They Aren’t My Pronouns

I was recently asked, on a form to apply to speak at a conference, what my preferred pronouns are. This is the first time I’ve faced that question in a way that way *required* a response. It got me thinking about the whole thing. I posted on Facebook, and then got to thinking about it and the following post is what resulted.

As with literally everything else you can read, going back to 2008, on this blog: this is mostly me verbally processing things, and you should reach out and let’s grab a drink to talk through it if you disagree.

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook:

Setting aside that it’s upending the very nature of how pronouns work to make them something decided on by their object, making declaration of pronouns a required field on a form seems to violate the very idea that “preference” is what matters.

My preference is that you use pronouns the way they’ve been used since the beginning of time until ~2015. That essentially means “you tell me.”

I’m more than happy to use whatever method you’d like for me to address you, (though some habits developed over decades will require time for me to breakā€¦ If you look to me like a woman, I will say “yes ma’am” to you by absolute default since to not say “ma’am” was to be corrected in my house and any house of a grandparent of mine) but I really don’t want to tie you down on how to address me.

Call me Ben, I guess.

Me, earlier today on Facebook.

Here’s a more detailed take

Pronouns can never be *mine*. They are by definition *yours* to assign to me. I can’t base my happiness or contentment on whether you get it “right” mainly because (apart from malicious intent to intentionally start a fight) there is no “wrong.” That’s how pronouns work. They are a linguistic convenience for addressing people and things more generally, and decided on by the speaker, and therefore sometimes inaccurate. I’ll save myself a lot of headache not trying to police how other people talk.

And I’m legitimately not interested in fighting about it, until you force me to put my preference down in order to fill out your online form, or whatever. Even then, I still don’t want to fight. I want to agree to disagree on the purposes of pronouns. But it feels kinda like I have to violate my own understanding of how pronouns work to fill out the *required* fields.

These fields in this case will be used to create a name tag at the event in question, and I’ll be proudly declaring “He/Him” walking all over the town in question, lending legitimacy to the counterargument of what I believe in. Because even to put down “no preference” is not correct. I wouldn’t want people calling me “her.”

I do have a preference, I simply disagree with the question on a fundamental level, and think that asking it (especially in a required way) will lead to a less inclusive event, not a more inclusive event.

Let’s try an analogy: Forcing me to declare my pronouns, especially in a way that goes on my name tag at an event, is like forcing me to pick a favorite Duke basketball player/coach. The question itself is flawed, and to even answer it leaves me with the option of being a jerk to the one who asked it (“dumb question/Go Heels!”) or to pick an answer that’s technically correct, but lacks context (“Shane Battier/Coach K”) and doesn’t allow me any room to counter-argue. I gotta walk around having people assume that I’m a Duke fan for the whole conference.

One last thing: I know I’ve danced all around the pronoun discussion here without coming straight at the underlying issue of transgenderism and gender as a topic. That is very intentional, because I’ve never had success changing anyone’s mind about fiercely held faith tenets by writing about it on my blog, and today’s not going to be that day.

But I do want to say this one thing, so that it’s not assumed: If someone feels that they should declare their pronouns, that’s fine. And if they want me to use those pronouns to address them, I’ll do it. I understand and respect if fellow Christians have a conviction to not use what they see as “incorrect” pronouns, but that’s not me, at least at this point.

Especially for folks I don’t know well, I’ll happily (if failingly… old habits like “yes Ma’am” die hard in the South) address you in the way that makes you most comfortable. If we have the type of friendship and relationship where I could lovingly ask more probing questions around the topic, and come to a deeper understanding, I’ll do that, too.

I also appreciate that the heart behind the question is to create a more inclusive space where nobody feels unwelcome. That’s actually my goal, too. I want even folks who don’t want to answer the pronoun question to feel welcome. Bonus points if that refusal to answer the question is not framed as hateful or exclusionary.