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Pronoun Trouble (2004)

Pronoun Trouble (2004)

©2004, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2004, Spring). A word from the editor: Pronoun trouble. Transgender Tapestry, 105, p. 6.





Pronoun Trouble

By Dallas Denny


Several years ago I went with a friend to a rainy Pride celebration in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Afterwards, muddy and damp, our hair frizzed, we decided to get something to eat. My friend pulled her SUV into the parking lot of a high-dollar Mexican restaurant, where we were greeted by a parking valet. He said to my friend, a transsexual woman, “Good afternoon, sir.” A moment later, having taken a better look, he started over. “Good afternoon, ma’am.” Inside the restaurant, my friend sat steaming about the perceived insult. I said to her, more or less, “He just did what all human beings do— when he saw you, he made an immediate gender attribution. Then, when he looked more closely, he changed the pronoun. Maybe he thought his initial impression had been mistaken. Maybe he clocked you and was courteous enough to call you ma’am. In either case, how did he give offense?” She wasn’t able to tell me. Having occasionally misused pronouns myself, sometimes with trans-people and sometimes with non-transgendered folk, I know that despite our best intentions, our tongues occasionally slip. So long as our hearts are pure, I don’t believe we should be overly harsh with ourselves over infrequent and unintentional pronoun boo-boos. Part of the price we pay for being human is a less-than-perfect connection between our brain and our larynx. Pronouns are powerful. Speaking from experience, I know they can feel like little barbed arrows when they misidentify me. However, I that most pronoun misattributions are done innocently. We should get mad when pronouns are misused deliberately, but there’s no reason to get angry when people happen to make an unfortunate guess. They are, after all, merely reacting to what they see.