Dear Geoff,

It’s fine that it’s hard for you. But that means you need to try harder.

Let me respond to a few things in your follow-up post before I leave this conversation to focus on my work.

  1. You need to stop bringing up the birth assignment of every trans person you mention or come in contact with. I don’t know if you think it’s validating, but as a trans person I can tell you: it’s humiliating and hurtful to have people you know bring up your birth assignment over and over again. You need to apologize to your young friend Magnus for dragging him into a public debate in this way. You need to apologize to Anna Nicholson, a former student you have publicly misgendered and deadnamed for syntax points. (No grammatical excuse for using her deadname publicly, by the way.)
  2. You need to acknowledge that there are alternative strategies for you to employ if your grammaticality really gets in the way of your production of singular they. You did fine avoiding pronouns for me in your response — I assume because you couldn’t figure out my assigned birth sex by googling me. (I am not convinced that you would be so polite if you met me in person, but I would love to be proven wrong on that.) You’re right, I am absolutely being prescriptive here, the same way it is technically prescriptive to tell you not to use racial slurs — I am prescribing basic respect.
  3. You need to take responsibility for the way you wrote your post. I don’t care about your intent — your impact was hurtful. You had every opportunity to apologize for your “slip” and acknowledge your difficulty without including the actual misgendering in the text of the post. You instead have decided to dig in your heels on the grammaticality, as if that was at all what I was talking about. You saw comments of people who felt hurt and marginalized by your post, and you decided to blame them (and me) for our ‘unsavory’ reaction rather than apologize for the harm you did.

Transphobia is not always a matter of intent, it is not an accusation that you meant to do harm; transphobia can also be, for example, your unwillingness to alter your behavior in order to avoid doing further harm. I don’t care about your grammaticality judgments and I don’t care about your good intentions at all. You either need to do better, or you need to not talk about us.

Finally, let me say my main point again for you, since you did not apparently read it: if you can’t use the right pronouns for a trans person, don’t use any at all.

With all due respect,

Kirby Conrod

Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.

Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.