By: Dani Langevi – April, 2016
I was at a wedding shower the other day sitting with several family members. The evening before when I couldn’t sleep I realized that all four nieces on my side of the family have degrees in some form of social work. At the table, was one of those nieces who is a high school guidance counselor. I asked her how work was and after filling me in a bit began to tell me about a freshman “girl” who had recently came out of the closet, considers “herself” sexually fluid, and has asked to be referred to as “they” rather than her, she, he, or him. They don’t identify themselves with a pronoun that conjures images or thoughts of male and/or female, nor do they identify their sexual inclinations because they see themselves as one who is attracted to the person and not the biological sex, which is known as being pansexual.
I consider myself fairly liberal and progressively minded. In fact, according to one of those ridiculous FaceBook tests you can take at three o’clock in the morning when you can’t sleep, I am 21% conservative and 79% liberal. Even so, I was having trouble wrapping that 79% of my lesbian liberal brain around being referred to as they and the term pansexual. So, I looked it up on the Internet, as we all do these days when we have questions. The definition of pansexual is: not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. In essence, it is another or new term for bisexual. With that being said, however, apparently, pansexuals get their panties or boxer briefs in a bunch if you refer to them as bisexual. But isn’t that what they are? If one can be attracted to the same AND opposite sex then that is bisexual. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe with that statement, I just bumped myself up to being 22% conservative. I can deal with the pansexual/bisexual terminology. It’s the fluidity of pronouns that I’m having difficulty with.
The English language is already a poop show. It’s not easy to learn; it’s not easy to teach; it’s not easy to speak. There are so many words that become confusing to even the highest level of thinkers. Case in point: what do I mean when I say revolution? It all depends on whether you are sitting in a science or history class. Good thing history isn’t important in public schools. Students will only need to learn that revolution is moving in a circular course. How about the words through, bough, and rough? They all end in the same four letters, but are pronounced differently. Then it comes the this family: their, they’re, and there. These are already a struggle for most students and many adults, now we have to attach individual sensitivities to them? It’s enough to make an English professor’s head explode.
I’m ranting, as I like to do, however, I am also struggling because I’m trying to be the open minded liberal that I pride myself to be, but some times the rapid pace of change and what it means to be sexual human beings is just too fast to keep up with. I’m having a mini-nightmare because I fear that, at some point, people will evolve into always referring to themselves in the third person; a practice that I hate.
“Dani is having a difficult time with referring to a single individual as they,” said Dani. “Dani also does not see the difference between being pansexual and bisexual. Can Harry explain to Dani how they are different?” asked Dani of Harry.
Returning to my niece’s high school freshman, I asked how they dress. I was curious to know if they leaned toward a more traditionally masculine or feminine wardrobe. In my mind, I assumed they leaned toward a more masculine. I was informed that they wear baggy clothes to hide any hint of a biological sexual identity. Interesting. I’m going to assume that most people will, in turn, assume when this person is out in public that they are of masculine persuasion and will refer to them as sir or young man. I’m curious how they will react. Will they be inclined to educate the person who is making and assumptive infraction of how this person identifies? Will their reaction hinge upon what strength they have on any given day to face a justifiable ignorance and uneducated insensitivity? Part of me really wants to find out who they are and shadow them for a week or two to see what their life is like and how they react to other’s reactions to them.
Regarding pronouns, my niece who is also a progressive liberal asked her three year old daughter what pronoun she would prefer to be addressed as. My very precocious grand niece looked at her mother quite seriously and said, “Cow.” Funny, but, I’m curious to know if, at some point, someone will identify themselves as feeling more like a particular animal than a human and asked to be referred to as such.
I think the young student my niece is helping and those who have like feelings must some times feel very lonely and frightened. On the other hand, they are also incredibly brave. While I am uncertain about the fluid use of pronouns and confused about new sexual terminology, I do hope they have the support they need to etch their place in society. They, too, deserve the right find happiness and love so that they can focus on being the person they were meant to be and the contributing citizen they have the right to be. Bottom line: I may not “get it”, but I can respect it and value them all as people.