Not Proud – London Pride 2017

By Fran Springfield

As an out gay woman I have always loved going to Pride. From small events to the big London parade, I have always felt part of a wonderful celebratory community. But not this year.

The posters and Equinox alphabet video, as part of their ‘Commit to Something’ campaign, do not resonate with me at all. The furore of complaints in the gay press has assured me I’m not alone in my unhappiness.

Let me dissect the video, a short film entitled “LGBTQ Alphabet: Six Letters Will Never Be Enough.” The music was good, great dancers too. I like the idea of of using the LGBTQI alphabet soup as way of being inclusive. But they just got it so wrong. This is the list they used:

Here is the full list of the alphabet definitions described in the video:

A – Ally

B – Bisexual

C – Coming out

D – Drag

E – Exhibitionist

F – Femme

G – Gay

H – Heteroflexibile

I – Intersex

J – Justified

K – Kink

L – Lesbian

M – Masc

N – Non-binary

O – Out

P – Pansexual

Q – Queer

R – Real

S – S & M

T – Trans

U – Undecided

V – Vogue

W – Womxn

X – Xtravagant

Y – You

Z – Ze | Zir

A for Ally – because?  Is the implication that we still need allies?  This is a Pride video – the hint is in the title – why do we need to be proud that we have allies? Pride is about celebrating our community. Having “straight” allies is fine, but Pride is about us.

Why not have A for androgyny? What about asexuality or agender?

B and C are fine, but D for drag should mention Drag Kings too and what about D for Dyke?

E I can cope with, but F for Femme? Acceptable but hardly used these days.

Surely F for Fluid as in Gender Fluid is much more relevant? Especially as it is an identity which more younger people are comfortable with.

H, works, even though it includes “hetro”.

I’m particularly pleased that I for intersex was included is being more visible. For people who are born with any of the complexities involved in that diagnosis, more visibility, awareness and understanding can only be a good thing. Though again, it could have been used to show that being intersex is a diverse identity, with some people presenting as male, others as female and a number of identities in between.

J to M are self-explanatory – though Masc is a new descriptor to me – and is very male-centric.

I’m delighted that N for non-binary is there – again this is giving greater visibility for an identity that is often poorly understood.

O and P make sense too.

But Q just being for queer? There’s also Gender Queer – a term that is being heard much more often and is often regarded as the twin of Gender Fluid.

What about Q for questioning? Something nearly all of us have gone thorough at some stage of our lives. Because there are multiple gender and sexual identities visible these day, it can take time for many children and teenagers to find where they are on the gender and sexuality spectrums.

We need to send the message that questioning is fine, if done of ourselves. But by others? That’s a whole other conversation. No-one has the right to question how we see ourselves and who we love. That message should be part of Pride and who we are. Anything less demeans us.

Real and S&M speak for themselves.

However T for trans does not. The word is transgender or transsexual. Trans if often regarded as a term of abuse and is disliked by many who are proud to be transsexual or transgender. Which of those identifiers to use is an argument all of its own, which I’m not going to to even attempt to begin here. There are strong views on both sides. So use both, but not just trans. Remember too that not all transpeople identify female, at least 25% identify as male.

Whilst not often encountered in the UK, Two Spirit people, often from Native American heritage, are equally valid to be part of the T within our community.

The remainder of the letters from U to Y work fairly well. Though Vogue strikes me as something fleeting and transitory.

It’s great to see Ze/Zir included as gender neutral pronouns. I look forward to their increased use over the years to come. For me they are friendly and easy to use and work well in everyday speech. Whilst I respect people who wish to use “they, them and theirs”, I personally feel uncomfortable using these pronouns. I guess that’s because of my years working within the transgender community, where for transsexual people “they” is seem as term of derision. Its use by family, friends and work colleagues who don’t want to deal with the realities of somebody’s transition is hurtful and shaming.

Sorry Equinox, you’ve really missed people out. Definitely could do better. More inclusion needed for next year please!

***

About the Author

Fran Springfield RGN MSc, is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Gender Identity. 25 years ago she became the first Specialist Nurse in the UK to gain that designation. She has written and lectured on gender identity issues both in the UK and internationally. Throughout her career she has been an advocate for transgender rights and equality.

unnamed

What’s in a Pronoun: ‘He’, ‘She’ and…?

By Emily Morrison

Societal attitudes towards gender and gender identity are shifting and becoming increasingly tolerant. We have seen public figures come out as transgenderopenly transgender models and boycotts of North Carolina because of a law forcing people to use public restrooms that match the sex designation on their birth certificate, and not the gender with which they identify. It is easy to recognise that attitudes are shifting quite rapidly, at least in contrast to those of previous decades.

There is now widespread awareness of the concept of ‘gender fluidity’ and the phrase ‘non-binary’: that people are not necessarily just ‘female’ or ‘male’ and yet official pronouns in English (i.e. the words we use to replace proper nouns: she, her, he, him, it, they or them) still only allow us to express these limited options.

Although articles detailing different forms of gender pronouns abound online and organisations such as Facebook and OK Cupid have over 50 options to describe gender, there is no universally accepted way to identify as anything other than simply female or male. This presents an issue for people who do not identify as either. In university campuses across America, this is being tackled by the trend to define the pronouns you would like to be referred to as. The most common way of expressing neutrality is to use the third person plural: ‘they’ or ‘their’. But as linguists have pointed out, this lacks clarity, as ‘they’ or ‘their’ refer to a plural, so a sentence such as ‘They goes to work every day’ is jarring for anyone, let alone linguists.

Sweden’s formalisation of a gender-neutral pronoun hen in 2014 re-ignited the debate over the lack of an equivalent in English but it is a question that is far from new. The first arguments date back to the 1800s as a means of clarity when it was argued that the usage of ‘he’ in legal documents meant that, in theory, laws did not apply to women.

Of course, now the argument is a different one: the importance of inclusive linguistic structures that represent people and don’t leave them feeling isolated (people identifying as non-binary are twice as likely to commit suicide). And, while this cannot be underestimated, the case for the creation of one is not just salient for people who identify as non-binary. The tendency in most languages where there is not a gender-neutral pronoun is to revert to the masculine, an issue that has long been criticised by feminists.

This convention is criticised because it focuses our worldview on men and the primacy of them. This is because, far from simply being a way of expressing our views, the language we have actually shapes what we are able to conceive. As such, the dominance of ‘he’ in our language subconsciously places our focus in life on the masculine.

Inevitably, proposals for a gender-neutral pronoun have led to criticisms of ‘PC gone mad’ from certain parts of society and some media. But the more salient objection seems to be one of practicality. Some linguists argue that, although it is easy to invent verbs and nouns to express new ideas and concepts (as we frequently do in English), the creation of grammatical structures, such as pronouns, is difficult to change and adapt our thinking to.

I disagree with this for two reasons. First, if we accept the need to create new words to express new ideas, isn’t that whole point of a gender-neutral pronoun? That we now accept that not everyone identifies simply as a ‘she’ or a ‘he’?

Second, as a global lingua franca, the majority of English speakers are not native but learners of it as a second, third or fourth language, many of whom will be learning completely new grammatical structures anyway. And for those learning as a first language, this would be taught from a young age, so while it may be difficult for older people to adapt, over time it will simply become the norm.

What will be interesting to observe is how this will progress in the future. If we have a gender-neutral pronoun will it become the norm to use it for everyone, making ‘he’ and ‘she’ extinct? Like the polite form of you ‘thou’ which existed in old English? Or the increasingly uncommon use of ‘one’.

Even more importantly, considering the importance our language has on our ideas, the formalisation of a gender-neutral pronoun could fundamentally change the importance we give to gender.

Most societies have historically been divided on gender lines and the fundamentality of gender distinctions. Although these divisions are less pronounced in modern societies, many places that were once designated for use only by one gender (i.e. the pub or the kitchen) are no longer seen as such. These distinctions do remain to some extent: think, for example, of bathrooms, sports competitions, and children’s toys.
Over time, would having a gender-neutral pronoun change this? Would the distinction completely lose its importance? If so, how would this change our society? In any event, at least we can finally see that in our views of gender identity things are finally going in the right direction.