a blog by J.M. Cottle
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How to refer to me: a guide to my pronouns and other gendered language

Hello, friends! Today I want to answer your questions about what words to use when you talk about me. In the past year I have relaxed considerably when it comes to gendered language, but I haven’t discussed it much, so people have been asking me what I like to be called.

The answer is, generally, I don’t care anymore. Call me whatever you want. But, never fear; I can still offer you a hierarchy of preferences if you aren’t comfortable with that level of vagueness.

Pronouns

A while ago I asked everyone to use “they” as my pronoun. It wasn’t because I liked it when people called me “they”, though; I just disliked “she” and “he” a lot more.

Today, I don’t care. You should use whatever pronoun you think fits me best. Any one of them sounds fine. “He” sounds a little odd, of course, because it’s used to refer to me so rarely, but it doesn’t actually sound wrong. It feels rather the way a new nickname feels the first time I hear it – no one’s ever used it before, yet I still know they’re talking about me.

If you aren’t comfortable deciding for yourself, I can give you a guideline: use “they”, but if that sounds awkward, use “she”. People have told me that that “they” sometimes sounds weird when used in everyday offline life, and I have so little emotional investment in my pronoun that I don’t wish to inconvenience anyone over it.

My name

Hi, my name is Jillian. You can call me Jillian. Or whatever – I answer to Julian, Julia, Jill, Jillybean, Jillybear, Jilly Cheesecake, Jilly Cheesesteak (I like these two because I’m vegan and it’s ironic), Sea (my longtime internet moniker), Mister Ten Below (on Tumblr), and many other names. Whatever you would like to call me is okay. Especially if you come up with something clever using the Jilly- prefix.

Relationships

For many types of relationships there are gendered terms, and occasionally there are non-gendered alternatives. My guideline is that I prefer the non-gendered alternative, unless it sounds awkward, in which case use the feminine term.

I am my parents’ child, but I would rather be their daughter than their son. I am a sibling, but I would rather be a sister than a brother. I am a niece rather than a nephew, and isn’t it fortunate that cousin isn’t gendered? I am also a partner, not a girlfriend or boyfriend, and it is always safe to call me friend.

Titles

At this point it isn’t likely that I’ll ever become a Dr., so I am left with gendered choices: Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss. There’s also the gender-neutral Mx., pronounced “mix”, which I like very much, but it’s not often found in a drop-down menu. I always leave the title blank if possible, and I’d prefer it if you did, too, but if it’s not possible, I choose Ms. over the others. I like Mr., but I only feel comfortable using it if I’m just having fun.

Groups

I still think it’s best to use gender-neutral words when referring to groups of people, but I no longer feel alienated or insulted when I’m included in a group of “ladies” or “girls” or “guys”. I am sometimes a gentleman and sometimes a lady, and sometimes I feel like a girl and sometimes I feel like a guy, but it’s safest to avoid talking about groups of people in gendered terms, for other people’s sake. Not everyone is as apathetic as I am.

And here’s my reasoning

The general trend, as you can see, is that gender-neutral is best, but if it comes down to a choice between masculine and feminine, go with feminine. My reason for this is that my presentation is more masculine than feminine, and I think it’s kind of rebellious to have a masculine presentation while being called feminine things.

I wish there were common, non-awkward gender-neutral words for everything, because I would prefer them without question, but there aren’t. Until there are, I could choose the masculine, since my clothes and haircut are usually read as such. The masculine is seen as being androgynous – the default – while the feminine is not. Many of the gender-neutral and genderqueer people I know would rather use masculine language than feminine, because masculine language feels more neutral and more powerful. That’s no accident. That would be the patriarchy. Choosing feminine language as my default when there are no gender-neutral words available is a small rude gesture in the patriarchy’s general direction.

As a side note, I’m not saying that the only reason gender-neutral and genderqueer people would ever choose to use masculine language for themselves is because of the patriarchy. For example, people who were assigned female often find it liberating to hear masculine language after a lifetime of incorrect feminine language, and people who were assigned male might find it easier to use masculine language since that’s what they’re used to. No one is obligated to make their entire lives a rude gesture to the patriarchy. Whatever language makes you feel comfortable is the language you should ask people to use for you.

And, finally, something to keep in mind

It’s sad that I have to say this, but, I do:

This post is only about me and the words I want people to use when talking about me. It’s not about what you should call other people who are not me. I am apathetic about gendered language, but most people are not. Whatever someone asks you to call them is what you must call them – yes, even if it feels awkward to you. It’s a question of basic respect and decency.

I hope that answers your questions! Let me know if I missed something.

2 Responses to How to refer to me: a guide to my pronouns and other gendered language

  1. You forgot Lord, Rev, Prof, Counsellor, and Hon. Citizen :)

    My personal preference is neutral. I’ve found the best way to make this happen is for people to avoid pronouns and gendered words altogether. Calling me “this one,” “the little one,” “that one over there,” (and lots of gesturing and nodding) is what my friends do, and it’s the least awkward. My partner never uses pronouns for me, she’s just gotten used to referring to me that way. Now if only “Spunky” would catch on…

  2. As coincidence would have it, the novel I wrote during the NaNo we met in San Fran has a genderless character. (Biologically genderless as a rare result of moonkind’s mutation. …Not a long story, but an involved one.) The pronouns that character goes with are “s/he” in place of he and she and “himmer” in place him, his, and her. If/when that novel gets published, maybe it’ll catch on. (:

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