We live in a marketplace of labels: a revolving door of identity, language and the elusive yet apparently definable connection we humans crave from one another. Are you my friend or my lover? Are you my spouse or my domestic partner? Am I a she or nothing of the sort? Are we defined or concluded by what we call ourselves?
In the LGBTQI community, we see ourselves as wanting to push boundaries, question norms and show how we unnecessarily question who we are in comparison to social definitions. We fight not only to show how gender is based on social constructs no one could describe as tangible but also highlight how we, from birth, fall into holes dug by preceding generations.
I am what you could call lucky: a white female who aligns with the status given to me at birth. I’ve never had to directly experience the torment of conversing with people who throw their assumptions about what defines gender around like tomatoes in Spain. In my 27 years, labels like pronouns have never had to be a considered factor of my identity, so I grew up not questioning societies most fundamental sticky note.
The LGBTQI movement has had a hard time tossing pronouns altogether, which isn’t helped by the English language’s limitations. Considering we currently have no (popular) alternative to the provided he/she pronouns, those who are contemplating their social position are left with only vague and varied sections of the dictionary. Even though commonly used pronouns are interchangeable with their, they and them, the conversation as it takes shape in public spaces, still alludes to the idea of pushback, confusion and defiance.
As a millennial—considered the ideology generation—and a member of the LGBTQI community, the idea of shiftable and complex identities seems to have come easily to me. I’m aware we are all mouldable beings, and I have subscribed to the fact we decide who we are. But as I become more aware of those outside my bubble, I see those who openness and understanding do not come to so freely.
I recently conversed with a white man from a different generation to me who was confused by this sentence: I don’t know where they currently are. The sentence structure was not what was confusing. He was not aware they not only means two people but could also be used to reflect one, singular person. Human error, an English class missed or an individual who’d never really thought about why and how words are said, but at that moment he embodied a problem expanding outside our tiny conversation.
When there is discussion around gender-neutral language and changing the status quo of identity, I can now, finally, understand why there has been such pushback. The LQBTQI community is let down by the English language, not only in its limitation but also it’s somewhat impossible separation of meanings. I wonder if pronoun manipulation would be more widely explored and accepted if there was a more fundamental understanding of how words are used. Maybe people would not grunt so hard at those of us who are asking to be called ‘they’ if people knew we are not trying to shift language but embrace it more fully.