A pronouns poem

Jill Smith, she/her/hers
it says on her email signature
or her Zoom caption, huge in white on black
when her video is off, showing nothing of her
or the badge she wore when we met in person in another world.
“We invite you to state your pronouns,” they say,
showing how woke their allyship is.
“He/him” says Joe, “she/her” says Sheila,
and I am terrified.
“He/him”, I say, hating the betrayal.
Right now I can’t say “she/her”, because
I remember my father’s reaction,
my sister’s reaction,
or the moment she said “You know, I think he’s telling the truth!”
and I felt myself disappearing as I sat there
and they talked about me
then talked of something else.
Forgive me.
The hate looms larger than your acceptance.

So now I say my pronouns are obvious from my name
like a Free Speech, No Identity Politics, Fox News guest,
except I don’t.
They mean well and I am not going to be rude to them
though I hate my gratitude.
“She/her,” I say.
I like when straights say “he/they,”
it means man, but not too bothered about gender.
But “she/they” is too frightening.
“So you admit you’re not a woman” shout the accusers
pointing their fingers
and I collapse in misery
though they are only in my head.

“She/they/he/it,” I say.
You choose the pronouns.
If you choose “it” I know where you’re coming from.
My pronouns are “We/our/ours”.
If you talk about me
talk about something we share.
Talk about us.

21 thoughts on “A pronouns poem

      • Provided it’s “they is” for 3rd person singular and “they are” for third person plural. I find it difficult to identify from context when the 2nd person “you” is singular or plural. Adding another pronoun with the same problem is a step too far for me 🙂

        If we’re inventing a new pronoun use, can we continue to conjugate the verb according to whether the subject is singular or plural.

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        • Most people say “They are”. I tried “they is” and was told off for it(!) I like “youse” which I associate with Glasgow, and “Y’all” which I associate with the Southern states of the USA, though I don’t get the relation between “y’all” and “all y’all”. Possibly “they all” as the plural will catch on.

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        • Sadly, the second person distinction between singular and plural has been lost over time. Long ago, thou was the singular subjective form and he was the plural subjective form. The objective forms were thee and you. Some time since the King James Bible was translated, these forms went out of common use. Folks in the Southern USA still make the plural distinction, y’all, as others here have noted.

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          • Welcome, Abby. Thank you for commenting.

            The French have started tutoyer more, being more informal. They did not used to be: probably around 1970 my French teacher was surprised by children addressing their parents with “vous”. English moved to use the formal for everyone. Odd that the KJV calls God “Thou”, the informal version.

            Quakers record this story from 1659:

            A knot of my old acquaintance [at Oxford], espying me, came to me. One of these was a scholar in his gown, another a surgeon of that city… When they were come up to me, they all saluted me, after the usual manner, putting off their hats and bowing, and saying, ‘Your humble Servant, Sir’, expecting no doubt the same from me. But when they saw me stand still, not moving my cap, nor bowing my knee, in way of congee to them, they were amazed, and looked first one upon another, then upon me, and then one upon another again for a while, without a word speaking. At length, the surgeon … clapping his hand in a familiar way upon my shoulder and smiling on me said, ‘What, Tom, a Quaker!’ To which I readily, and cheerfully answered, ‘Yes, a Quaker.’ And as the words passed out of my mouth I felt joy spring in my heart, for I rejoiced that I had not been drawn out by them into a compliance with them, and that I had strength and boldness given me to confess myself to be one of that despised people.

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      • Personally, I don’t like being referred to as “they”. Although it is much preferable to “he” for me, it feels less than inclusive – as if I couldn’t be a she, so I must be put into an “other” category. I’d be willing to bet that most cis women would feel put off by it, albeit for a slightly different reason. I joke that my preferred pronouns are Me, Myself, and I, which means that I am the only person who gets to decide how I should be identified. I think that I project a decidedly-feminine self-identity, so that “she/her” would be the obvious choice of pronouns. Only those who might want to deny my self-identity as being legitimate would use masculine pronouns for me. In fact, I seriously doubt that people like that would ever willingly use gender-less pronouns, either. Using “they” in the effort to move away from gendered pronouns is just too difficult a sell – beyond the verb conjugation problems.

        Could the “Royal We” be altered and used, instead of “they”? At least it has the sound of inclusiveness to it. 😉

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        • The criticism I hate most is that I am “masculine”, as if having transitioned it is no longer acceptable for me to show certain feelings. I feel more constrained than cis women. If I went for “they” it would be to be allowed those feelings. But if people judge me, language won’t stop them. I feel using “she” shows respect.

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    • We should each do what seems fitting to us.

      To me, giving “she/her” pronouns for a cis woman is an indication of allyship. Pronouns should not be guessed. It is more allyship for nonbinary people than for binary trans- my name is Abigail, my presentation is usually unambiguous, I might equally say my pronouns should be obvious, like a Sunday Times writer would. And there’s the point that if someone has not transitioned yet asking them to state their pronouns forces them either to come out or to lie.

      And yet it’s a nice simple indication of allyship. So I am in favour of cis people stating their pronouns.

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      • I think, out of courtesy, we should all try to use the pronouns that the other person prefer. When it is not apparent, especially when the presentation is ambiguous, “they” might be the default. The person can then use the opportunity to state their preferred pronouns. They should not be offended, or feel put-out, for having to do so. However, since referring to a person, in their presence, with any pronoun is just bad manners, courtesy is not really a consideration, anyway. How someone may refer to us in our absence is out of our control, and we can only hope that an ally would make our case for us.

        It’s been quite some time since I’ve had to correct someone on my pronouns. I used to simply say something like: Please call me Connie. Similarly, the last time I was called “Sir” (even worse than a misuse of pronouns), I told the offender: “Why stand on formality; you may call me Connie.”

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          • It’s really not always that simple. Connie. I accidentally said at a zoom Meeting which I think Clare attended: ‘ before we go, I’d just like to ask F.. if she (instead of they)..’ and we we’re both mortified, had been meeting awhile & l am very much a trans ally. I am glad to say that they accepted my over and repeated apologies, and that we both still attended that group, though we both missed the next one. I also, more grievously, in my opinion, was once on the phone to my daughter when the doorbell went and said to the delivery person: ‘just leave it outside the flat door and I will pick it up when I have finished talking to my son’ and she was so distressed that she put the phone down on me. I didn’t even realise what I had done and thought she was having phone issues when she didn’t pick-up when I redialled until she texted me later. She has also forgiven me I am glad to say.

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            • Actually, it could be made to be more simple by rephrasing. If you had a question for F…, you could have directed it toward the person who is in the room (or in the zoom) with you: “F…, I would like to ask YOU …. When it comes to family members, I give much more leeway. I had been married for forty years when I began transitioning, and my daughters were into their thirties. What I had been preparing for all of my life, they were just jolted into trying to adjust to. While it took each of them different amounts of effort and time to, first, acknowledge, then accept, the change, there are still slip-ups from time to time. This is especially true when a subject from the past is discussed. I was “he” back then, after all. There are many things that I did as “he” that “she” would not have done. Even I can only see “him” in my mind’s eye when thinking of some things I did in the past. I imagine that I would have the same difficulty, had one of my daughters told me they now wanted to be considered to be my son. As long as the relationships remain loving, though, gentle correcting and simple, sincere apologies should be all that is necessary.

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          • I would rather not have to attach any pronouns to my name. I assume that the other person would accept my name as being feminine (a man named Conrad, and who goes by the nickname, Connie, might have more reason than I to state his pronouns). I think that there are many people who would consider a pronoun declaration to be pretentious (which may, in turn, cause them to be more contentious). If I wanted to possibly sound pretentious, I could sign my name “Ms Connie” – or, even “Her Royal Highness, Connie. 🙂

            It is in my personality to be a bit enigmatic. I’ve often said: “Leave ’em laughing or, at least, leave ’em guessing.” I can correct someone who mis-genders me, if I feel it’s worth my time and energy to do so. If not, I can simply leave ’em, period.

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  1. I agree that I would have been better addressing F personally, but was trying to ask the group leader not to close the session before I felt we had closed the subject… and with my daughter, we had perhaps just been discussing her younger days. I will endeavour to forgive myself.

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      • Had you not, already, stated that it was your daughter of whom you had accidentally said (to a stranger) was your son, I would have had to conclude that your child might be non-binary. This is where the whole thing about pronouns and identity gets so confusing to me. If I referred to one of my daughters as “my child,” I’d probably be reprimanded for calling her, a forty-something-year-old woman, a child. I, normally, refer to my wife as my spouse, and then I usually get the assumed determined gender for her to be male, or my husband. I refer to her as my wife in a forum like this because it fits my narrative, but I suppose, had I not just said “her” in this sentence, it would still not be totally clear what pronouns would be appropriate, should one want to respond. I know of same-sex marriages where the preferred spousal designations could be wife/husband, wife/wife, husband/wife, or husband/husband. I would not be comfortable having to introduce my wife as “my cis gender wife, who is not a lesbian, and who prefers she/her/hers pronouns” just because I am a transgender woman.She would not appreciate it, either. You’re correct that it is not so simple, but it seems we can make it more complicated than it needs to be.

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  2. Indeed. My daughter is 30 and prefers to think of herself as a woman, rather than a transwoman, though JKR etc. are not helping there! Like Clare she chose a name that is not misconstruable as being male & is also a family name and she gets to keep her initials too! I think Connie is a fine name also. My daughter feminised her second name by chopping off the end of Laurence, but it keeps my intent of hoping her life would be a peaceful one, which it hasn’t been in recent years, but things once Covid is over, should return to being on the up!

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    • Damn that JKR, and the Nimbus she flew in on! I wish your daughter peace, with the full knowledge that, pronouns aside, there’s no simple solution to living a trans life. One of the things that brought some peace to my life was coming to the realization that I owe no one an explanation for who I am. I am the only one who is allowed to define myself, and I reject those who would define me – especially when unsolicited, Not everyone will accept that, nor will I be liked by everyone. I spent most of my life trying to appear as the masculine guy that was expected of me, and not everyone bought into that, either. At least I’m a more happy person, and I would rather people reacted to only that. I can even be quite delightful, at times, and I believe I’m seen as a woman by being so, more than by stating my preferred pronouns as a preface.

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