Getting Gauche about Gender

Gender is confusing.

I grew up with the gender binary; there were men and there were women.  Pretty easy.

Then I got involved in the bdsm community.  People there mostly fell into the binary as well.  Over the years though, our community has grown and become much more diverse.  With that diversity, we’ve gained people all over the gender and sexuality spectra.  Queer, trans, asexual, and genderfluid all became fairly common flavors.  With that came a lot of confusion over how to address people.  Do you use masculine or feminine pronouns?  Or do you just try to avoid pronouns altogether?  It was, and is, a learning process.

Most people are pretty mellow if you simply ask them how they want to be addressed.  Often they’re appreciative that you’re asking rather than assuming.  When people incorrectly assume how someone identifies, some gently correct them and others flip out.  Obviously gender is important.  It’s an integral part of who we are, so it’s not surprising that people can be passionate about it.  At the same time, how far is too far?  Does being in a minority group give one the right to toss aside all decorum in responding to someone’s mistake?

A while back, there was a local workshop on orgasms.  Someone occasionally interrupted with comments like “some women have prostates” and other remarks that were intended to make the presenter more aware of the language she was using to describe people.  The presenter was referring to those with vaginas as women and those with penii as men.  She also added a disclaimer that she would be doing this simply because it was what she was used to, and that everyone should translate her words into whatever terms they preferred.  A handful of people were offended by her not constantly saying “people with penises” and “people with vaginas”;  instead, she used “men” and “women”, which a couple people found offensive.    The frequent interruptions flustered the presenter and threw her off of her rhythm.

They kept talking about this online for a couple weeks after the workshop.  Someone was even offended by the terms “people with penises” and “people with vaginas”.  How can you have a demo on orgasms without ever using any words to refer to someone’s gender or genitalia?  You need to be able to talk about the parts you’re dealing with in some way.

It makes sense that some people would be angry or frustrated to a certain extent when people address them in a way they’re not comfortable with.  As someone there said, it’s about making everyone comfortable.  But if this is really true, what about all the people who are afraid to speak because they’re worried someone will tear their heads off for daring to use a pronoun or a common word like “woman”?  If someone wants to make conversation but chooses to remain silent for fear of being publicly reprimanded, is that person comfortable?  I’m definitely not advocating a “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” approach; what I’m saying is that we all need to be not so quick to unsheathe our tempers.

There should be a balance between making everyone (regardless of how they present or identify) comfortable and making sure people aren’t afraid to talk, ask questions,  or be social.  No one should have to bend over backwards to make either of these things happen.  This isn’t something that can be effectively mandated via group rules.  Instead, it has to be an individual effort by everyone involved.

4 Responses to “Getting Gauche about Gender”

  1. Ferns Says:

    I hate to admit that I have become one of ‘the older generation’ with respect to this.

    When I was a young feminist, I used to rail against ‘the older generation’ who seemingly refused to use gender neutral language and couldn’t see that it was offensive. I found it infuriating, lots of arguments, lots of anger etc.

    Now, I am one of ‘them’ with regard to all of the current issues of talking about gender.

    Tell me what you want to be called, and I’ll do my very best to use it. Make it difficult for me to talk to you because you find everything offensive, and I will just stop talking to you.

    And with a group of people, I’m going to use language I’m familiar with, caveat it, and you can deal because there is *nothing* that is going to make everyone happy.

    By the time it’s all sorted and there is some kind of widespread agreement, I will be sitting in the old people’s home cackling to myself and calling everyone ‘lovey’.


  2. Peroxide Says:

    I’m glad someone is saying this. I live and interact with people for whom gender is still very much a binary state, and while I try to maintain an awareness of non-cis people, I worry that I’m going to fuck up and get my head bitten off because I’m not used to thinking this way.

  3. pureliquidkink Says:

    “Make it difficult for me to talk to you because you find everything offensive, and I will just stop talking to you.”
    That’s what I’ve been doing with a few people who are seemingly offended by everything anyone says. I’m not going to jump through a bunch of hoops for people who flip out over everything.

    I worry about that too sometimes. You’d think people who insist on a high degree of political correctness would be a bit more genteel in their responses to people who don’t talk in a way they’re comfortable with.

  4. Mykey Says:

    I Think some people simply have their heads too far up their gender neutral asses and have lost a sense of proportion. reminds me of the British middle classes, living in a country with no war, no starvation, no dangerous weather, no animal predators, not even really hot or cold days, you have have ended up with a group of people who often get silly about the smallest issue, because It’s the largest issue they’ve ever known!

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