An apparently high-maintenance elementary-school teacher recently sent this note to the parents of his or her students. It’s good that the teacher’s favorite color is red, because he or she probably sees red all of the fucking time because the world won’t conform to his or her reconstruction of the English language.
I have no problem with individuals who feel neither male nor female or who feel both male and female (and I’m not sure that there’s much difference between those two distinctions…).*
But I am a bit of a purist where it comes to the English language — which, in the age of tweets, is languishing (by the way, “tweet” as something other than having do with a vocalizing bird is in the dictionary now, or at least is on this online dictionary) — and the English language has yet to catch up to the idea of a person without a gender.
An elementary-school teacher in Tallahassee, Florida, recently sent home a note to his/her students’ parents proclaiming, “One thing that you should know about me is that I use gender neutral terms. My prefix is Mx. (pronounced Mix). Additionally, my pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ instead of ‘he, his, she, hers’.”
The period goes inside of the last quotation mark in a sentence, not after it. That might look funny or seem illogical to some, but that’s the rule (at least in American English).
On that note, does this teacher teach English? Because it should be “gender-neutral terms,” not “gender neutral terms,” and if you declare how something is pronounced, you use quotation marks — “My prefix is Mx. (pronounced ‘Mix’)” is correct, and you could argue (and I probably would argue) that it should be “My prefix is ‘Mx.’ (pronounced ‘Mix’).”
And, of course, you insert “and” before the last item in a list; it’s “they, them and their” (my preference) or “they, them, and their,” not “they, them, their.” (And you could argue that each of those words needs its own quotation marks around it. [And you could argue that you never start a sentence with “and” or “but,” but I have a journalism degree, not an English degree, and I write journalistically, not academically, which means that I get to start a sentence with “and” or “but,” but there still are some lines in the English language that I don’t cross, which I’ll get to shortly.])
And technically, “Mr.,” “Ms.” and “Miss” are not prefixes, but are titles, courtesy tiles or honorifics. (Technically, a prefix is “an affix placed before a word, base or another prefix to modify a term’s meaning,” such as “anti-” or “contra-” for “against,” “pro-” for “for,” “inter-” for “between,” “bi-” for “two” and “post-” for “after.”)
But the biggest sin is the wholesale creation of words that don’t exist and the unauthorized reassignment of words that already exist.
“Mx.” (spelled out “Mix”?) is not a word in English, not until and unless enough speakers of the English language decide to adopt it as a new word. New words do come into the language and old words also leave it, and I suppose that you could argue that if the “fight” for a gender-neutral courtesy title never begins, then the language never will adopt one.
But I can’t really fully get on board with calling someone “Mx. Bressack” (that is how the aforementioned Tallahassee teacher wishes to be addressed). Call me a fuddy-duddy.
That said, how do you handle it if someone demands to be addressed a certain way? I would try to skip the heretical courtesy title altogether whenever possible, but I’m not sure that that always would work, perhaps especially with an elementary-school teacher, whom we almost always refer to as “Mrs.,” “Miss” or “Mr.” I mean, that’s tradition.
But even if I could get board with “Mx.”/“Mix,” the fact of the matter remains that the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their” — and “theirs” and “themselves” — always have referred to more than one person. They are third-person plural personal pronouns.
I probably could bite my tongue and call you “Mix” if you absolutely insisted, even though it would make me feel like I’m just catering to a high-maintenance snowflake, but I will go to my fucking grave insisting that the third-personal plural personal pronouns are not gender-fucking-neutral pronouns.** They are not. NOT. NOT.
It is a common grammatical error to use a third-person plural personal pronoun to refer to a member of either sex, but it always has been a grammatical error. “Everyone should bring their own lunch” is incorrect. It should be “Everyone should bring his or her own lunch,” and that is because “everyone” is singular, not plural, and therefore, the third-person plural personal pronoun “their” doesn’t go with “everyone.” (You could recast the sentence this way: “The participants should bring their own lunch.” That is correct because “participants” is plural.)
Moreover, words having meaning, and altering their meaning on one’s own can cause confusion. If you use the third-personal plural personal pronouns to mean gender-neutral pronouns (which don’t exist yet in the English language), the listener easily could be confused as to whether you are talking about one person or more than one person.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much the push for shit like “Mx.” and the contortion of the third-person plural personal pronouns into gender-neutral pronouns is representative of a true need for the English language to evolve and how much it’s just a sad and pathetic attempt by snowflaky control freaks to try to control other people. I mean, you can be “victimized” now by even inadvertently being referred to by the “wrong” pronoun, and isn’t it fun (and awfully easy!) to be “victimized” these days?***
I don’t want to make that accusation falsely, but if you are a control freak who just gets off on such shit as trying to force others to adopt your own personal version of the English language because there is a gaping, sucking black hole where your soul should be, then maybe you should get a fucking grip.
In the meantime, if the English language needs to evolve and adopt some gender-neutral personal pronouns, I have faith that it will.
I’m just not sure how strong that need is, and the grammar Nazi within me is hoping that if and when that day comes, I already will have been dead for some time.
P.S. I should add that this elementary-school teacher’s name is Chloe Bressack, and don’t even get me started on the discussion of whether someone who claims to be without gender should use a gendered first name, which only creates even more confusion.
I mean, why insist on being referred to only with gender-free pronouns yet have a gendered first name?
P.P.S. I see now that “Mx. Bressack” teaches math and science, according to his or her school’s principal. That makes me feel a little better about his or her mangling of the English language…
*As a gay man who is at least a little bit on the bisexual side, I feel like somewhat of a mixture of male and female myself, but I feel more male than female and I identify as male. (And no, that’s not just to make it easier for myself and for others where the personal pronouns are concerned, but it’s nice to not have to worry myself and others with those pronouns…)
**Of course, the impersonal pronouns “it,” “its” and “itself,” although called “neuter” pronouns, won’t work a gender-neutral personal pronouns, because, never having been used to refer to human beings, their use as gender-neutral personal pronouns would be dehumanizing.
***Of course, I’m not talking about addressing transgender individuals here. If you are a biological female who identifies as male, I’m fine with referring to you as a male, and I’m fine with referring to biological males who identify as female as females. It’s no skin off of my ass, and to intentionally refer to a transgender person as his or her biological sex is a transphobic slur.
But we’re in mostly uncharted waters where it comes to individuals who insist that they are of no gender.