Pronouns — Armchair Philosophy

Fresh off coming out publicly, Joe talks about brains and the difficulty of switching pronouns around.

Episode script:

Let’s talk about pronouns.

<Clank, Clunk, Shing. Thump.>

The human brain and language. It’s so complex.

People with aphasia, that is to say, people who have experienced brain damage to the point that they can no longer communicate in their language, can still curse, in some cases. Because the reactive “FUCK!” can be stored in a different place in one’s brain than the rest of their speech.

Mel Blanc, the voice of most Looney Tunes for decades, once famously communicated from within a coma because though his brain wouldn’t respond to input, Bugs Bunny’s would, and Mel could answer questions as Bugs. The character was stored in a different part of his brain.

And so it is with pronouns.

I’m having difficulty with the pronouns of others, which is ironic as hell, but here we are.

As my own pronouns change, on days where I’m leaning female, I start misgendering CIS people, because the switch doesn’t just flip in my brain for my gender. It flips for the two extremes of them. The stupid way of parsing this here is “well if I’m a woman today, women must be men, linguistically. And vice/versa. So call men women!” And this is my brain attempting to reprogram itself from within a binary gender framework and bumping against limitations and weaknesses.

I’ve decided to rock the singular “they,” because my “just go by what I’m wearing” edict that’s existed from the moment I came out up to this point really doesn’t cut it when I’m too afraid to ever leave my house as the myself that I am a good chunk of the time and am effectively a woman in the most passable drag possible in public in those times, so maybe I should stop just letting he/him slide on those days and stop being a coward, too afraid primarily of violent men caught up in toxic masculinity for my physical safety, and emotionally violent CIS women, (mostly TERFS), on an emotional level, telling me I’ll never be what I know I am.

Maybe I should stop being a coward and insist on being a woman in public when I am, whether I look it or not. Or at the very least, insist on they/them pronouns at all times.

But I also understand how difficult this is for people, because even me, struggling with my own pronouns, am having a bit of a difficult time referring to others with the singular they. I know I can do it with enough practice. It took me years, but I eventually got rid of “bitch” and “retarded,” which are so entrenched in our language, and still used fairly flippantly, much to my annoyance, but I did it. It just takes the desire to do so, some empathy, and some applied effort and time.

It’s a conundrum, though. I think it’s how I want people to refer to me, and even I’m having trouble picking it up for others, because this programming is so old, and implanted in so many different parts of our brains, linguistically. And the human brain doesn’t operate entirely on good intentions.

This is to say nothing of the “You’re a man in a dress, faggot” contingent who just willfully don’t want to adapt or care. That’s another video for another day.

For the people who DO understand, who DO want to get it right, even then, it’s super difficult. We’ve been wired, linguistically, to apply pronouns to a series of aesthetics. For the people not being willfully ignorant or mean, people who pass as their true gender, assigned from birth or not, the human brain seems to accept that a lot easier than those of us who don’t. Who look, to the pattern-recognition portions of our brains, like a woman with a beard or a man in a dress.

We exist, for those people, as a linguistic obstacle to overcome. Myself included both in giving and receiving.

But that’s probably why we should start now, really, and I should ask people to do it, and ask myself to get better at it. Because the sooner we start to deprogram it, the sooner it leaves the Mindful Effort part of our brain and enters the instinctual part that, robbed of all language, can still say fuck when we stub our toes.

So call me they, please, and if you’re my friend, you have infinity chances to get it right if I think you’re still trying, and not deliberately misgendering me to make me feel small, and just as important as that, don’t apologize too much when you get it wrong. Just correct yourself and move on.

This stuff is tough. And while you’re having a hard time doing the emotional labor of reprogramming your pronouns, I’m having a hard time doing the emotional labor of taking care of you while you apologize. So let’s just be cool to each other.

And for those identifying as “attack helicopters,” or “gorillas,” know that all you’re doing is bullying those of us for whom this is an actual thing. You’re not George Carlin. You’re not a revolutionary championing the rights of those who need your help.

You’re Ricky Gervais. You’re a hack. A high-school bully gleefully raking in applause from those who just want to know that somebody — anybody — is beneath them. Your only comfort is in knowing that somebody is below you. And you can do better.

And for everybody else, thank you for listening and trying. Let’s all train our brains and grow out of our programming together.

For Sofa Justice Warrors, I’m Joe. Thank you, everybody. Goodnight.

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