linguistics major, by the way. If you start whining about how English doesn't work that way, I will fucking smack you down. Languages change as per the needs of the people speaking them. There were English gender-neutral pronouns back in the Middle English days, and there damn well can be again.

    Also, Holly, thank you for shutting that guy up. It's like every comment he says enrages me deep in my core as a man and as a father. And apparently I have trans rage to spare lately.

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  65. @LBT Please tell me more about how your systems work!
    I'm chafing under the restraints of modern english and I desperately want to know both this and the middle english terms.

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  66. Also, we're going to keep you homeschooled, away from regular contact with other kids, so that you won't have the opportunity to develop the social skills which would help you cope with the people around you.

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

    I wasn't homeschooled, and the only "social skills for coping with the people around me" I learned in public education were hatred, violence, and how to crawl into the escapism of books, video games, and drug use. Oh, little Storm, what a world you'll be missing out on!

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  67. Re: Perlhaqr
    I wasn't homeschooled, and the only "social skills for coping with the people around me" I learned in public education were hatred, violence, and how to crawl into the escapism of books, video games, and drug use. Oh, little Storm, what a world you'll be missing out on!

    That's an important point. As long as schools are a cross between daycare and teenage ghettos, it shouldn't be a surprise that the inmates run the system. The pack mentality that develops among tween-and-teenagers is only beneficial for those at the top; most of the rest are just lucky to escape it.

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  68. "I kinda hope Storm isn't merely delaying the event of declaring a gender. I hope that they're being spared it altogether. I suppose I'm projecting my own identity here, but I don't understand the utility of gender labels--at best they incompletely describe, at worst they inappropriately prescribe, and they don't say anything about a person that you couldn't learn from all their other traits."

    Even though most people (though not all) do have an innate sense of their own gender? You hope, what, that Storm is in the minority? Because that would be a positive, not a neutral, thing, because some genders are better than others? Or you hope that if they do start to show a gender identity (in the "I'm a ____" sense, the "subconscious sex" sense, not the "gender role" sense), they... suppress that? What specifically do you want?

    I'm sorry I'm such a jerk about this, but it is A Thing for nonbinary people to use terms like "buying into" when talking about binary people of trans history. That type of "can't you just be yourself and nevermind the word?" attitude is common from people who a)are more comfortable without a word themselves, and b)consider themselves more "enlightened" or "free" than binary folk, cis or trans. It reminds me of political lesbianism.

    Sorry I'm a jerk. Please be very careful poking around in bruisy places. Thanks.

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  69. Anon - I'm sorry to keep being a jerk about this, but I'm still not into gender labels. I think that statements like "I like to wear my hair long and wear big flowy dresses," "I enjoy gossip and socializing," "I prefer quiet, crafty hobbies," "I like stories about fantasy romance," and "I think my body ought to have breasts and a vagina" can so completely describe a person that to cap it off with "I'm a woman" seems.... to not add any information? And to imply things about their other traits that might not be true?

    Obviously, I wouldn't call this person a man, either. And I can understand how if they're trans, saying "I'm a woman" makes it simpler for people than trying to give their life history in every conversation. Hell, I call myself a woman in any conversation that isn't an in-depth discussion on gender, for that reason. But I still don't understand how someone can be truly "binary"--no one has every trait stereotypically associated with "man" or "woman."

    I understand the need for gender labels in society today, but I still don't, fundamentally, think that they have any useful underlying meaning.

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  70. A thought on pronouns: if you (a reader of this comment) have trouble with someone else's pronouns, don't stop hanging out with them. You can hang out with just them, one-on-one: at that point the only pronouns you'll need are "you," "your," and "yours," which aren't gendered anyhow. So means you'll not be talking about one of your friends until/unless you get comfortable with their pronouns: that's not a huge hardship. (Or if it is, they're clearly important enough to you that it's worth practicing using their preferred pronouns.)

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  71. I don't like most alternate pronouns. I'm dissatisfied with standard english pronouns and want something better, but I haven't found an alternate that I like.

    Also I have a hard time remembering which of my friends are genderless and which are trans, and many of my friends go back and forth as they explore and find themselves. It's even harder for me to remember which set of alternate pronouns to use, if I remember which friend is using them.

    That is all *my* problem. If I screw up and use the wrong pronoun with a friend, *I* am the jerk, and I apologize. Where I'm not certain, I talk around the problem, or I ask.

    Because hating alternative pronouns and being comfortable with the pronouns applied to me and how they relate to my gender... is a position of privilege.

    I'm far from perfect, but I try not to be a privileged jerkface. If you know about the privilege and are defending it, well, what does that make you?

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  72. RE: Anonymous

    According to our dear friend Wiki, the Middle English gender-neutral pronouns are "ou" and "a." Modern gender-neutral pronouns include 'it,' singular 'they,' and various new crop-ups that aren't widespread yet, such as zie/ze/hy/e/etc.

    As for systems, Holly has some handy links and talks it over here.

    --Rogan

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  73. "Doesn't make me a bad person to be uncomfortable with something. Doesn't make me a bad person to not want to be around something that makes me uncomfortable."

    Wow. Just wow.

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