On Pronouns, Mine

September 16, 2008  |  essays

I’ve had almost half a dozen people ask me in the past few weeks about my pronoun of choice, so here’s the deal.

When referring to me as Sinclair Sexsmith, I go by the masculine honorific – by Mr. Sexsmith. That, I do feel strongly about. Pronouns have generally then followed, so I am often referred to as “he” and “him.” That’s fine, and I think the masculine character that I have cultivated here as my alter-ego fits quite well with masculine pronouns. I didn’t expect it to happen and I didn’t quite plan it, and I don’t know if I ever would have asked for my friends or lovers to play with male pronouns in my personal life, and I very much like it, more than I thought I would.

But, female pronouns in referring to me as Sinclair are also totally fine. In fact, in some ways, I like that some people refer to me with male pronouns and some with female pronouns, because I firmly am occupying both spaces. In some ways I like the gender neutral pronoun options like ze and hir (pronounced “here”). The Gender Intelligence Agency introduced the pronouns pe (pronounced “pay” not “pee”) and per, short for person, which I quite like but which is proving incredibly awkward in speech. Maybe I’ll try to write a story with them in it sometime, just to try it out, get more used to it.

Problem with pe and per is that it doesn’t have a third possessive adjective version of the pronoun – the “his/her/its” version. I guess that would be per, again? To borrow wikipedia’s structure, it looks like:

Pe laughed.
I called per.
Per eyes gleamed.
That is pers.
Pe likes perself.

Yeah, I like the philosophy behind that. But looking at the fifteen different gender-neutral pronouns that wikipedia lists as potential options, I hesitate to think that we need more of them. I guess we keep making them because the others don’t quite work, yeah? I kinda wish there was more consensus, but some part of that has to come about organically, about what gets put into use in daily life for a significant piece of a community.

In my offline life, I do not go by male pronouns, at all. As things go on, that is becoming more strange, actually – my sister referred to me recently as her sister, and I thought, oh yeah, I’m a sister to someone. I’m a daughter. Someday I’ll be an aunt, a mother. I think lesbian dad is rubbing off on me that way, in that I don’t know if I’ll ever be “mama.”

I do go by sir, sometimes boy, and other masculine words like that in a sexualized context … but there really aren’t very many of those words for butch tops in bed. But that’s a slightly different post.

So yeah, did I make that clear? Either pronoun of the main two pronouns are fine, neither of them fit exactly – but please do use the masculine honorific (and thanks to jesse james for finding that word for me).

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10 Comments


  1. I hear plenty of proposals for neuter pronouns, but it seems to me like “they/their/theirs” is a perfectly workable solution (shakespeare did it…), especially based upon the lackluster reception of other options thus far.

    But yet, what about neuter honorifics? Perhaps this would be more productive and prove easier to insert into the culture; after all “Ms.” was a spectacular success for the feminist movement. Clearly, one could always just get some po-dunk doctorate from an online institution and go by “Dr.”, but this seems less than ideal. One might also simply try “M.” but that could be confused with an initial. Off the top of my head, just now i considered appropriating “Mount” as in “Mt. Genderhack”, although this carries some odd connotations…

    And what about a gender-neutral equivalent to the “ma’am/sir” formal address?

    [Agreed, I like they/their/theirs quite a lot in many situations, but I feel like it’s pretty awkward to use to refer to an individual person. I like “M.” as a neutural honorific … but the formal address? Good question. I got nothing, I’ll have to chew on it for a while. – ss]

  2. I don't know if it's the late hour or I'm just that blonde but …

    I am so confused.

    What do you LOVE to be called? We'll call you that. K?

    [Haha, that's not so clear is it! Sorry about that, I got all distracted talking about pe and per and gender neutrality and such. Let's go with male pronouns for me as "Sinclair" as my first choice, but if someone does refer to me as female pronouns, I want to make it clear that I take no offense to that. – ss]

  3. Thanks you, an interesting read, I love language play and gender play, so this is right up my alley!

    I suppose I should be glad that my first language only has a gender neutral third person pronoun. But I have to confess, the gender specific speak in the English language kind of intrigues and fascinates me. So I have a modest proposal:

    How about 'Mistre' for formal address?

    Reminiscent of, or even short for, Mistress, but pronounced like Mister, it's something for everyone! I have so say I kinda like it myself — and it might very well be that it represents my version of female masculinity better than other people's genders, but it is practical and convincing — and convincing not because it sounds 'male', but because it sounds familiar. IMHO, people are much more likely to adopt a homonym, because it sounds 'like a real word' even when it has whole new meaning.

    So, Mistre Finn it is for me. For an honorific, I would opt for Mtr.

  4. Blah, it IS depressing when you post something and is STARTS with a typo…

  5. In Farsi there are no gendered pronouns or prepositions, but the word "ōh". So you would say "ōh" sat down or I'd like to speak with "ōh" etc. There are gendered Persian honorifics though. A bit of uselessness……

  6. I have something similar going on in my life. My lover often refers to me as a Mister, man/boy/he/guy and I like that a lot, I get a real charge out of it that I wouldn't have predicted a year ago. She also uses feminine pronouns and terms with me in sexualized and other contexts. It depends on what's going on and what my body language is saying about which space I'm occupying at the moment. She's very perceptive about those differences.

    I'm increasingly feeling the two selves in my day to day life, forgetting sometimes that I'm a woman, almost walking into the men's restroom, stuff like that. It can be interesting, to say the least. Some of my male and female friends have commented on an increased masculinity in me, which I think is a result of my increased confidence in my dual identity.

    For the first time in my life, at a somewhat middle age, I'm considering playing with my gender identity in a more public way, through packing and dressing to pass, although my lover tells me I already pass as a guy in a lot of situations. I really like having the whole spectrum of gender expression to play with.

  7. I honestly like “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. Although it is easy to write “ze” or “hir,” I’ve never been able to use those words comfortably in speech. But saying “they” to refer to an individual person is comfortable and easy because that word is already part of our language. Though some people argue it is not grammatically correct, it has been used in common speech for a long time to refer to an unknown individual whose gender is not certain: “If a student calls while I’m out, tell them I’ll be back at noon.” And all we are doing is tweaking its usage to refer to a person we know: “If Sinclair calls, tell them I’ll be back at noon.”

    I use the word “they” every day while talking about friends who have specifically requested this pronoun or people whose pronoun preference I don’t know. I feel like, at least in my circle of friends, this usage has become completely normalized.

  8. Wow, I'm glad you wrote this! When I refer to you in my posts, I'm always left wondering, "Oh my Ceiling Cat, which pronoun?" I didn't want to gender you wrongly, so this helps. I do find your genderplay fascinating and it's definitely introduced me to new concepts, but I still have trouble with 'he' and 'she' sometimes, I guess. (I have the occasional moment of uncertainty when out with my partner; she passes easily and tends not to care what pronoun she gets called.)

    I do tend to agree with they/them for gender neutrality; it can get a little awkward in conversation (plurality confusion) but not as awkward as I generally find the new pronouns to be.

  9. I'm really liking the Mistre/Mtr. as a title; good suggestion. (although maybe Mst. or Msr. for the abbreviation? Mtr. is probably the best… just thinking out loud)

    Although i sort of feel like it *should* have a different pronunciation to avoid "seeming masculine"; only a slight change of inflection perhaps, just enough to denote the order of r/e (a bit like "miss truck" but cut off before the "uck"). I mean, for the most part "Ms." and "Miss" are pronounced the same, it's only a *slight* 'z' sound to distinguish the two.

    Regardless, i'm going to start using this whenever possible :o)

    Let's hope it catches on…

  10. I guess I can't see how "they" is more awkward than ze/hir/pe.

    [I agree, I think "they" is much better. Grammar purists argue that it's a plural term, so technically an incorrect use. Well, yeah, it is, but it could *also* be used for a singular non-gender-specific pronoun. Some words have more than one use, after all! – ss]

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