It’s been an interesting week. Interesting in the manner of frustrating and somewhat scary. In the “Frustrating” column is the death of the not-quite-five-year-old refrigerator. The fridge belongs to the landlord, so at least the expenses are his. However, dealing with the fall out is on us. In the “Somewhat scary” column is the tornado warning that sounded last night and the winds that blew so hard I could feel the back wall vibrating. Yeah, I was raised in earthquake country, not tornado country. This will take some getting used to.
All that aside, I’ve also been mulling over the idea of people claiming to be nonbinary, or gender neutral. It has become quite trendy among college students trying to fit in to declare themselves to be gender-neutral or non-binary. This allows them to be “different” (I have a whole post coming on conforming individualism) while avoiding more drastic measures like hormone treatments or worse.
I know of a couple of female college students who are currently dating males who have announced their non-binary status and wish others to use the pronouns “they” and “their” when talking about said individuals. One of these female college students very earnestly explained to me that her partner (she was meticulous in her use of the word “partner”) was non-binary that’s why she was using “they”. Bear in mind the partner was several hundred miles away and had no way of knowing what pronouns I might use to describe him…sorry, them. Additionally, it should be noted that each of these couples are, in fact, heterosexual. I also find it interesting that it is the males who have declared their non-binary status, not the females.
Two things about all this silliness have been floating around in my mind for a while now.
First – if you declare yourself to be non-binary, you have just created a binary set up. You, and others who might think like you, are non-binary. Thus, from your point of view, those who do not declare themselves to be non-binary, are by definition, binary. A binary structure has been created… by you, the non-binary individual. Quite a conundrum. I’m debating whether I should present this the next time somebody declares their non-binary nature to me. Hmmm.
The second thing floating around in my head (it’s a very floaty place in there) touches on the use of “they/them” pronouns by these non-binary individuals. For whatever reason it has been decided that if one doesn’t want to use the masculine or feminine pronouns, one uses third person plural pronouns of they/them. This leads me to wonder if non-binary folks are also schizophrenic. Does declaring oneself to be a “they/them” simultaneously create at least one more personality, thus necessitating the use of third person singular identifiers?
Really though, if an object or person is not identified as feminine or masculine, it is identified as neuter, or “it”, the pronoun indicating a genderless object or individual. Just look at how verbs are conjugated (bet you never thought all that sentence structure homework would come in handy someday, did you?) Verbs are conjugated based on I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they. He/she/it is third person singular, while “They” is third person (group not including you) plural – thus my previous question regarding schizophrenia… or is there a form of detached schizophrenia – those people over there who are me and yet not me?
Therefore, to be grammatically correct (yeah, yeah, I recognize the futility of that), an individual declaring themselves to be non-binary, gender neutral, should be asking friends to use “it” when talking about it in the third person singular.
The German language is very useful for this as it is one of the few to recognize nouns as being feminine, masculine, or neuter (die, der, das). Therefore, if you wish to be gender neutral you will need to now go by das – das Partner (yes, the word is the same in German). Partner is a masculine noun in German, but you now wish to be neuter.
Alternatively, a friend suggested using “he/she/it” as one option for English speakers. “Hey, have you seen Joe?” “Yeah, hesheit is over there.” Hmmm… that might work. I like the hesheit combination as it allows me to indulge the inner 12-year old boy’s sense of humor I carry around with me.
The word “neuter” also makes me think of “neutered”, a word normally used to describe something that has been rendered useless in its primary function. A neutered male pet is no longer able to impregnate females of its species. So if one declares one’s self to be gender-neutral, then have you neutered yourself? Declared your primary gender function to be useless? Historically, castrated or neutered human males were seen as less than fully male (they didn’t have the concept of “toxic masculinity” back then). Their voices didn’t deepen and they were unable to perform their primary gender purpose of impregnating human females. Yes, castrati were valued for their singing abilities, but the neutering was done when they were pre-pubescent and unable to consent; they were still viewed as males however. Females are not said to be neutered, but rather barren, to use the older term, if they are unable to have children, but they are still viewed as females. Getting confused yet? I know I am.
Okay. I’m backing away from the deep rabbit hole this is becoming. The entire binary/non-binary, gender/gender-neutral kerfuffle is just that – a silly kerfuffle. It feels like a Monty Python sketch when you start trying to follow it – “And now for something completely different… a non-binary individual creating a binary structure in which to be inclusive and non-binary!”
Oh, well. I do not have a functional refrigerator, but it’s Friday and there’s no tornados.