The Dreaded Question

by Mioi Hanaoka | August 30, 2013

The Dreaded question: What is your preferred gender pronoun?

I remember the very first time I was asked what my preferred gender pronoun was. A group of us who identified as either genderqueer or trans were sitting in a circle and went around “checking in” before we began our self-defense class. The truth was, I had only recently started entertaining the notion that I was “genderqueer.”

“Um, I guess ‘they’?” was my response to the question. I only had a couple minutes to decide what my preferred gender pronoun was. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they preferred except me.

I thought I had a good grasp of my gender identity. I decided that I was “non-gendered.” A friend of mine then helped me realize that the genderqueer spectrum included folks like me, so I started identifying as “genderqueer.” But as for my preferred gender pronoun? I hadn’t thought about it.

The next self-defense class session came along, and I decided to speak up about how I felt. “Um, I guess I prefer no pronoun. In fact, we should just do away with pronouns… or just Mioi,” I said nervously, not knowing how the other GQ/trans folks would react.
Interestingly, the only gendered pronouns in the English language are third-person pronouns, and for an English sentence to be syntactically correct, a name or pronoun is required when referring to someone. Why is it that the only singular gender-neutral pronouns are first- and second-person pronouns?

Contrarily, some Asian languages, for example Japanese, do not have gendered third-person pronouns. Furthermore, pronouns are frequently omitted, as they aren’t required.

Interestingly, Japanese has gendered, as well as gender-neutral first-person pronouns, allowing someone to casually indicate their gender identity (as opposed to having to declare it in a check-in circle in front of everybody).

If it was up to me, I’d say we should get rid of third-person pronouns from the English language altogether. It is a vehicle for discrimination and perpetuates heteronormativity. As for “they/their/them,” this is probably the best solution for now since it is quite challenging to change the rules of English grammar.

I’m still grappling with my own preferred gender pronoun, but for now, I’d probably say, “anything but ‘he/his/him,’ okay thanks.”