In the spring of 2016, I came out as non-binary to the people at my college. I asked my friends and teachers to use the gender-neutral pronouns “they/them/their” and gender neutral titles when referring to me.
For the most part, people respected my identity and used the correct pronouns.
As the school year ended, I was faced with the reality of entering the workforce with this set of pronouns. Outside the academic bubble of college life, how would I be received? Would I have to explain my gender identity with every nuance of language and its history and meaning every time someone referred to me as “he” or “Mr.” or “man” based on how I look?
Paulus van Horne
I am sure this podcast will raise as many questions as it answers but I love talking about this stuff. You can tweet at me, @paulusvh. And as always, the internet is free and open 24/7. Thanks to Jack Qu’emi and Dennis Baron for their contributions to this episode.
LINKS/RESOURCES ON GENDER AND LANGUAGE:
- Historical linguist Dennis Baron has kindly compiled an extensive list of gender neutral pronouns used over the past 300 or so years.
- More of Baron’s work, including extensive writing on pronouns, can be found here.
- Qu'emi's writing can be found here.
- Listen to the original PRI’s The World interview about 'latinx' with Jack Qu’emi here.
- University of Wisconsin Milwakee’s LGBT Resource Center.
0:00 “Cómo puedes vivir contigo mismo?” by Alex Anwandter
0:45 Meet Paulus van Horne, The World in Words’ summer intern. Listen to their podcast, "Organized Noise"
1:40 I called you “dude” and I’m sorry
2:12 The cliché of “coming out” stories
3:00 “Someone finally asked, ‘So, what are your pronouns?’ and I didn’t really know.”
4:25 Starting to use they/them/their pronouns
4:51 Coming out at work for the first time
6:33 Wearing dresses and skirts the first week of work
7:29 Gender is hardwired in our speech
7:52 Mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando happens and the world inconsistently uses the term “latinx”
8:36 Paulus chases down an interview with Jack Qu’emi to talk about the term “latinx”
9:41 Should Paulus correct the engineer who keeps using the wrong pronouns for Jack?
10:45 Awkward tension in the studio
11:33 Not “maestra” but “maestrx”
12:20 After the interview the engineer uses the right pronouns!
12:44 How has Jack dealt with being misgendered in the past?
14:00 “Most of the time with pronouns it seems that every straight person is suddenly an English major”
14:40 They/them/their goes back to the 14th century
16:00 Opposition to changes in language is probably a sign that the change is well-established
16:33 Linguist Dennis Baron has a list of gender neutral pronouns that have been used since the 1600s
17:30 A lot of linguists, according to Baron, are supportive of the singular “they”
18:47 Third person singular are the only pronouns that indicate gender
19:36 Jack on how people should correct themselves when they mess up someone’s pronouns
20:30 People mess up all of the time, even here in The World’s newsroom
21:07 Paulus is getting better at correcting people
21:50 How has Paulus’ family reacted to their coming out with they/them pronouns?
22:33 Nobody looks good in a mumu
23:54 “It’s a political decision. I want people to think about how they interact with gender and how they assume a lot of a person just because of how they look.”