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 break… 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.

Domesticating a Water Moccasin

Yesterday, for Father’s Day, my parents-in-law rented out a shelter at the local Lake’s park, and we all gathered for a great time of playing in the water, fishing, and eating.

In spite of the rain that seemed to come in waves, I had found a great little spot to catch a few fish.

No keepers, just a handful of little bait fish.

With a chunk of cut bait on the line out in the middle of the water waiting on a catfish, I contented myself to keep catching the little ones to pass the time, hoping for at least a large-enough crappie to take home and eat.

My 10-year-old and his 10-year-old cousin were in the water a few yards away when I noticed something creating weird curves on the water, headed past me in their direction. It took a few seconds to register, but it hit a spot in the water with no reflected sky, and I immediately recognized a Water Moccasin (one of the few poisonous snakes native to this area). It was a large one, around 3 feet long.

I suppressed my mild panic and told the kids to get out of the water and to come stand near me until I could scare the thing away.

They hurried out of the water, and stood at a fairly safe distance. Related: I have no idea how far a safe distance is from a snake that can travel by land or by lake.

Turns out, poisonous snakes (or at least this one) are not a bit scared of people, even people hitting them in the face with a fishing pole.

With the not-afraid poisonous danger noodle looming, I decided it would be best to pack it up for the day, and told the kids to reel in the catfish line.

That worked great until the chunk of cut bait passed too close to our new friend. He pounced on it, and swallowed the entire piece of bait—literally hook, line, and sinker.

To review: I now had a 3-foot poisonous snake hooked to the end of one pole, with the other two poles laying about 10 feet away, not to mention all of the other gear strewn about as only a flock of 10-year-olds can.

The decision to cut the line was a foregone conclusion. I briefly considered buying all-new fishing gear so that I didn’t have to walk back across the path of the snake who would be contemplating it’s life decisions by this point anyways.

If you happen to be down by Shelter 4 at Lake Greenwood State Park and notice a water moccasin with a lip ring and a 15-foot fishing-line leash, feel free to take him for a walk.

We Need To Talk

In 2005 while dating long distance, we met for a day trip to hike and hang out in Blairsville, GA. It was the geographic center of our relationship, about a 3 hour drive from both Jacqueline’s childhood home and my place in Middle Tennessee.

It was a magical day, and we capped it off watching the sunset before parting for the long drive back to our respective homes. We planned (of course) to talk on the phone for much of the trip, when she hit me with what felt like an out-of-left-field “we need to talk.”

Those four dreaded syllables turned out to be the last thing I heard before entering the Nantahala National Forest (while she simultaneously entered the Chattahoochee National Forest) where cell phone reception goes to die. I feverishly tried to dial and drive for 10 minutes before giving up.

I spent the next 45 minutes (in reality I have no clue how long it was, but it felt like about a day) stewing over what I could possibly have done wrong to get “we need to talk”ed. This was not my first time being broken up with, but I at least saw it coming a _little_ bit in the past.

“It’s got to be the long distance thing” I fussed (aloud to the empty seat beside me). I rehearsed a very long list of the reasons that we should continue trying this long distance thing. I resolved (aloud to the empty seat beside me) to drive the whole distance between us next time, or to pay (with money I decidedly did not have) for her to take a flight so that she didn’t have to make the journey by car. We could defy the odds, and make long distance work.

We had to make long distance work. Of all the things I was certain about (my mid twenties were a time of great certainty, for better or worse) I was 10 times more certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman.

So I really let the empty passenger seat have it. I channeled my inner defense attorney and made lists of the things I’d be willing to give up and do if she’d reconsider breaking up with me. I made promises to that empty seat that I knew I couldn’t keep. Our relationship was only months old, so promising lavish things would tip me over from “romantic” to “a red flag” and I knew it.

By the time the cell phone bars showed up, I had resigned to just take it like a man.

When we got back on the phone, me chugging through Chattanooga and her passing through Anderson, she said something like “we need to talk… I am really starting to enjoy where our relationship is going, and I just need to make sure that you are serious before I let my heart really get serious.”

(cue triumphant music)

It’s funny: I went to bed last night thinking “It’ll be the first birthday in our new house.” But it’s only a first for me. She’s had lots of birthdays here.

I couldn’t be happier to spend my first “Jacqueline’s Birthday” here.

Happy Birthday, my love.

Four rings (I lost one in the ocean), three kids, and lots of years later: I still also really enjoy where our relationship is going.

Teaching remotely? Here are some tips.

Every single school that is offering any sort of virtual option should take time NOW to learn how to motivate and manage people remotely.

I am a remote team leader since before COVID, and here are some top-of-the-dome thoughts:

Don’t measure or seek to regulate “time in front of screen.”

It may feel like you’re keeping kids honest. In reality, you’re motivating them to game the system. Instead, measure something directly related to the outcome you are desiring. Making a kid sit on a zoom call doesn’t make them any smarter or prepared for a test or prepared for life.

Asynchronous communication is critical.

If a meeting can be an email (or a video), it absolutely should be. This goes for parents and students. You can have ways of determining that they consumed the content of the “meeting” without staring at their glazed-over eyes on a screen.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

There are already great educational resources out there on YouTube and elsewhere. Use those for “lecture time” and spend your energy applying the concepts to your specific students by interacting with them to see what they are missing.

Cut yourself some slack.

This is different than what you trained for, and remote teaching/learning is tough. You can’t just apply the same techniques for keeping kids engaged that you could in the classroom. But you can be creative and flexible.

Think through “cameras on” policies.

“Cameras on” meetings run the risk of every student being distracted by their own face on the screen. And they may be embarrassed to turn on microphone or camera because their home is loud or messy.

Teaching remotely? Here are 5 quick tips from a remote team leader that will save your semester. Click To Tweet

I’m more than happy to speak to or answer questions on a Zoom call of educators at my kid’s schools (Greenwood County District 52) or others.

Contact me here:

Memories new and old on Todd Quarter Road

28 years ago, (give or take 6 months) I rode a borrowed bike from my Grandmother’s house down a nearly-dirt road about 5 miles to a tiny little convenience store beside a tiny little bridge over Lake Greenwood.

I don’t remember much about the store… other than how great a Cheerwine tasted at about 2:45PM at 90 degrees and 98% humidity, but I remember much about the bridge there on Todd Quarter Road.

My memory is tainted both by time and the glamorization of being in South Carolina–a place so magical that you could pee in the yard (which is a fairly big deal to an 11-year old boy), but it was not a fully one-lane bridge, while also not necessarily wide enough to fit two cars across at high speed.

It was the kind of bridge years later as I learned to drive I’d watch my knuckles whiten as I reminded myself to breathe when a truck passed me.

Todd Quarter bridge is where I learned to fish.

My cousin Michael (who was from around here) would take me and my older brother, the city boys from North Carolina, to sit underneath the bridge and fish for crappie, brim, and the occasional bass.

In those magical days before cell phones, we’d leave the house mid-morning with the instructions to be home before it got dark.

We never cut it close to it getting dark. The thought of riding a bike down that road at dusk was enough to break through even a pre-teen’s illusions of invincibility.

Hours later with a stringer full of fish flapping from the handlebars of whoever had the best ability to ride while being fish-slapped for 5 miles, we’d pull back in and start cleaning the fish for dinner.

This morning I woke up to the sound of my 9-year-old who was too excited to sleep past 5 AM. He’d been promised fishing with dad and a cousin.

Now that we live right on the other side of the lake from that house I’d spend a week in each summer, I thought it fitting to go and check out how the fish were biting on Todd Quarter Road.

The bridge is much nicer these days. The placard on one edge reads 1999, my sophomore year of college. Don’t tell that 11-year-old, but now you can actually fish from the bridge, with a dedicated spot to stand out of the way of traffic.

That convenience store isn’t there any more (can’t tell what they’ve turned that building into… looks like a guest house or something).

The fish weren’t biting, but oh what a full circle this little morning trip to the lake was!

I told myself it was to avoid a sunburn that I opted to do my fishing from under the bridge. But once I sat down on that red clay (redder than I remembered, even… but maybe that’s this new-fangled 20-year-old bridge construction) I got a little emotional.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and realized…

…I’m home.