Dispatches from AALL: Chicago – On Gender

AALL Chicago: On gender

by Brian Flaherty

Welcome to Chicago & AALL – if only by remote. I want to include here a few dispatches from AALL, if only to be expanded on at home.
I wanted to start by commending the SR-SIS, and specifically the committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues, for offering “Pronoun choice” ribbons in the exhibit hall. These are the lime-green ribbons dangling from our nametags that read “My pronouns are” – and then different options: he/him, she/her, they/them, and an ribbon with a blank, with an available sharpie to write in the pronoun of your choice. Bravo.
A quick digression into why this is important, and why I think it’s important for cisgendered folks like me (cisgender: a person whose gender presentation and identity match their biological sex) to wear them. We live in a world that that tries to enforce gender norms – tries to assign us a gender – at every turn. From honorifics to pronouns, to the way we’re treated at the grocery store, to the way we’re greeted at a conference. For someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about gender, this “gendering” of the world blends into the quotidian – it’s just the way things are. But for folks who think about gender a lot, for example, folks whose gender presentation doesn’t correspond to their sex-assigned-at-birth, this constant mis-gendering is a relentless reinforcement of the idea that they don’t fit in.
Using someone’s chosen pronoun may seem like a small part of changing the world but there’s that maxim about the thousand mile journey beginning with the single step? There’s also something somewhere about the first step being the hardest but most important (if only I had a librarian nearby to help me look it up… oh, wait…). One day perhaps, the phrase “do you have a preferred pronoun?” will be as common as “what was your name again?” (a phrase increasingly common as I age). Until then, however, explicitly allowing people to claim a pronoun is a great stop.
My gender presentation matches my biological sex (I am cisgender), and the pronouns I use are he/his/him. Moreover, by my presentation in the world, I don’t anticipate being mis-gendered by pronoun or otherwise. Still, I wear this ribbon proudly (and to be very clear: I’m encouraging all of you to stroll on over to the SR-SIS folks and ask for a ribbon) to reinforce the notion that sex-assigned-at-birth and gender presentation don’t always match. And while we were all a bit young to have a say in how we were called that first day, we all should have a say in what we are called today.

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