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Pronouns, And Why I Don’t Care About Them

Pronouns, And Why I Don’t Care About Them

By Ellen Koretz

Ah, pronouns, those vexatious little words.  English lacks a widely-accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun, although it sure could use one.  

My former spouse – now, there’s a nice, gender-neutral word – has come out as transgender.  I refer to this person as “he” prior to transition, and “she” after. This reflects my perception, and seems to annoy everyone. This person is so different pre-and-post transition that I truly see two different people, one of whom is gone. He is so gone that his name, like Voldemort’s, must not be spoken. It is “dead.” Someone recently challenged my reference to my ex as “she,” asking if that wasn’t “a win” for my ex. My gut feeling was that no, it wasn’t, but I had to stop and think about why. 

The choice of pronouns is meant to indicate how one perceives the other person, hence the sensitivity. What we call someone tells them who we think they are. But we are all familiar with people who have changed what they wish to be called, for all sorts of reasons. Norma Jeane Mortenson, Ralph Lifshitz, and Saloth Sar became, respectively, Marilyn Monroe, Ralph Lauren, and Pol Pot. We accept that. Anyway, it’s pointless to disagree. Their perception of themselves is a matter of belief, which doesn’t respond to argument. If my neighbor sincerely believes he is the Emperor Napoleon, am I going to get anywhere by saying, “C’mon, you’re Joe from down the street!” 

If you have raised a teenager, you know that to maintain your sanity, you pick your battles. If you have a husband who came out as transgender in middle age, you are most likely dealing with a teenager. So, sure, I refer to this person in the present as “she.” This person has a Y chromosome, left the factory with the standard equipment, and maintains an implacable sense of entitlement, but I will not convince her she is a man, and no good will come of trying.

This doesn’t mean that I unquestioningly accept her as a woman, or as a man. It means something more radical. It means that I don’t care what gender she is. It no longer has any impact on me one way or another.

And that is a “win” for me. As long as the conversation is about whether or not I accept her as a woman, she controls the script. I don’t want to talk about what gender she is. I want to talk about the lies she told, the secrets she kept, and the way she cynically used me until she found another partner. I definitely want to talk about the way she rejected our troubled teenaged son and her responsibilities toward him, and the disrespect with which she treated me for the many years she held me as an unwitting hostage in her closet. If I insisted on calling her “he,” I could just be dismissed as a transphobe. Then we could keep it superficial, and on her terms. If I were a transphobe, I would dislike all trans people. But I don’t. Trans people don’t all do bad things, but this one did.

Maybe we will eventually wordsmith our way out of this. It’s hard to predict how language will evolve. “Ms.” is now in general use, but when was the last time you heard someone say “sock it to me?” I hope we find such words, and soon. It would save everyone a lot of trouble and we could move on to talk about more important things.


6 responses to “Pronouns, And Why I Don’t Care About Them”

  1. Sue Allikas says:

    So incredibly helpful, thank you!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Brilliant! Thank you!!

  3. Samantha M. says:

    Thank you for shining the light on the real issues that seem to be overshadowed in these situations… why do the secrets, lies, deception, choices, consequences and time, before “discovery day” or “disclosure day” get outweighed by pronouns and preferences? Shouldn’t we talk about how one human being treated another, the effects, the family unit, a healing protocol, a path forward, the “why” in the first place? Shouldn’t we talk about the things that really matter?

  4. Sunshine says:

    First article I found here. I relate so much. Great points. Thank you! Thank you!

  5. Hannah says:

    Very relatable. Many Trans people focus on their transition, their “new me”, but forget that they are still somehow responsible and have connections towards their old self. Rather than obsessing over something like a pronoun, we need to have more conversations about the sudden changes, about the shock and the grief, about how much a person is impacted by someone else’s decisions. If the trans person want to get respect and suport from their partners, then they will have to do the same to their spouse.

  6. Anne Violanti says:

    Thank you for this article. It’s an interesting perspective.

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