At Heatwave!, most of the questions we received were about rule number four:
Don’t make assumptions about anyone’s sex, gender, gender presentation, sexual orientation, or what they are into. People’s bodies and appearances correspond with their identities in different ways, and not necessarily the way we’re taught to assume in society. Please ask respectfully. If you’re unsure of someone’s pronoun, use “they” or “ze/hir.”
Above are just a few examples of gender-neutral pronouns. Their purpose is, in part, to unstick the automatic assumptions of a person’s sex or gender from pronouns. They open people’s minds to the idea that there are more genders than ‘man’ or ‘woman’, and that these genders are not solely related to one’s genital configuration. There are, of course, many people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns, there are others who prefer not to use pronouns at all.
People should have the chance to self-identify, but we are rarely afforded the opportunity in our current culture. We expect everyone–organizers, volunteers, attendees–to pay attention to what they say to others.
So, how does one go about ‘asking respectfully’?
A good way to ask:
“Hi, that’s a great [insert noun]. My name’s [so-and-so] and I go by [these pronouns]. What’s yours?”
“Do you have a preferred pronoun?”
This might lead to other great questions, such as “Would you like to make out?”
A bad way to ask:
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“‘Scuse me ladies/gentlemen”–without knowing, because you’ve asked, whether everyone you’re addressing is indeed a lady or a gentleman. There are lots of people who are neither. Being mis-gendered, or having a pronoun preference ignored, might seem minor, but it can wreck someone’s night. Try ‘folks’, or ‘people’, or just ‘excuse me’.
Oops! I goofed:
If you slip up–make an assumption, call someone by the wrong pronoun–that’s okay, it happens. Apologize, correct yourself and move on. We want to have a space where people can feel comfortable and sexy. Respecting people’s pronouns is one way we make this happen.