For the past years, Gender Pronouns have been causing hate and confusion on social media. People have lost careers and even lives in the frantic screaming from both sides of the opinion pool. In this article, I want to sort through my own thoughts and hopefully rational minds on both sides can share their opinions to help me better understand this very confusing social phenomena. Please note that I do not claim to have any factual truths and that this is completely anecdotal seen from my perspective where I try to take the information at hand and apply logic as I see it.
The issue of Gender is a bit tricky for me because it is not something that is used in everyday conversation in Sweden, and it seems to be mixing multiple things when screamed online. So, for the purpose of this article, I will define gender as well as a person's sex as I see it. Not as some form of truth, but as a starting point so we have the right foundation to stand on. For me to make sense, I am going to add a prefix and a suffix to extend the two terms to be more representative of the terms as I see them.
Biological Sex - This is the genetic makeup of what makes us male or female. I know there are some claims that biologically we can classify people and animals into more than two groups, and I am open to discuss the validity of those claims if you so wish. Unless someone wants to claim that there is a strong social need to reclassify into multiple groups of biological sexes, which would require a complete rework of language, social structures, legalities, and scientific reclassification of the entire area of biology I think we can conclude that this is not a claim that will have any impact on this article.
Gender Roles - Merriam-Webster define gender as "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex". The way I see it, Gender Roles are defined socially in accordance with the geographical culture. By that I mean that the definition of a Man for example will be different in Japan compared to Kongo, France, Sweden, or the USA. It will also differ if you look at how it is defined in big cities or in rural areas, for example. While we share a baseline definition, gender roles have multiple subareas that extends that. Things like profession, group affiliations such as sports or gaming, religion and many more all add nuance to the gender definition.
Relation between biological sex and gender roles
If you are still with me so far, then let us talk about how the biological sex is connected to gender roles. In my opinion, there is a direct connection between the biological sex and the corresponding gender role. A biological Male is defined by the gender role of a Man. A biological Female is defined by the gender role of a Woman. A gender role without a corresponding biological sex becomes problematic because we use the combination of both to identify other biological entities (people and animals).
What I mean by that is that when our minds identify other people, we do that with the biological intent to determine if that person is someone we can reproduce with (attractiveness), but also if the person a competitor or threat. The way we do that is to first visually identify the person's biological sex based on physical attributes such as facial compositions, bone structure and muscle mass.
To this we then add mannerism, body language and behavior to see if the person match our internal list of what potential partners should have. Once the basic attributes are fulfilled, then we look at the sub-definitions based on personal preferences.
Based on this, I would argue that having a gender role that is not tied to a biological sex would simply not work.
How about multiple gender roles for each biological sex?
We actually already have that in a way with the extended gender roles. The base definition of what a man or a woman should have in terms of traits, behavior and cultural expectations differ depending on multiple factors and in practice we have multiple roles for man and Woman. This does not however mean that we have multiple gender roles, only minor variations in the definitions of man and woman.
We can see this by the fact that we can identify who is a man and who is a woman, no matter where in the world we go, despite the small changes to gender roles. I would argue that this is because the biological sex is a very important part of gender roles, as it defines our physical traits.
Transgender and their gender roles
My definition of a Transgender person is that it is a person that is the happiest living according to the gender role opposed to their biological sex. So, a biologic male living as a woman, or a biologic female living as a man. I do not think physical alteration is a criterion for being transgender, as that is invasive and expensive, so not everyone is able to perform those surgeries.
I also think that anyone trapped inside their biological sex due to legal and social nonacceptance are transgender, even if they are unable to live according to that gender role.
This definition means that we can easily map between the biological sex and the gender role. We just cross over to the opposite gender role instead.
A Neutral Gender Role?
As I have stated earlier, I do not see a gender role without a corresponding biological sex as a valid option. A Neutral gender role however do have its place, but not as a gender role per se, but as an undefined gender role. This can be useful as a temporary substitute when a person's biological sex is unknown, or if a person just don't fit into the general roles of man or woman.
Biological sex is hard to determine
In the event that gender role is hard to determine because it is difficult to match the biological sex, this could be useful. This is usually because a person have mix of physical traits that are both resembling male and female traits. It can also be when gender roles are confusing, like having a full beard while otherwise perceived as woman. In this case, it could be useful to have a temporary undefined gender. Once the person's biological sex has been discovered, this would no longer be useful, which is why it is a temporary replacement.
There is a risk however that this would feel offensive, so just asking or making a guess, as we do now, might actually be a better choice?
It's none of your business...
There are some situations when we are required to fill out information about ourselves where an option to not disclose our biological sex or gender role might not be a bad idea. I do not think this is a good idea for situations where your biology actually matter, like medical information. It will most likely have other implications as well for things like insurance and legal situations, so it may be limited in those situations.
There are people that do not feel comfortable using the standard definitions of man or woman, but rather seek to break this norm. This includes clothing, physical appearance, behavior and more. For these people, I think it makes sense to have an undefined gender role, especially since many of these people can also be difficult for others to determine what biological sex they belong to.
Transgender and the undefined
Earlier, I said that my definition of transgender people is that an individual cross over to the opposite gender role from their biological sex. For me, I do not see choosing to be undefined as a transition or transformation of gender. I base that on the fact that choosing not to be defined is not something I consider a transformation to another gender. It is simply defying the gender roles defined by society and biology, which is more an act of rebellion than one of transformation?
I know there are quite a few people out there that do not agree with me on this, but consider for a moment the difference between transitioning to the opposite gender role and wishing to be undefined of any gender role. Will both groups benefit from having one identity that defines them, or does it make sense to speak for each group separately? Perhaps introducing a new term for the undefined, like Un-gendered would make sense and can improve conversations in some cases? As an outsider it makes sense to me, but ultimately it is up to members of these groups how they wish to represent themselves.
I might be completely wrong about this, and I am open to changing my mind if you want to present arguments that oppose my current view.
Gender Pronouns, where do they fit in then?
This is where I start to struggle because as far as I can see Gender Pronouns do not fit in the structure defined above. Gender pronouns are presented as Gender Neutral, which suggests they are detached from both gender roles and biological sex. This suggests that these gender pronouns do not refer to:
Mannerism or body language
Consider the definition that "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of associated words", this does not seem correct. Gender Pronouns seem to relate to behavior, which is a part of gender roles, which in turn relates to biological sex. The idea of removing that behavior and instead impose a set of gender pronouns with, what I perceive to have no actual grammatical, importance as undefined tokens is something I can not really wrap my head around?
If we consider adding an undefined gender role, then all these new gender pronouns would fall under that as far as I can see? This since the definition seem to be that they are presented as gender-neutral. Since these new gender pronouns seem to also be undefined, meaning that the words themselves have no descriptive definition, I conclude that these are simply different names for this undefined gender role?
So then the question is, what are these new gender pronouns, and how do you use them in any language structure?
How will this be implemented?
Because this is what we are talking about after all, to change the language structure of all languages in the world. A pronoun is defined in each language in the form of grammar rules. Every language in the world has these rules and what we are talking about is adding a set of what I perceive to be an unlimited arbitrary set of new pronouns.
While every language has its quirks and several areas where logic are absent, I fail to see how we will define these new pronouns in a way that make it possible to not only add it to any form of grammatical rule, but also how to add it to our schooling system? Who will oversee defining these new pronouns, how do we translate them into all languages and how do we deal with languages where this might clash with the entire foundation of the language?
There are languages where introducing these gender pronouns will be a problem because they are either genderless, or do not have gender pronouns. Even English seem to lack grammatical gender, which makes the argument to implement these new gender pronouns even harder to understand.
If they do not relate to anything, what are they?
This is the hardest thing for me to grasp. Because if they are just words, with no relation to anything, then what are they? When I use, he or she I use them to refer to a person’s gender, which in turn refer to their biological sex. If I use an undefined pronoun, like we have in Sweden , then I use it either to obfuscate a person's gender (for legal reasons for example) or because I am unsure of the person's gender role.
I do not see any way to manage an extension of this undefined pronoun that to me seem arbitrary and random. In many ways it reminds me of titles for royalty, which to most people outside of the royal family is difficult to understand. Even those though have rules that define the usage and the new gender pronouns do not as far as I can see?
If I do not understand how to use these new gender pronouns, then how can I adapt them into my language?
Things that are undefined cause frustration
As humans we react to things that are unknown as potential threats. This trigger our fight or flight instincts and we react with avoidance or aggression. I fear that by introducing the new gender pronouns the way some people do on social media is causing a great deal of harm to the Transgender community. I also think it alienates the un-gendered in ways that I am sure have severe consequences.
While it is easy to point your fingers to those that oppose these new gender pronouns, it does nothing to help the situation. It only make it a lot worse and I think most of us agree that the transgender community do not need more struggles in their lives?
By this I do not mean that you should bow down and just drop gender pronouns to make life easier. I suggest that you take a step back and try to explain the value the new gender pronouns have in your life and then find a way to explain the logic behind them.
The cure of all bigotry and hatred is understanding.
If it makes you happy, then by all means, use Gender Pronouns!
In no way do I presume to tell you how to live your life. If using gender pronouns make you happy, then by all means use them.
All I ask is that you do not spread hate to those that do not understand the logic or agree with it. I know that conversation about this is not easy, and you will face people that spread hate, but I promise I will listen if you are willing to talk to me. Openly or in private as you feel comfortable.
My mind and heart are open for you to help me make sense of gender pronouns.