The insufficiency of he or she
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 22:09
Have you ever heard someone referred to as “ze” before? Well, at George Washington University, it is gaining traction.
Nicholas Gumas, president of Allied in Pride, GW’s largest LGBTQ organization, has made it a priority to ask students for their preferred gender pronoun (PGP) and he’s hoping others will join the movement.
A Sept. 5 Washington Post article details this recent development and potential change in culture. What is happening at GW is further support for what has been argued for some time now: the binary gender system just doesn’t work for everyone.
“Western culture is deeply committed to the idea that there are only two sexes,” wrote Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor at Brown University, in The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough. “Even language refuses other possibilities.”
Some are trying to move beyond linguistic limitations.
Ze, hir, hirs or the plural pronoun “they” are what some individuals feel more comfortable with. But it is not as easy for this preference to be recognized or practiced by others. Some aren’t familiar with them; they haven’t heard the pronouns before. Others just don’t like it.
While mainstream culture has been increasingly more accepting of varying sexual orientations, the struggle for those with varying gender identities has not seen as much progress. We think it should.
An intense confusion was propelled when Bradley Manning, recently convicted for her role in WikiLeaks, asked to start being referred to as Chelsea – and the according female gender pronouns. News outlets were initially unsure what to call her and the general public has yet to catch on. We have heard many people still calling her “him.”
What was most troubling about Manning’s announcement was the response. For those not familiar with his past, it seemed like a bizarre turn of events. But the level of surprise amongst the general public is an indication that there isn’t enough awareness of how many people don’t feel like they fit into one category or gender assignment.
This is something that is real for many people.
The strides being taken at GW should be a sign to us, too. UB should begin asking students for their PGP. We should be responsible for people feeling comfortable with the gender expression of their choice.
And this shouldn’t be seen as a courtesy or formality, or being overly politically correct. This is a human issue and has to do with respecting the dignity of all forms of human life.
It is also about recognizing the variety in the world and realities of our time.
The Human Rights Campaign recently performed a survey of 10,000 LGBTQ youths from ages 13 to 17. The survey asked the participants to pick a gender. It gave them the options of male, female, transgender and leaving an open space to fill out any alternative.
Around 600 of the participants filled in responses other than male or female. That’s 6 percent. Some students, for example, articulated themselves as “gender neutral” or “gender fluid.”
People are beginning to develop a new understanding of gender. The age of the participants also demonstrates that this is something that is likely to expand in a world that is ever changing. Our university should begin to catch on now.
UB has already implemented gender-neutral dormitories, which is a very positive start. But there should also be more. More gender-neutral bathrooms. More options on college applications.
We also believe students should have their preference in the classroom. A good idea might be for professors to include PGP on questionnaires at the beginning of the semester.
For a state school designed to educate the public, we should embrace an attitude of inclusion and institute university-wide policies that reflect one.