I've been asked if I'm a boy or a girl more times than I remember
When Alana Smith, who competed in the women’s street skateboarding event for Team USA at the Olympics last week, was referred to as ‘she’ by NBC and BBC commentators a number of people took to Twitter to complain that Smith had been ‘misgendered’. Smith identifies as non-binary and goes by the ‘they/them’ pronouns, and had painted them on the side of her skateboard. But Smith was a competitor in the women’s event. Perhaps the IOC should have given training to commentators, as has the BBC to its broadcast staff, on pronoun use?
The ever-increasing pressure to add pronouns (he/him; she/her; they/them; zir/zer) is as offensive as it is unnecessary.
I grew up being labelled a ‘tomboy’ because I hated feminine frippery such as skirts, tights and ribbons in my hair. I didn’t understand why girls were supposed to dress differently from boys. I would try my very best to inveigle my way into the boys’ rough and tumble games. As a result of my non-compliance with gender rules, I was constantly asked whether I was “a boy or a girl”.
Having grown noticeable breasts by the time I was 12 and being regularly sexually harassed as a result of it, it was clear that men well knew the answer to that question.
In adulthood, many of the same prejudices follow me around. Lesbians routinely experience harassment because we are not considered to be “real women”. Our ‘authenticity’ as women is often measured by superficial sexist indicators. A key role of feminism is to rid the world of gender stereotypes. I therefore refuse to use terminology that capitulates to the notion of individual gender identities. There are two sexes, male and female, and although I do not care in the slightest who might refer to themselves as non-binary or transgender or whatever, I will not have it imposed upon me. It would be like demanding that I believe in God.
I realise now that any time I have been asked which sex I am, often in an aggressive manner by men in gangs, the question is never genuine — rather, it is a form of hostile interrogation. How dare I shun make-up and heels? Why do I wear jeans and never dresses? I have broken the rules.
Despite decades of feminism, women have not yet achieved the right to be able to do away with sexist prefixes such as “ladies”, “Mrs” or “Miss”. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve witnessed ignorant individuals who have asked “who is the man?” when referring to lesbian couples. And yet much of the focus in the workplace about non-discriminatory language is the appeasement of those that pretend sex is a floating signifier.
To me, the creeping use of ‘preferred pronouns’ is ultimately a form of sexist bullying. My advice to anyone being asked to include pronouns in email sign-offs, meetings or wherever, is to politely refuse. The more of us that refuse to go along with this offensive doctrine, the better.