Kirstyn And Mondy Do Gender

I appear to be all over the latest Writer & Critic podcast. I did my usual trick of helping out Aussie podcasters with the specifics of the Hugo rules, but also one of the books they review this month is The Courier’s New Bicycle. Naturally a lot of discussion of gender ensues.

I suspect that some of my more shouty gender activist friends will a bit annoyed by the discussion. That’s partly because we have two cis-people struggling with the idea of someone who is neither male nor female, and partly because being the well-meaning but often politically incorrect Aussie Male is party of Mondy’s schtick on the show. Personally, because I know both of them, I’m prepared to make allowances, and am pleased to hear them trying hard to get their heads, and their tongues, around the issue.

Let’s face it, I struggle with pronouns at times. Occasionally Roz has to kick me. Very few of us are (yet) perfect, and as Kirstyn notes that’s partly because there is no commonly accepted set of gender-neutral pronouns in English. So, for example, I try hard to respect the wishes of people who wish me to use “they” rather than “he” or “she”, but my inner grammar checker screams blue murder every time it sees me mix singular and plural.

I might complain about their pronunciation of “Salisbury”, but as Sal is Australian and they are Australian I have to allow that they may be pronouncing it the way that the characters in the book would.

Anyway, they both really enjoyed the book, which makes me very happy. Also there are no major spoilers. So if you are interested in the book, please do give the podcast a listen.

16 thoughts on “Kirstyn And Mondy Do Gender

  1. The pronoun thing is so hard! Especially as so many people have their own preferences, and with a fictional character, you can’t ask what they prefer. I think I ended up just repeating ‘Sal’ when talking about the book, which felt awkward, but not as awkward as ‘they’ for the same grammatical reasons you cite!

    Then I saw Kim Westwood being interviewed about the book, and she alternated ‘he’ and ‘she’ in perfect rotation which blew my mind but also felt somewhat appropriate for this character, who sometimes identified with one gender (or actively performed said gender), and then later, the other. Doesn’t of course mean that would be appropriate for other asexual people…

    It’s so easy to get flustered, though, when trying to talk about an issue like this and not wanting to offend people.

    1. It’s much easier when you are writing, because you have the opportunity to reflect and edit yourself. It can be very difficult when speaking if you are not used to it.

      1. It’s definitely easier to write about it, Cheryl!

        Thanks for mentioning the Kim Westwood interview to me, Tansy. It was something I meant to say on the podcast, that I was going to try and take a lead from the author and alternate the he/she pronouns. I’d been practicing that all week and then made the mistake of reading a whole bunch of reviews the afternoon before we recorded — all of them exclusively used “she” and “her” for pronouncs and a couple explicitly defined Sal as female!

        I don’t know if they were taking the lead from Sal’s parents and deciding that if Sal was brought up as a girl, then Sal really, deep down, was a “she”, or if they were missing the point in another way.

        More and more, I find it deeply troubling that we don’t have easy, grammatically compatible, and widely accepted gender neutral pronouns at our disposal. Not only for people outside the gender binary who need them, but also to help stop society at large from being so hung up with the immediate need to determine ANY person’s gender in order to be able to talk about them. Gendered language, and the lack of gender neutral language has such an important influence in the way we see other people, the roles we assign them, and the importance we play upon gender as a signifier.

        Anyway, I’m glad to hear we didn’t make *too* much of a hash of it all on the podcast!

  2. Myself, I’ve never had a problem with the singular “them”, so I always find myself wondering what the fuss is about. The pronoun gender-cycling that Tansy mentions above might be a bit more tricky for me to get my head around, though.

    (Thanks for the Genderbread Person post, incidentally.)

  3. Don’t let 19th century grammar snobs make you feel bad about the singular, gender neutral, “they”. It has a history going back to at least Middle English. The fact that it has mostly survived in Northern, working-class dialects is the “problem”, and that’s not a bad thing at all!

    Personally I dislike all of the neologisms that have been proposed to fix this alleged problem – they all sound Germanic feminine to me.

    1. Oh, I can make a case for it, but as an editor I have to be aware of what the reading public will think. I can get away with things on my own blog that I would never have allowed in Clarkesworld, or even in Salon Futura.

  4. Pronouns: I grew up using “they” as the nongendered equivalent of “he” and “she.” And I consider it as legitimate as singular “you.”

    What I don’t generally use: I also grew up using “she” for tractors and machinery.

    1. I still use “she” for aeroplanes, and one or two other things. I think of it as one of the few examples of gender in the linguistic sense left in English.

  5. Thanks for the comments Cheryl. While it might seem like a shtick -and yeah, most times it is – I was trying to be honest in relation to my reaction to the gender issues in the book. The use of the prefix cis, in particular, is totally new to me, even though the prefix has been around for 18 years.

    Anywho, I am learning and broadening my mind/opinions and you’re one of the main reasons for that.

    1. Cis is a complicated issue. At root it is simply a qualifier to indicate that the person you are talking about is not trans or intersex in any way. Inevitably, however, for trans people, it has become associated with the oppressors. And moving on from there some radical feminists now claim that “cis” is a term of abuse on a par with words like N*, and object loudly to being discriminated against by having it applied to them.

      Equally, while there are many people who self-identify as “trans men” or “trans women”, there are also those who claim that this classification denies them the right to be the men or women that they believe themselves to be, thereby perpetuating their othering. You may see people describe themselves as a man or woman “of trans history”. Other trans people insist that this is denying your transness and is traitorous. And, of course, many trans people don’t identify as men or women, and would object to either term being applied to them on those grounds.

      Minefields, we haz them.

      1. The basic issue with “cis” is that it does not come from the group to which it is applied and is not used by it, not even as a joking self-identifier. If you object to having yourself referred to in terms that you have not chosen, then you can’t really go around doing to others the very thing to which you object.

        Also, it’s a very bad pun and as such *is* belittling the people concerned. The person using the term is suggesting that such people are nothing more than a bad joke.

        Thirdly, it’s making assumptions about someone when you don’t have sufficient access to their inner selves to even begin to know.

        1. Point taken about the right to self-definition. However, people who are not trans are clearly a classifiable group of people, so if they want to object to how they are described it is incumbent upon them to say how they do want to be described. The word “normal” is not an option.

          Also you are absolutely right about the tendency of openly and extravagantly genderqueer people to assume that those who appear more binary-conformant are “cis”. That’s all part of the oppression mentality I referred to above.

          You should probably explain the pun, because I suspect that many people using the term, and many of those to whom it is applied, will have no idea why offense is being taken.

          1. There’s an offensive pun? I thought it was a simple Latin derivation, “cis” being the opposite of “trans”, with neither prefix having either a negative or positive connotation in Latin.

            I also get the issue with self-definition, but would point out that many, many definitions have originated from outside of the group they define and aren’t intended to be offensive or derogatory but simply, er, definitional. I guess the problem comes with how the word is then applied in common usage, or the types of connotations it attracts. Personally, I’ve never heard it applied in a derogatory fashion (until I googled “cisgender offensive” before writing this post) and have seen lots of people happy to label themselves as cis. In fact, I kinda like that a privileged demographic got labelled *by* those denied its privileges for once!

Comments are closed.