Guest Lecture in Pronouns: Vagrant

A simple computer drawing: Kirby (purple hair, yellow jacket, glasses) is gesturing at Vasundhara (dark hair, black lipstick) who is standing at a podium labeled “pronoun studies”
PLEASE WELCOME OUR GUEST BLOGGER!
  • All words are made up. I have a PhD in linguistics so you can freaking quote me on that.
  • Yep.
  • Real English is a fake idea. If an English speaker said it, it’s part of English. As linguists, Vagrant and I are both interested in describing language as it is, not prescribing what language “should” be.
  • Actually, it’s an etiquette thing. Let me just emphasize, as I have in many previous posts, that it is breathtakingly rude to misgender someone. It’s not a linguistic anomaly, you’re just being an asshole.
  • Let’s hold those questions and further linguistic discussion to the end and/or a follow-up post so we can pay Vagrant the attention xe deserves!

So what the heck are your pronouns anyway?

My pronouns are xe/xem/xyr/xyrs (pronounced with a z sound and rhymes with he/them/her/hers)! Here are some example sentences to show you how to use this set of pronouns:

  • Xe wrote a song about trilobites!
  • The only birder I know is xem.
  • Is xyr website accessible?
  • That tweet about a vampire linguist is xyrs.

Why are those your pronouns?

The short answer is that those are the pronouns that fit me best!

Why don’t you just use they/them?

Because being they-d never made me feel the way being xe-d does, even though it does feel better than being she-d. In fact, I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about various other standard pronoun options and my feelings are:

  • she/her: 50% neutral, 30% bad, 10% good (gay she) — also depends on who’s doing the she-ing and what the context of the conversation is
  • he/him: much less evidence and therefore I cannot percentage this. Depends on who’s doing it and the context, but gay / genderbendy he-ing feels good!
  • they/them: 50% neutral, 30% surprising (who — me?), 20% good

I’m scared I’ll mess up your neopronouns — any advice?

It’s most important to me that you try your best to pronoun me correctly, even if you don’t get everything 10000% right 10000% of the time. I also have a personal soft spot for second language English speakers and am much more tolerant of misgendering in this context. This is not to say that ESL speakers have a free pass to misgender me but rather that I GET that it’s hard!

I’m questioning whether neopronouns are right for me — any advice?

How exciting!!! I have four nuggets for you, and an open invitation to reach out to me on Twitter (@dippedRusk) if you want to chat more about neopronouns and genderfeels!

  1. Find ways to hear/see yourself referred to with neopronouns
    You could write about yourself in the third person like I did, or you could recruit a group of trusted friends to help you along on your gender journey by saying things about you in the third person with those neopronouns! If you’re going to be introduced at an event, send in a bio with neopronouns and ask the organizers to introduce you using them! Find ways to experiment — it may open new doors for you!
  2. Pay close attention to how different pronouns make you feel
    For me this was the gamechanger with xe/xem pronouns. Maybe a neopronoun set makes you feel gender euphoria like no other pronouns, maybe it makes your body heave a sigh of relief, maybe it makes a new part of your brain itch in an interesting way. Observing how pronouns make you feel will help you figure out what fits best for you!
  3. Be prepared to do a bunch of negotiation / explaining / fighting
    Neopronouns are a new concept to many people and so you will likely have to explain how to use and pronounce your pronouns, and this may lead into discussions of gender and identity more broadly. I have found it useful to have a list of links handy (the Wikipedia page on nonbinary gender and this page on xe/xem pronouns are personal favourites).
  4. Be prepared to do a bunch of negotiating — with yourself!
    I’ve done a lot of internal negotiation to figure out my personal sweet spot for the level of neopronouning I am prepared to ask of people knowing that they will inevitably make mistakes, because the mistakes have emotional consequences for me. This balance can change over time and it may not look the same for you as it does for me. Just because people are going to misgender you does not mean you have to give them permission to. Whatever you choose for yourself is right for you and I for one will defend your pronouns (neo- or otherwise) to the death!
    Your approach to dealing with misgendering may be fatalistic or it may be feisty. Your balance may be different for your oldest friends or for your immigrant family or for strangers you don’t want to bother engaging with. A friend of mine recently brought up a consideration I hadn’t thought of — e pointed out that some folks with aphasia struggle to acquire new words, and making them learn a new pronoun paradigm is a big ask, but that you also don’t want to force people to out themselves. With this particular case, neither of us had an answer, and I don’t think there is an easy or perfect answer. We just have to muddle through and figure out what works and be okay with making mistakes along the way!

Do you have any favourite resources for researching gender, neopronouns and queer identities?

  • My #1 favourite resource for learning about and discussing queer things is the other quiltbaggers I know! I was lucky to have been welcomed into a community of queer folks in Vancouver by a queer community organizer friend and I’ve also met many wonderful people on Twitter (including Kirby and other queer linguists studying queer linguistics). I have particular reverence for my queer elders and you should too!
  • I like this list of popular English pronouns which includes a good number of neopronouns
  • The LGTBA Wiki is a huge community-edited resource on all things queer and if you enjoy digging around among very granular labels then that might be a useful site for you
  • [Kirby adds: xe also sent me the link to this cool pronouns dressing room, which is a nice way to “try on” different names and pronouns!]
  • Thank you Vagrant, this was wonderful!!!!!!!
  • Class, please direct any (RESPECTFUL) questions about xyr experiences and compliments to xem on xyr twitter: @DippedRusk. I’m happy as always to field linguistic questions on my own twitter (@kirbyconrod)

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Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

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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.