I’m seriously not sure if this is an Onion article or a legitimate piece from the Toronto Star. It’s entitled “The realm between he and she.”
Canadian singer-songwriter Rae Spoon identifies not as a woman, not as a man, but somewhere in between.
To Spoon, and what appears to be an increasingly vocal minority, gender is “more like a whole galaxy.”
Which introduces the problem of pronouns. Spoon says “he” has expectations of maleness, “she” of femaleness. So Spoon, 32, likes to be referred to as “they.” Others prefer “ze” and “hir” (pronounced hear) or “per” (short for person)
Australia and New Zealand now allow citizens to be neither male nor female on their passports. Canada and the U.K. are considering a similar move.
“This might be new for many of us,” concedes Sheila Cavanagh, sexuality studies program co-ordinator at York University, “but there is a reluctance to recognize a whole host of ways of being gendered that isn’t determined by our bodies. We have to challenge our presumptions that to be a man is to necessarily be masculine and to be a woman is to necessarily be feminine.”
Use of language can be fluid for some gender-variant people. Ivan Coyote, a writer who sometimes works with Spoon, likes to use “they,” but when performing in schools also uses she in self-reference. “I have a fairly masculine presence, so in schools I use “she” because I want to present as wide a spectrum as possible of what a female-assigned person or she person can look like.””
How does Coyote want to be referred for this story? “An artist. Author of 10 books. An activist with youth. A human being. A musician. I’m so many more things than my gender and so much more than someone who doesn’t fit into a gender box.”
For a while S. Bear Bergman, a writer, educator and storyteller, campaigned for “gender non-specific” pronouns, including ze and hir. Hir could be especially useful, Bergman argues, in applications to avoid awkward constructs such as “when the applicant has completed his/her portfolio . . . ” Why not make it simpler: “hir” portfolio.
But these words haven’t caught on because a marginalized group, “trans and gender-queer people,” are advocating for them, says Bergman. “There’s a part of me that hates the fact that they and them appear to be the words that are going to win and have cultural uptake.”
As for hir, people don’t know how to pronounce it. “I know new things are difficult and require people to stretch themselves, but just because we feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”
Sometimes the grease on the slippery slope speeds you up when you’re about to hit the bottom of the hill.