Article published by: Leah Rowe
Date of publication: 2 December 2021
This article concerns the rights and status of transgender people and, more specifically, non-binary people. A good starting point, if you are unfamiliar with either topic, would be to read about it on Wikipedia:
Writing or speaking English, we once faced a conundrum when we were taught to refer to a person as male without knowing their gender. It was a ludicrous convention of writing, introduced at a time when women were considered as slaves. Later, we retroactively included women as an afterthought in our speech, making reference to he or she, as though gender even matters for the majority of human endeavours; it does not!
When speaking or writing in English, we are rather fortunate. A historical quirk of our language has gifted us with the linguistic ability to respect each other equally. I refer, of course, to the gender-neutral Singular They pronouns they/them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they
A historically oppressed, suppressed demographic of people have asserted their right to exist, a right that I support, for I am one of them. My legal ID says that I am a woman, because no legal recognition exists for non-binary people in my country. In private I am simply Leah Rowe. I identity with aspects of the female gender, mentally, but I don’t quite fit in. I realized this, after having initially come out as a trans woman several years ago. The only thing I know, with absolute certainty, is that I’m not a man.
We do not yet have a third gender concept widely used in English-speaking countries, but we do have an understanding of what is referred to as the gender binary. The gender binary is a form of propoganda that tells us from birth: only men and women exist. This message is false, and a lie. In truth, gender is a spectrum of diverse identities and expressions, irrespective of one’s anatomy.
Nowadays, many non-binary people will personally use they/them pronouns. It is imperative that such people be fully honoured. When such a person asks you to refer to them using they/them pronouns, you should comply with this request. Calling them by any other pronoun is wrong, and a grave insult.
In the English language, we have historically adopted one of the following paradigms, when writing about unknown individuals:
Always say he. This is seen in many historical texts. We see it today as inherently sexist, but it was the norm at a time when women were the literal property of men.
Always say she. This is a cringeworthy practise, and only legitimizes the very same pervasive form of sexism that sees women as separate from men.
Always say he or she. This is slightly better, but has the same problem as always saying she, and it only reinforces the gender binary.
Always say he/she. This is even more annoying than he or she. It once again reinforces the gender binary.
Alternate between he and she. It once again reinforces the gender binary, in erasure of non-binary people.
None of the above are ideal. I suggest one of these:
Default to saying they or them, when referring to a person whose gender is unknown. If an individual specifically insists upon he or she, label them as such. The person may be non-binary, and use they/them pronouns. Some other pronouns (such as xi/xir) are also used, by some people.
In some cases, avoiding all pronouns (even they/them) may be desirable. For instance, you may say: the individual, that person, this person, the person in question, person of interest, etc.
The above can also apply to speech. If you meet a new person, ask them their pronouns! This practise should become normalized, as opposed to what most people currently do, which is to judge a person’s appearance and assume male or female gender, based on primary sex characteristics (a concept which is somewhat flawed and inadequate, due to the well-documented existence of intersex people).
You will note that I’ve used Singular They, throughout this article, when referring to an unknown person. I do this in almost all of my articles, and I do it in my speech. I do it in my thought. As you can see, it is perfectly natural and easy.
What I’m asking is not controversial, but there are certain types of people who will see what I’m writing as an attack on their right to free expression. On the contrary, I am simply advocating for the rights of those people whose existence has historically been suppressed. Which is to say: I’m advocating for more rights. Equal rights. The right to exist. This right is eroded when your existence is routinely questioned, and ignored, by everyone around you including friends, family, your school, your job… this is what I mean when I say erasure.
Imagine that a man is referred to as a woman by his peers. Would he not be insulted? It’s the same thing with a non-binary person, if they’re being gendered male or female after they specifically requested otherwise.
You may sometimes hear people claim that Singular They is confusing, as though referring to a person with multiple identities, but this is wrongful thinking, and it is insulting. It is an erasure. The vast majority of non-binary people are of sound mind, and simply expressing themselves in a way that makes them more comfortable. This is the same right that everyone should be able to enjoy.
To learn more about legal recognition of non-binary persons around the world, refer to this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_recognition_of_non-binary_gender
In some cultures, the concept of a third gender is well-known, and has been for a very long time. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_gender
Also related, and frequently overlooked, is the intersex community: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex
The world is a beautiful place, with beautiful people living in it.
There is a nice video where several non-binary people explain what it means (from their own perspectives) to be non-binary. Invidious link: https://redirect.invidious.io/watch?v=kVe8wpmH_lU
Here is an embed of that video, using Invidious instance
Respect non-binary people. Trans rights are human rights.
This article was written to address transgender issues, which are separate from those of sexual orientation. You can learn more generally about LGBTQIA+ people on Wikipedia and many other websites. For example:
LGBTQIA+ stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and the plus symbol usually refers to allies, who are not part of the LGBTQIA community per se, but nonetheless support it and try to help us. I encourage everyone to educate themselves about our issues, and our ongoing global struggle for freedom, and equality. We have made some progress, in some parts of the world, but it is incomplete, and we are treated very differently (for better or worse) depending on what country you look at.
I live in a country that was historically responsible for suppressing LGBTQIA+ rights around the world. There is an interesting video that talks about the role the British Empire played in destroying LGBTQIA+ rights, in what are now former colonies, many of which still routinely oppress LGBTQIA+ people. You can watch that video here: https://invidio.us/watch?v=DNM_8Yw5Ybw
Here is an embed of that video, using Invidious instance
Hatred is inherently illogical. It is easier and more rewarding to simply be nice to others. We should all do our part to make the world a nicer, happier place for all that live in it.
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